I was born on 6th June 1987 in a small town just outside Daejeon in Chungcheong-namdo province. My birth mother as I know it, was 17 years old and had run away to her brother’s place in Daejeon when she found out she was pregnant. Back then, and to some extent even now, it is considered shameful to be a young, unwed mother in Korea. She had broken up with her boyfriend, my birth father, due to pressures from her parents. She was considered middle class whilst my birth father was the son of a farmer. From what my records say, my birth mother was a top student whilst my birth father couldn’t care less about school. Both of my birth parents were pretty sporty as well; my birth father played basketball whilst my birth mother represented her district in track & field, javelin apparently (I know, random). According to my records, my father was tall and extremely handsome whilst my mother was short and ‘stocky’. Seems like I’ve taken after my mother then!
I was transferred to Seoul soon after I was born to Eastern Child Welfare Society where I was fostered by a lady called Mrs Yoon until I was around 4 months old. In October, my parents came to collect me and I was brought home to Australia. And just like that I went from Jang, Ma Ree to Maree van Aken; from Korean to Australian.
My parents picking me up form Seoul – nice perm mum!
I had the happiest of childhoods with two very loving parents; being an only child I was also spoiled rotten! After 11 years in Australia, we moved to Japan where we lived in Tokyo for 2 years, then on to Holland where we lived for 6 years – this is where dad is from. In 2005, we moved to the UK where we have stayed ever since. I now reside in London and my parents live in a quaint little village just outside of Bath.
One question I frequently get asked about my adoption is ‘when did you find out you were adopted?’ There was no defining moment when this happened; I didn’t suddenly wake up in a moment of realisation like in Home Alone. My parents from a young age were always very open about my adoption (I guess they had to be because I sure as hell don’t look like them!) My mum would hold me in front of the mirror and say ‘look, your eyes don’t look like mummy’s’ so I guess when I got to the age of 8 or 9 I just realised this was because they weren’t my birth parents and that was that.
I have met a lot of other adoptees who have really struggled with their adoption and family. Don’t get me wrong, being an adoptee hasn’t been smooth sailing and I personally had a lot of identity issues regarding the fact that I looked so completely different to everyone I knew. For me my adoption wasn’t an issue about family, it was an issue about identity. I was a Korean looking girl, with a Dutch surname, a British mother, an American/Australian/British accent that had grown up in several different countries. I remember hating the fact I looked Asian because I didn’t feel it, I didn’t know anything about it, and quite frankly it just made explaining where I was from all the more confusing.
But I guess the real reason why I’ve turned out somewhat normal is due to the fact that my parents always encouraged me to openly talk about my adoption. As the two people that know me better than anyone, they would quiz me when I felt down, when I felt like I was missing something, and above all, when I felt lost. And hey, is that not what the best parents do?