I had the pleasure of meeting Sun Mee in Lisbon back in 2019 at the House of Beautiful Business. I was immediately struck by her gentle and calming presence as well as her active engagement in whatever conversation she found herself in. Over the five days of the event we shared many meals and glasses of wine and I was lucky enough to learn about a dinner series she had been hosting on the subject of belonging. It’s been such a pleasure to watch from afar as this dinner series has transformed into a global community, NUMARU. Reconnecting with Sun Mee over Zoom recently and learning more about both NUMARU and her personal journey was a true delight. I feel incredibly humbled to be sharing this story.
“I came to Germany at the age of three and a half after being adopted by my German parents. My adoption story has strongly informed and shaped my sense of self.
Growing up, I wanted to blend in with the German kids around me. I turned my back on the one other Korean kid at school and rejected my parent’s attempts to connect me to my origin culture. I now know this was my survival mechanism kicking in- I was trying to avoid being different.
It wasn’t until the age of 18 that I started to question myself, my cultural background, biological family, and identity. In this search for cultural belonging, I didn’t feel understood by my adoptive parents and it took us years and many emotionally challenging conversations to transform our relationship and find empathy and compassion.
After graduating from Design School, I escaped into the melting pot of New York where it was easy to blend in and find a more nuanced understanding and acceptance among my multicultural circle of friends. Yet, deep inside I knew there was still something missing- I was yearning to explore my Korean origin.
Going back to Korea was a pivotal experience for me- it was both comforting and confusing. I remember stepping out of the subway in Seoul, looking around, and seeing all of these faces that looked like me- it was like an ethnic mirror. I started to question how I could reclaim my Korean heritage and navigate social codes when I didn’t even speak the language.
I spent a lot of time looking for belonging outside myself, but realised I needed to find it within. I had to truly accept my story and its shadow to find my truth. This meant deeply experiencing my suppressed emotions- the confusion, frustration, and melancholy. By creating the time and space to grieve the loss of my origin, I was able to break free from external expectations and turn my personal struggles into strengths.
I still have a lot of complex and often contradicting feelings about my own adoption experience. I believe the journey of self-discovery never ends, as we evolve over time in response to new experiences. Embracing the fluidity of it has helped me to navigate the uncertainty of my story.
Many adoptees that I’ve met share similar experiences to me- dealing with conflicting emotions, struggling with belonging and identity, navigating trauma associated with the loss of origin, birth mother disconnection and abandonment, not to mention facing legal barriers with birth family search and reunion.
There are not many therapists who specialise in this area so I had to gather support from different sources throughout my journey. I wanted a holistic approach to healing that included the mind, the body, and the soul simultaneously.
This led me to create NUMARU.
Originally, NUMARU was an intimate conversation dinner series that brought people from diverse backgrounds together to explore how living in a transcultural world affects our understanding of one another. When Covid-19 hit and in person events weren’t possible, I had time to reflect and NUMARU was transformed into a global community and virtual program for transracial adoptees including small conversation circles, workshops, and immersive group journeys. It’s a safe space to connect, explore, and learn how to embrace our adoptee journeys.
My mission is to shine a light on individual adoption stories and support other adoptees to live a life in balance and in deep connection to themselves and others. I also advocate for raising more awareness of the nuances of adoption. The standard narrative portrays adoption as something purely positive however, many adoptees have not been placed in nurturing homes and have suffered from mental, physical, and sexual abuse. There are also many problems with the adoption system which is a multi-billion-dollar industry where corruption, child trafficking, and document fabrication is a reality.
In my case, I’m not sure if the date and address where I was found are correct or if my files are complete. This makes the search for my biological parents very difficult.
There are many ways the adoption system needs to be reformed including:
- Improvement of the evaluation process for prospective adoptive parent’s ⠀
- Education and psychological training for adoptive parents to ensure they understand the trauma of abandonment and hold emotional space for their child’s struggles with loss, belonging and identity
- Monitoring adoptive parents to ensure the safety of adopted children⠀
- Post-adoption services such as legal advice and mental health care for adoptees⠀
- Full access to files, birth certificates, medical records and automated citizenship for adoptees⠀
- Services and funds for family preservation⠀
- Ending the stigma and public opinion that shames single mothers
- Psychological support and funds for birth search and family reunion ⠀
There is a lot of work to be done, and I believe it all starts with taking a deeper look inside ourselves. We tend to focus too much on external approval- comparing and judging ourselves while battling with our inner critics and a fear of rejection. I truly believe that embracing the light and shadow of our personal stories and reconnecting to our true selves is the fist step to making this world a better place.
I hope to inspire other transracial adoptees to find true belonging— within themselves and with others. I would love to publish a book to share my story, and open a physical retreat space in nature for collective healing and growth.”
Photos: Carina Adam