My First Culture Camp

After several weeks, I have had time to reflect and process my first Korean culture camp experience in my 30 years of life.  Several months ago, Whitney and I were invited to speak to adoptive parents at Kamp Kimchee in Baxter, MN, which is a Korean culture family camp.  I prepared my part of the presentation and honestly had absolutely no idea what to expect, but I can honestly say, it was such a positive experience that I will never forget.

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I grew up having some exposure to Korean culture, but nothing like what this camp offers to children of all ages.  I had some interest in Korean culture, but never enough to want to pursue learning more about it.  I had no idea when I was younger that camps like Kamp Kimchee even existed.  When Whitney told me to start preparing, I had to look up what a Korean culture camp really entailed, even though I have heard about them over the last few years.  Hearing about something and then actually learning what it really is about are totally different things.  I began researching and quickly found how beneficial something like this could be for the younger generation.  Even though I did a lot of research, I still did not know truly what to expect.

We arrived at Kamp Kimchee early Monday morning and we were given our schedule for the day.  This particular camp is held at a local school in Baxter, MN.  The leaders opened with an assembly in the gymnasium, where all the campers and their families gathered and announcements were made for the week.  Whitney and I were introduced as guest speakers and it was announced that we would have a session that afternoon for adoptive parents and a duplicate session the next day for those that could not make the first session.  We also would have an informal Q&A session Monday evening back at the lodge where everyone was staying.

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Lee doing Taekwondo with some Kampers

After looking at my schedule, I figured I would have some free time Monday morning to experience everything else the camp had to offer.  They offer classes like Korean art, Taekwondo, Korean culture and language, Korean music and even Korean dance to name a few.  My plan was just to sit in the back and observe some of these classes.  Instead, Whitney and I were invited to shadow two other adoptees who were in charge of various camper breakouts.  Each breakout was divided up by school grades.  Some had 4th-6th graders while others had 10th-12th graders.  In each breakout, I had the opportunity to share a little bit of my story.  It was truly amazing to me to see all of the connections that these campers were making with each other.  I could tell that they really look forward to seeing one another every year. Some grew up going to this camp and now they are seniors in high school.

That afternoon, we gave our presentation to adoptive parents.  In preparation, I thought long and hard and decided to share parts of my own adoption and some struggles that I have had with my own adoptive parents.  The adoptive parents that we presented to really impressed me with, not only their views on how to be a better parent for their adopted child, but also their emphasis on mental health and their child.  This is something that needs to be talked about more and luckily these parents truly understand that.  At one point, I remember wishing that I could transport my own adoptive parents into this room, just so they could talk and get the perspective from these parents.  My adoptive parents will not listen to me, but I could definitely see them listening to a group of their own peers.

IMG_2759After a successful session, we left the school and headed back to the lodge to prepare for our evening Q&A session. Overall, this session was just as good as the afternoon and it was great seeing such a genuine interest from the parents there.  Our session was only suppose to be an hour, but it lasted much longer.  We talked about everything, from the racism that we experienced as children to what we are experiencing now into adulthood, to how to navigate dealing with difficult conversations concerning mental health and depression.

At the end of the session, two separate parents came up to me and wanted to introduce me to their two sons, who were too shy to come up to me by themselves.  They were both around 12 years old and getting ready to enter their teen years.  For me, one of the best parts of the camp was getting to talk to these two boys who have grown up going to camp together and now are best friends.  We talked about everything and I think it was good for them to see someone else who looks like them be able to make it into adulthood and tell them that it will be OK during their teen years.  I did not have Korean mentors growing up, but if I did, I bet it would have made life a lot easier, especially in those adolescent years.

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The next morning, we did a repeat session for those who missed the first.  Some of the same parents from the day before came again to hear the presentation and discussion.  It was great to hear all the perspectives and questions coming from all the parents in the room.  I enjoyed getting a chance to tell them my story and about the different experiences throughout my life, and hoping that if it can benefit their child in some way, they will use this knowledge to help them.

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Overall, my first Korean culture camp was phenomenal.  I loved the connections that I made even as an adult and can clearly see the value that this adds to the Korean adoptee community in general.  Seeing the younger children making connections with other children was really special.  What was neat to me was seeing those connections build over time in the older adoptees that come back every year and getting a chance to reconnect with the friendships that they began as small children.  I cannot wait until I get the opportunity to go to another camp, hopefully in the near future.


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