Thanks as always to Sunny Jo and the K@W list. GS
Heart and Seoul: Adoptee finds his birth family
By MATTHEW SHAMPINE • For the Courier-Post • March 4, 2008
For the past 24 years the question “Who am I?” has never really been
My response, quite simply, is that my name is Matthew Shampine, I am
from South Jersey, I graduated from TCNJ and I love politics,
baseball and computers. As I began to explore my past, however, I
discovered that the question “Who am I?” would soon become a lot more
So before recent events, what did I know about myself exactly? I was
born in Seoul, South Korea, and adopted to the United States as an
infant. Other than that, my adoption papers didn’t say much more than
I was a healthy baby and my original name, most likely given by the
adoption agency, was Cha Duk Soo.
And that was enough information for me growing up. I can remember
growing up in suburban New Jersey trying to find ways that I was like
my family and the rest of the kids in my neighborhood, and I didn’t
need to search for more reasons that I was different. The look of my
face was enough.
After my experiences in college, my curiosity got the best of me, and
I began to interact with other Korean adoptees. I was surprised to
find a sprawling world-wide network of adoptee organizations that
connected through local groups and the Internet. Sharing similar
pasts, the speed and manner in which we bond is something I think is
When I had discovered last year that a group called the International
Korean Adoptee Associations, IKAA, was planning a conference, the
IKAA Gathering 2007, for adoptees in Seoul I immediately booked my
plane ticket. I can still recall those conflicting feelings of
excitement and trepidation about returning to my motherland.
The IKAA Gathering 2007 was an incredible experience. Nearly 600
Korean adoptees from 17 countries came for what was to become a time
of bonding, talking, workshops, fun and sightseeing.
I think, however, that the most important thing we all took away from
the gathering were the newfound, lifelong friendships that were
After the gathering was over I stayed an extra week to explore Seoul
some more and to do some traveling with friends. As it would turn
out, that week would end up being one that would change my life.
I had discovered in the spring that my friend’s cousin worked at my
adoption agency in South Korea, and before my trip I let her know I
would be in Korea for the first two weeks in August. Toward the
middle of the gathering I had received an e-mail from the adoption
agency telling me they had found my birth mother and asked if I could
come in to talk. I tried to ground myself as different thoughts flew
through my head and went to the agency two days later on a Friday.
I was told my birth mother had read a letter I wrote to her when I
first contacted the adoption agency, cried a lot, and was willing to
meet with me if I wanted. We arranged a meeting for that Wednesday,
and I tried my best to not feel or think anything until then.
My two friends and I arrived at the adoption agency early that day
and waited. I cannot even begin to describe the feelings of
appreciation I have for my friends for coming with me that day.
About an hour later my mother arrived, and I was taken to a private
room with the adoption agency worker, Lee Eun Jeong.
The eyes of my mother began to tear immediately after we exchanged
glances. I was making an earnest effort not to become emotional, but
still I could not get any words to come out of my mouth. I held her
hand as she told me repeatedly through sobs how sorry she was, and I
felt guilty that all I could tell her was it was all going to be OK.
It was a hard situation for me. I wanted to tell her so much, so
quickly, but the language barrier was too much.
Eun Jeong translated as my mother told me why she gave me up, told me
about our family, and asked questions about me. But when asked if I
had any questions, I just sat there quietly, unable to get any words
out except that it was all OK.
We met again at the adoption agency on Friday, but this time my
mother brought along my middle sister and her children. Again, as
soon as our eyes passed glances, my mother and sister began to cry.
I’m not sure the children knew what was going on, but by the end of
the trip they were calling me Uncle Duk Soo, making me hold their
hands, and writing me short notes in Korean.
I fell in love with them immediately. After a few moments together,
my sister left the room and called my two other sisters about her
Together with Eun Jeong and my friend, we all went to my other
sister’s house and gave her what seemed to be the shock of a
lifetime. While together my sisters brought me a number of pictures
and kept mentioning how much I looked like my two brothers.
The kindness and love my sisters showed to me during our time
together is something I hold close. Our reunion ended again over
lunch with an agreement to meet the next day before I flew back to
My youngest sister came with her husband to pick me up at my hotel on
that Saturday. We tried to talk to each other, but each of our grasps
on the other’s language was too limited. We ended up sitting in
silence, waiting for my friends to arrive, sipping coffee, smiling at
each other, and every so often playing with her baby.
After my friends finally got to the hotel, we went out to a
restaurant for lunch before my flight. As we pulled into the parking
lot my sister pointed to my brothers waiting outside who had heard
about me that morning.
Though our introductions to each other were fairly awkward, the
physical resemblance was immediately apparent to everyone. We were
family. I met my three brothers-in-law as well during that time. We
had a great lunch together, took a lot of pictures, and tried to
catch up the best we could before we had to leave for the airport.
The time at the airport was tough. While waiting we exchanged gifts,
contact information, and took more photos. My sisters mentioned they
were upset my mother did not come, but I told them I can understand
how she feels. And my brothers promised that next time I can stay
with them and they’d introduce me to both my father and Korean girls.
I continued to try to hold in my emotions during our final goodbyes.
After the final hugs and kisses I turned around and walked away. I
knew they wanted me to turn around and wave, but I couldn’t do it. I
couldn’t hold the tears in anymore. It was so unfair that I had to
leave so soon after meeting them.
When I think about my time in South Korea I can only smile. I know I
am incredibly lucky to be blessed by God to have so many good people
around me and two families that love me. I believe I have a better
understanding of who I am now because of this experience, and I look
forward to my future, both here in America and in South Korea, with