The South Korean-born, internationally respected expert on social work tells Liz Gooch how adoption has been a recurring theme in her life since she was taken in by an American family at age 14.
'I teach both undergraduate and postgraduate courses in social work at Brigham Young University [in Utah, United States]. My day probably starts around nine but there's no set time for professors. Sometimes I will not go in until noon and I'll stay until eight or nine at night. It all depends on how much energy I have.
I lived with my grandmother until I was 11 [her parents separated when she was a baby] then I lived in an orphanage for three years. The orphanage was in Seoul but I had lived in the countryside with my grandmother.
[US folk singer] Stan Bronson arranged for [the children] to receive gifts from families in his hometown at Christmas in 1967. From there my future family in the States picked my picture from these little Polaroids. That was the way the families decided which children they would sponsor. So they sent me a box of Christmas gifts and I wrote them a thank you note. They wrote back and we kept corresponding and, about a year later, they offered to adopt me.
It was really wonderful to have a family. The transition was very easy. I didn't have any trouble at all. I thought it was wonderful to live in a family with adults to talk to you, guide you and care about you, to be in a family with brothers and sisters.
I was a novelty. I was the new kid and everybody wanted to be my friend. In Blanding [Utah], where I went to high school, we had two predominant groups of students. One was the white students and one was the native American students and they tended to stay within their own ethnic groups. I was able to have friends in both groups.
Now I live in the northern part of the state, in Provo, and my family's in the southern part of the state. It's about five hours of travel but I do see my mum and my brothers and sisters at least three times a year, sometimes way more than that.
I teach and I do research and publishing. I also work for community and professional organisations. I'm on the state homeless committee, in which we discuss how to advocate for the homeless. I also serve on a number of professional committees, for example, the National Social Work Educators board.
Before my husband [who had also been an adopted child] and I even married we made the decision to adopt children, not excluding the possibility of having biological children. We have one biological child.
I have three daughters. They are now 27, 22 and almost 20. One of them has come back to live with us for a short time but she will be moving out soon.
For my husband and me, adoption is not really an unusual phenomenon. It's one of the natural ways of forming a family. After all, you marry each other and you are not born into this, so you form a non-blood relationship which then becomes a life-long intimate relationship - and that's also the way we view adoption.
I think it's best to be very open from the beginning. There are many studies that show this is best for the child. Parents who are secure in their own self-esteem tend to be more open.
If anything I think the number [of people adopting children] will keep going up. We're becoming much more globalised and people are more aware of the availability and needs of children overseas.
One of the trends in the United States is open adoption, which means continuing contact between birth and adoptive parents. However, some parents don't want that, so going international is a way of participating in a closed adoption because in international adoptions there's not that much contact. The other thing, frankly, is some people find it easier to qualify for international adoptions than they do for domestic adoptions and the wait for international adoptions is much shorter on average.
I think it is the prerogative of the sending countries to decide the criteria of the adopting families, so I don't have any problem with [the mainland changing its rules to exclude single parents, those aged over 50 and overweight applicants]. I wonder about the requirement about weight. Obviously that's all about health and it's not being discriminatory about overweight people, but there are many other health issues they should be concerned about.
Whatever you may think of Madonna or Angelina Jolie as individuals, based on everything I have read it seems their motivation is like that of any other adopting parent. They have room in their hearts to raise more children.
They're reaching out to these children. I don't feel they're trying to build their images or that they are exploiting these children.
When our children were younger and they were at home, we ate dinner together every night. That was very important. We always read to them, tucked them into bed and we had our prayers together. We spent a lot of time together. In fact my children tell me they spent more time with us than families where both parents don't work because we'd always make such a conscious effort.
We go out more now because it's just the two of us and [the daughter who is living at home] is doing her own thing. I like to talk to my husband, talk over our days, hopefully enjoy a nice meal. We read, sometimes we visit friends, we might go shopping. We at least have Sunday dinners together. These are huge. We do the full linen setting and everything. That's a real family highlight.
We're really into ethnic cooking, we've tried all kinds - Mexican, Italian, French, Korean of course.
Often my work dovetails with our personal holidays. There are probably a couple of trips internationally each year. For example, I go to Africa every year for at least a month. This year I have been to Washington DC, then Uganda, South Africa and Hong Kong. I'm going back to another conference in DC to talk about internet adoption then I'm going to Cambodia in November. That's an average year. I love travelling but I love staying home too.
I'm really enjoying this phase of life but then I always have enjoyed every phase. I'm an impossible Pollyanna. People always want me to share something traumatic and I just can't come up with anything.'