Though University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Katelyn Hemmeke was born in South Korea, she was adopted at an early age and has lived most of her life in the United States.
This summer, Hemmeke will travel to her country of birth on a Fulbright Research Grant to examine South Korean transnational adoptees’ searches for their birth families.
Although some organizations aid people in locating and connecting with their roots, the success rate is estimated to be as low as 2 percent. Hemmeke said she hopes to use her research to advocate for South Korean adoptees and to identify steps to ensure more adoptees can forge connections with their birth families and their native nation.
Hemmeke, who grew up in Hamilton, Michigan, and will graduate from UNL with a master’s degree in English, has already spent considerable time in her native country. From 2012-14, Hemmeke was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant there, and in summer 2015 she studied Korean language through the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship Program.
During her previous visits to the country, Hemmeke volunteered as a mentor to domestic adoptees; this program helped her establish connections with the various organizations based in South Korea that support adoptees and single mothers. Hemmeke said she plans to expand upon these efforts during her grant year in Seoul.
Hemmeke’s interest is in how adoptees share their personal narratives and the importance of these narratives in the adoption discourse. For her Fulbright project, she plans to combine her study of personal narrative and discourse with qualitative research on the South Korean system, the birth family search process and the stigma against single mothers that results in women feeling pressured to relinquish their children for adoption.
She also will volunteer with adoptee organizations and attend events such as The Gathering, a conference run by the International Korean Adoptee Associations that is held once every three years in Seoul.
“Adoptees and birth families have been silenced from adoption discourse for far too long,” Hemmeke said. “It’s time for our voices to be heard and for our stories to be told on our own terms.”
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The primary source of funding for the Fulbright Program is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating governments, host institutions, corporations and foundations in foreign countries and in the United States also provide direct and indirect support. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The program operates in more than 160 countries worldwide.