Friday, October 2, 2020

How Korea is Still Helping Families Come Together and Bring Children Home Despite a Global Pandemic

Each year, thousands of families in the U.S. travel overseas to bring their children home from places all over the world. However, with the recent worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, many countries have closed their borders, resulting in heart-breaking delays for adoptive families waiting to pick up their children and leaving prospective adoptive families wondering whether international adoption is even a feasible way to expand their family. Beginning the adoption process (no matter what program you choose) is both an exciting and anxious time for every family. While adoption during a global pandemic certainly has its bumps, adoption from South Korea remains possible and feasible and is a program where families continue to have a path forward to travel and bring their children home even in these uncertain times.

What does travel and placement look like in the midst of a worldwide pandemic? While there are definitely changes and impacts to what this entails since the start of COVID-19, we’re happy to share that since June 2020, Barker has had five families travel to Seoul, South Korea to complete the final stage of their adoption process. Of these five, three have completed all stages and have been able to welcome their little one home and return to the United States. After arriving in Seoul, families are required to stay for a minimum of 14 days in a government quarantine facility, usually a hotel that is being used for the purpose of quarantining travelers upon arrival, and test negative for COVID-19 before being able to travel elsewhere.

We reached out to Barker’s first family to finalize their international adoption during the pandemic, Ilinca and Damien, to ask them what this was like for them. After having their court hearing postponed in April 2020 due to the pandemic, Ilinca and Damien were determined to bring their son home as soon as possible. When their hearing was rescheduled for mid-June, they did not hesitate to make travel arrangements despite the new 14-day quarantine being required by South Korea’s Ministry of Health & Welfare. They arrived in Seoul at the end of May and after attending their court hearing in mid-June, they remained in Seoul for about another month before their adoption order was confirmed and their son’s visa was processed so they could travel home together.

While being confined to a hotel room for two weeks is not ideal, Ilinca and Damien shared that there were some positives with the entire experience,  “we got to catch up with the jet lag with no problem…got to work on crafts that I wouldn’t have had time at home, reading and learning some Korean.” While they admit that being confined to a hotel room was a bit “claustrophobic”, they share that making a routine and having a schedule for the day helped tremendously.

As one of the first families to travel to Seoul amid the new COVID-19 restrictions, Ilinca and Damien admitted that they wish they had known more about the quarantine process and what to expect, but that they knew it was all worth it “the first time we saw him [their son] at the agency. Everything came together.”

Our first pandemic-era traveling family, Ilinca and Damien, shared some useful tips for Barker’s future international adoptive families:

  • Bring foods that you are familiar with (dried fruit, cereal bars, instant oatmeal, etc) since our meals in quarantine had a lot of meat (every meal)
  • Make the most out of those 2 weeks and don’t see them as a burden. It’s part of the process. Being assigned to a hotel is random, but again just accept it and it will make the 14 days feel better. After the first week passes, start a countdown (that helped a lot).  Expect that you might be separated from your spouse since that’s what they wanted to do with us but we fought for it by telling them we are married. Bring your wedding certificate as that has helped some families.
  • The staff (from both airport and quarantine place) are nice. There will however be multiple checkpoints, and it will take about 2-4 hours between the time you land until you are at the hotel 
  • Wear the same outfit at all visits and custody if you can since this way the child will not experience a change. He/she will always recognize who you are.
  • Don’t be scared of visiting places, eating out, going to tea houses, and riding the metro since everyone is wearing masks and cases are much lower in South Korea than in the U.S.

If you can, take day trips to get out of Seoul to recharge your batteries a bit (or even a 2-day trip to Sokcho) – and explore Seoul as much as you can (make an itinerary during the quarantine!)

As evident with Ilinca and Damien’s story, Barker’s South Korea program remains completely active and able to assist families through all parts of the adoption process. If you’re interested in learning more about international adoption from South Korea or any of Barker’s other programs, we encourage you to reach out to our office at (301) 664-9664 to talk with us further or view our calendar of events on our website, where you can see upcoming informational meetings and other events to better serve and support the adoption community.

Katie Fischer, Barker Staff