Korean Adoptee Portrait Series - Nancy Clemens

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet and photograph Nancy Clemens, another local Korean adoptee. Nancy read Tara's interview and reached out to me on facebook and was willing to share part of her story. Her and her biological sister Krissy were both adopted from South Korea and in 2011 were reunited with their birth family with mixed emotions. 


Where did you grow up/what was your family background?

I grew up in a small town in Minnesota, population was around 1000.  My parents are Norwegian and Swedish, they adopted my biological sister and I when we were 2 an 1 years of age. We were welcomed  by 3 older siblings,  they had 2 biological girls and also adopted a Caucasian/Korean boy.

What was it like growing up in a small town?

Growing up in a small town in Minnesota had its ups and downs. My parents owned the local newspaper and were definitely loving, patient and protective over us. Overall I'm grateful on how my parents raised us.  We never went without anything and that seems amazing to me because they were raising 5 children.  I remember growing up being quiet, stand offish at times and  always feeling like I never fit in. I know lots of kids feel that way but again this is how I felt as an adoptee. In elementary school kids were nicer but as we got older some of the same kids were calling me names daily, slanting their eyes and just saying hurtful things. I was on the defense daily with these kids (it was the same boys) although most of the kids/people  in my small town were nice I still felt like I didn't fit in. I was angry, sad and would cry daily ( most of the time in silence). I tried to put on an act, tried to be involved in things but I actually felt like I was embarrassed to show my face because I was always stared at. I went into deep depressions and didn't know why.  My parents tried to be there for me, contacted the school but I didn't want to talk to them or a counselor.  I was craving some kind of attention in the wrong ways and I was just feeling that I wasn't normal and didn't want to look different.  I rarely thought about Korea or wanted to embrace my culture at a young age because I was so "Americanized". 

My parents and siblings are the nicest people and we had so many good times with family and friends, we were always involved in a lot of activities so to be honest yes, there were good days and bad days just like any other human being but we were loved so I hope no one takes this negatively. I know lots of kids feel they don't fit in. 

What made you decide to go to Korea and meet your birth family? How was the experience?

My biological sister Krissy actually started this process by looking up her health history for medical reasons. I'm grateful to her because we would have never been reunited if she didn't ask questions.  There was a note in our file stating our birth mother was looking for us. We had an older sister in Korea, and a  younger sister & father who were deceased. We received a phone call in 2009 and reunited in 2011. Everything is a bit of a blur because it's been over seven years and I know my sister has a different recollection of events or on how she felt. 

From left to right: Krissy, Birth mother, Nancy, biological older sister. 

From left to right: Krissy, Birth mother, Nancy, biological older sister. 


My sister Krissy set up the whole reunion and studied some Korean. I was looking forward to the reunion but not as much as her, I felt bad . The trip to Korea was very long and we had a lot of jet lag, once we got off the plane we met our mother, sister, brother in law and they had two boys (one was in the military). Our birth mother wanted us to stay with her and from the beginning I was uncomfortable with the situation.  I wanted to stay at a hotel. After reading other adoptee stories I know wasn't being disrespectful by wanting to stay at a hotel and we did end up staying at one.  It was overwhelming to our birth mother/family and to us.

We had a translator  the whole time but we felt things were not fully relayed on how and why we were adopted. We met some of our dad's family and heard their side of the story.  Tears were shed because there were different versions of the story.  


Our parents were married and divorced a couple of times, we had an older sister that they kept and a younger sister that was born years later.  Our father and sister  passed away a few years before the reunion.  I could get into more  details and some maybe true and some might not be ,I will never know because I was not there.  In the end I'm grateful that we were adopted together , we did have a good loving family in America.  Our Korean mom was very sad and happy. At times she seemed depressed.  She tried to make it up to us  by buying things and bringing us to the dermatologist to get moles/sun damage off our face.. We did not want to disrespect her by saying no  because the translator told us we should say yes.

What would I recommend to other Korean adoptees if travelling to Korea to reunite with their birth family or just to visit?

I do recommend staying in a hotel and having some alone time.  The food was new to me and the translator wanted us to put food in our  mothers mouth because it was a form of respect and vice versa, I felt uncomfortable with that but I did it .  I would take things slow, it's ok if you don't feel an instant  connection with your biological family because they didn't raise you.  It's "OK to have these feelings".  If you have the chance to reunite with your birth family do it.  The people that raised you will understand and want you to know where you came from and may never understand how you felt growing up but other adoptees do. 

To the parents that adopt- reach out to organizations if you adopt children from different cultures and have them try their own food and maybe find someone who was adopted and could be some-what of a mentor for the adoptee. Growing up I never embraced my culture but as an adult I m more comfortable in my own skin as I'm sure other people are no matter what race they are.



What are a few things I wish people would understand about Korean adoptees?

I want people to know that no one can pick their race and there are ignorant people out there who raise their children to be racist and it does effect a child who grows up to be an adult and they will never forget how it felt to be teased daily.  Teach your kids right from wrong.  We didn't choose to be here and are not LUCKY but we are GRATEFUL that we do have loving families that wanted us.  Even though we were adopted we might be stand offish in certain situations or seem cold but genetics do take a part in it even though some people might think differently. 

Some adoptees are closer than others to the people who raised them and others might not be and it's ok.  We appreciate and love our American parents. To our family in Korea,  if there isn't overwhelming love towards you at the reunion its because you gave birth to us but did not raise us.  We are not being disrespectful.  If we do not embrace the food, culture right away its because we are overwhelmed and it's unfamiliar to us. We understand there are different situations in why you gave us up, we know it was a tough decision and we do forgive you. We do not know another life style or culture  and we hope that you understand if we do not come back to Korea or communicate again.

Thank you for letting me share my story. If you are an adoptee and feel depressed, lonely or have suicidal thoughts you are not alone and reach out and talk to someone. There are many people that are discriminated against daily whether it be by color, status, handicap, size...etc.