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INTERVIEWKorean adoptee in Germany reunites with birth family after 42 years

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German citizen thanks his mother for never giving up searching for him

By Lee Hyo-jin

Benjamin Joon went missing in January 1981 at the age of three at Suwon Bus Terminal in Gyeonggi Province, while travelling with his father. The two were holding hands, but the next minute, they were separated.

That is the only memory Joon has of Korea.

"My blind father was unable to find me and didn't inform my mother, who was living apart from him at that time. Someone must have found me at the terminal and brought me to the city hall of Suwon," Joon, 45, told the Korea Times in a recent interview.

The officials at Suwon city took him to Holt International, a local adoption agency. Five months later, he was sent for adoption to a German family.

Benjamin Joon, who was sent for adoption to Germany in 1981, was able to reunite with his birth family in Korea on March 16 through a DNA matching service offered by the Korean government. Courtesy of Benjamin Joon
Benjamin Joon, who was sent for adoption to Germany in 1981, was able to reunite with his birth family in Korea on March 16 through a DNA matching service offered by the Korean government. Courtesy of Benjamin Joon
Joon, who now works as a mindfulness instructor in Berlin, sought his biological roots for decades. He especially missed his birth mother whom he had never seen since the age of two.

The German citizen first visited Korea in 2009 to look for her in earnest. But with no childhood memories of Korea, it seemed almost impossible to locate her. With the help of a non-profit organization called Global Overseas Adoption Link (GOAL), he managed to submit a DNA sample to the local police to find a match with his biological mother.

Over a decade later, in July 2022, he heard back from the Korean police that there is a person whose DNA is a 99 percent match with his.

To confirm the match, Joon gave a sample to the Korean Embassy in Berlin, which was sent to the National Forensic Service in Korea which affirmed their biological relationship in January 2023.

"After receiving the confirmation, I felt a cocktail of different emotions," Joon recalled, describing how it was both confusing and exciting to find his birth family after four decades.

"After communicating with them via e-mail and KakaoTalk messenger, I felt more relaxed. And when I finally met them for the first time in person, I felt peaceful and happy," he said. For the first time in 42 years, he met his 67-year-old birth mother and 48-year-old older brother on March 16. They run a restaurant in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province.

Joon said he was grateful to his mother for never giving up searching for him. The police were able to find a DNA match in 2022 thanks to his mother who had submitted her sample to Yeoju Police Station in June that year.

"After getting informed that I went missing (at the bus terminal), she desperately searched for me. Even after many years, she regularly asked the police station if they had found me," Joon said.

He added that he already feels a deep connection and love for his birth family despite the language barrier and the long period they have spent apart. He plans to visit his family in Korea once or twice a year and has invited his birth mother to visit him in Germany to meet his family there ― a partner and a son.

"Without the DNA test, I wouldn't have been able to find my birth family, because I didn't have any information about them," he said.

Benjamin Joon, center, poses with police officers and officials from the National Center for the Rights of the Child, March 16, at Yeoju Police Station in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province, after reuniting with his biological mother and older brother. Courtesy of National Police Agency
Benjamin Joon, center, poses with police officers and officials from the National Center for the Rights of the Child, March 16, at Yeoju Police Station in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province, after reuniting with his biological mother and older brother. Courtesy of National Police Agency

Joon is the third Korean adoptee to find his birth mother through the DNA matching service launched in 2020 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Police Agency and the National Center for the Rights of the Child (NCRC).

The first case was in October 2020, when Yoon Sang-ae, a Korean adoptee in the U.S. reunited with her birth mother, Lee Eung-sun, 44 years after she went missing in Namdaemun market in Seoul. It was followed by another successful case in July 2021of an adoptee living in Canada.

These stories offer hope to thousands of Korean adoptees who are desperately searching for their biological roots. During the peak of inter-country adoptions between the 1970s and 1980s, an estimated 200,000 children were sent to be adopted in North America and Europe.


Lee Hyo-jin lhj@koreatimes.co.kr


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