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Meeting Once More

The Korean Side of Transnational Adoption

Elise M. Prébin

Publication Year: 2013

"Thoughtfully written, drawing on her own life experience as well as her anthropological training, Prébin provides us with a new window into the complex world of trans-national adoption. She weaves together kinship, media, and globalization as well as recent Korean history to offer us lessons about today's adoption practices."
—Barbara Katz Rothman, author of Weaving A Family: Untangling Race and Adoption
A great mobilization began in South Korea in the 1990s: adult transnational adoptees began to return to their birth country and meet for the first time with their birth parents—sometimes in televised encounters which garnered high ratings. What makes the case of South Korea remarkable is the sheer scale of the activity that has taken place around the adult adoptees' return, and by extension the national significance that has been accorded to these family meetings.
Informed by the author’s own experience as an adoptee and two years of ethnographic research in Seoul, Meeting Once More sheds light on an understudied aspect of transnational adoption: the impact of adoptees on their birth country, and especially on their birth families. The volume offers a complex and fascinating contribution to the study of new kinship models, migration, and the anthropology of media.
Elise Prébin was born in South Korea in 1978, was raised in France, and is now living in New York City with her husband and daughter. In 2006 she obtained her PhD at University of Paris X-Nanterre in social anthropology, was a postdoc and lecturer at Harvard University from 2007 to 2009 and served as Assistant Professor at Hanyang University (South Korea) from 2010 to 2011. She is now an independent scholar. 

Published by: NYU Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-7

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pp. vii-viii

This book is the happy outcome of twelve years I have spent equally in France, South Korea, and the United States. For that reason, the list of people I should thank is very long, and I can name only a few whose encouragement, help, advice, presence, friendship, and love were instrumental in the...

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pp. 1-18

In 1999, I returned to South Korea, my birth country, for the first time since my adoption by a French family at age four. I was then twenty-one and a participant in the Holt International Summer School, a three-week program for international adoptees held every summer since 1991 by the adoption agency...


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pp. 19-29

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1. Shift in South Korean Policies toward Korean Adoptees, 1954–Today

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pp. 21-34

Today, returning adult adoptees are considered a resource by the South Korean government in the context of globalization. Since the 1990s, the positive image of successful adult adoptees’ return to South Korea has tended to supplant the negative image of unfortunate babies being sent abroad for...

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2. Everyday Encounters

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pp. 35-51

One day of the spring of 2001, I went to a local flower shop to buy a bouquet for my paternal aunt’s birthday. My poor command of the language drew the attention of the female shopkeeper. The woman frowned, and her face darkened when I disclosed that I was adopted. Even though I told her...

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3. Holt International Summer School or Three-Week Re-Koreanization, 1999–2004

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pp. 52-67

Holt Children’s Services officially initiated the Holt International Summer School (HISS) in 1991, but it was launched informally in 1983 by David Kim for the first returnees (2001, 320–321). Today this three-week program includes different types of activities: a “heritage tour”; classes related...

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4. Stratification and Homogeneity at the Korean Broadcasting System, 2003

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pp. 68-86

Wednesday, June 4, 2003, 8:30 a.m.: a happy bird’s singing signaled the opening sequence of Ach’im madang on KBS. Shortly after, a trumpet played an optimistic major chord in arpeggios, and an energetic, happy melody began. The thirty-second animated film featured the host and the...

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5. National Reunification and Family Meetings

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pp. 87-100

In 1999, my paternal grandmother expressed great joy at meeting again with me, the older of her favorite son’s two daughters who had been left by their father at the orphanage Star of the Sea (haesŏng) in Inchon. She cried in silence, compressed my hands for a long time, looked at my palms in the...


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pp. 101-111

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6. Stories behind History

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pp. 103-117

The meeting program Ach’im madang constitutes rich material for the anthropologist: its content sheds light on the reasons and causes of fifty years of parent-child separations. We saw previously that there were historical causes for family separations and transnational adoption. But, as we will see...

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7. Meetings’ Aftermaths

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pp. 118-132

In South Korean director Im’s film Kilsottŭm (1986), two ex-lovers meet randomly in the context of the 1983 telethon. After the meeting scene that takes place on the staircase of the Korean Broadcasting System headquarters, a short sequence shows the reaction of each of their respective spouses. Both...

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8. Evolving Relationship with My Birth Family

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pp. 133-150

Almost two hours after I departed from Seoul with the fifty-something Korean women who were introduced to me as my mother and paternal aunt, we arrived in Inchon. We decided that I would first go to my paternal aunt’s house. My mother dropped my maternal aunt and me off in a narrow alley...

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9. Management of Feelings

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pp. 151-162

Created after the 1983 telethon and produced since 1997, Ach’im madang, with its emphasis on meetings between estranged relatives, may in a minority of cases lead to sustained relationships, but only under certain circumstances. The marital and financial situation of birth parents must be taken into account...

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10. Meeting the Lost and the Dead

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pp. 163-176

When I returned to South Korea and found my birth relatives in 1999, I learned that my father had passed away in 1996 at the age of forty-five. Weeping, my paternal grandmother explained that this premature death of her second-oldest son had been followed shortly by the death of her third son in...

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pp. 177-181

Anthropologists of kinship and gender have framed the first half of the transnational adoption process—first-world, educated parents choosing to adopt a foreign child—within the category of global ideologies of reproduction (Ginsburg and Rapp 1995; Strathern 1992). This book has shed light on the...


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pp. 183-206


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pp. 207-218


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pp. 219-222

About the Author

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pp. 223-232

E-ISBN-13: 9780814764961
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814760260
Print-ISBN-10: 0814760260

Page Count: 231
Publication Year: 2013