As long as I have known Whitney, she has talked with me about all the generosity her birth family has shown her since reuniting with them in 2010. The first time I met them back in 2014, I experienced some of that generosity firsthand, but nothing like our most recent visit (about 3 months ago). I have had some time now to reflect and gain an understanding of how Whitney has felt since her reunion with them and dealing with the gifts she has had lavished upon her.
When I met Whitney, our first conversation was centered around learning about each other’s backgrounds, and I discovered that she had met her birth family. At that time, I was seriously considering a birth family search, so getting a chance to talk one-on-one with an adoptee who had gone through the process was really valuable. As we started getting to know each other better, our conversations deepened and I had the opportunity to ask a lot more in-depth questions concerning her birth family. I can remember from the beginning how she told me that her birth parents would buy her pretty much anything that she looked at, and how she had to learn to be careful with what she said around them because they would just buy them for her. At that time, I jokingly thought, “That is awesome! If I was her, I would ask them for anything and everything!” I had no idea how difficult it would be to accept their gifts until about three months ago.
Whitney and I decided that, as a graduation gift in 2014 for her earning her MBA, we would take a trip to Korea. This trip was going to be the first time for me to meet her birth family and we planned out our itinerary carefully, including multiple tours of the country. I wanted to show Whitney where I was born in 부산 Busan and have a chance to see all around my “motherland” country. Her birth parents were extremely generous on this trip, but our schedule was so packed and we were traveling away from 서울 Seoul so much, I don’t think I really got to see Whitney’s birth family in the same light as I did most recently.
In 2015, we learned that Whitney’s older brother 성배 Seong-bae was getting married and we really wanted to attend the wedding. The airfare was expensive because we were not booking very far in advance. Whitney sent a message to her family explaining our predicament, and they offered to cover a portion of our airfare. After deliberating for a day or so, we decided to take them up on their generous offer and that is when I first started to realize just how generous her birth family is. I started to truly experience this for myself versus Whitney just telling me about it. As I mentioned before, I had experienced their kindness the first time we met, but I never really thought too much of it.
We arrived in Korea December 2015 and stayed with her birth family the entire 2 weeks we were there. This was a completely different feeling from the first time we had visited about 1.5 years prior. This time, I had the opportunity to see Korea in a different light. I also got to see just how hard her family works and the love they have for their family, especially in the preparations for my brother-in-law’s wedding.
Experiencing generosity firsthand from Whitney’s parents was something I thought I could handle, but I had not experienced it to the fullest extent until this trip. It all started when Whitney and I went to see 성배 Seong-bae’s new house and meet his soon-to-be wife. She was so friendly and welcomed us to their new home, which they were still moving into. I have always been fascinated with 삼성 Samsung Curved TVs and it just so happened that they had a brand new 삼성 Samsung Curve mounted to their wall. I couldn’t help but stare at it the entire night. Because 삼성 Samsung is imported to the United States, we typically do not get to see the best of 삼성 Samsung, but I had that chance on this particular night. The family was curious and asked me how much something like this would cost in the U.S. I responded without doing any research, “Probably around $4,000-$5,000 U.S. dollars.” The next day, Whitney’s parents announced that they would be giving us money to buy a new 삼성 Samsung Curved TV for our home in the U.S. We told them that was not necessary and that we had one that worked perfectly fine back home. At that point, I was not taking them very seriously.
A few days later, 성배 Seong-bae was married and we attended their beautiful wedding. It was my first time experiencing a Korean wedding and it was an experience I will never forget. That evening, the happy newlyweds came back to Whitney’s parents’ house. We all had dinner together and they started laying out their wedding gifts, which happened to be huge stacks of cash. I have a background in counting bills so Whitney told them I could help count. They were very amused, watching how fast I could count the money. At the end, her mom asked me to count out a stack of 5,000,000 won, which is equivalent to about $5,000 USD. I thought nothing of it and counted it out quickly with a huge smile on my face, just because I love counting money. I handed her the money and I was shocked when she stacked it up and handed it right back to me, saying, “Wedding gift,” in English. They said that they would reimburse 성배 Seong-bae, but since the cash was already there, they wanted Whitney and I to have it as a late wedding present (we had been married 2.5 years earlier).
At that moment, I understood perfectly what Whitney was talking about when she said that it was extremely difficult to accept gifts from her birth family. Many times before, I had told her that I would accept anything without having any problem. Even when I thought they were joking a few days prior, I told Whitney that I would gladly accept their monetary gift to buy a new 삼성 Samsung TV. It wasn’t until that moment when we were sitting in the living room with her parents staring at me, holding that huge stack of cash, that I understood the difficult situation that I was in. I looked like a deer in headlights and did not know what to say. I was in total shock and did not know what to do. I looked at Whitney and she was just as shocked as me, but she tried to tell them that we could not accept this, that it was just too much. Her mom kept pushing us to take it and we realized that we would not win this battle. We finally negotiated and agreed to take 1,000,000 won (1/5 of the stack) to cover half of the cost of a new TV.
After we accepted their generous gift, I remember having a very difficult time coming to terms with it. In theory, it sounded like something so great, but in reality, I was struggling so much with it. I can remember looking at Whitney and starting to tear up when it dawned on me how difficult the situation was. She had told me that, eventually, you learn to just accept whatever comes your way and understand that it’s part of the culture for her family to try to give us whatever we want or need.
In the end, we purchased a new 삼성 Samsung Smart TV when we returned to the U.S., and it’s been a great daily reminder of the 전 Jeons’ kindness and generosity toward us. They treat me like just another son. I’m extremely blessed to have them in my life and consider them to be great role models, always showing me the deep love of a family.
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