DNA I – Robyn Joy Park

IAMAdoptee recently connected with Robyn Joy Park, Korean adoptee (the whole of who she is will be evident in our interview!)

Robyn just returned from running a marathon in South Korea.  The marathon was part of her personal journey but also to advocate for and raise funds for 325KAMRA (325KAMRA.org).  She raised $3780 to support the “work 325Kamra is doing (as it) is transforming our community and changing lives. The heart of their mission is to reunite Korean families separated by war, adoption, death and tragedy by DNA testing Korean adoptees, armed forces personnel who served in Korea, and anyone of Korean descent to expand the worldwide database.”

Photo Credit: Robyn Joy Park, center front, in red visor

Here is our interview with Robyn Joy Park (formally Shultz), previous name assigned with adoption identity: Park, Joo Young…

How do you identify yourself?
believer. globetrotter. foodie. marathoner. transracial adoptee. qpoc. LMFT. gryffinpuff. IPNB. cushie. fighter. she/her

Where you were adopted from, when and if you want to, share with us any aspects of your life before adoption?
I was adopted from South Korea and unfortunately these days what I thought I knew about my life prior to coming to America is no longer accurate or is still yet to be understood. What I do know, is that at one point during my time in Seoul I was in foster care with a foster mother until I was brought over to America in the early 1980’s. I do not know where I was born as well as my date of birth.

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I grew up in the land of a gazillion adoptees- Minnesota (yeah you betcha!). Went to undergraduate school in Minnesota and then soon after set off on an adventure and moved back to Korea where I lived for over two years. Following this, traveled around the globe before settling back in the states where I now currently live in Los Angeles and have been here for 10 years.

What is your profession?
I am a Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and specialize in working with children and families who I get the privilege to journey alongside as they are seeking therapeutic services. A large focus and passion within my practice is working within the foster care and adoption constellation. Am blessed to currently be working alongside an amazing multi-disciplinary team founded by my parenting Guru Tina Payne Bryson at The Center for Connection and also for many years have been in private practice alongside my mentor/Jedi Master Angela Gee, LMFT (and fellow adoptee!). Have worked in various in-home, educational, agency, residential and therapeutic settings. I also do specialized trainings and workshops locally and nationally addressing various things such as adoption, maternal mental health and interpersonal neurobiology.

We met last year at KAAN, but it was our phone call afterwards that stuck with me.  Your enthusiasm about getting the adoption narrative right, with joy, with authenticity, was my main reason for wanting another chance to connect.  What do you feel is the driving desire in the work you do?
It was such a joy meeting you at KAAN! I truly believe my heart has been called to support and work alongside those who are suffering and experienced tremendous challenges and heartache.  As I too have faced different adverse experiences and challenges in my life, my threshold of tolerance is pretty wide and thus helps me be able to more deeply understand other’s pain, vulnerabilities, sorrow, and suffering. I believe my own faith and equanimity are what guides and drives my desire and passions in the work I do. As you may know or can imagine, it is an incredibly powerful experience to be able to witness other’s transformations and see how it impacts not only themselves but their relationships with others.

What is the conversation that you want to be having in adoption that you were not hearing?
These days I would like our communities to be discussing the impact DNA testing is having on the micro/meso/macro levels. Since 2012 when I first realized the personal impact it can have on one’s search and reunion experience, I have been trying to bring attention to this as it is another complex issue within adoption. While it is helping advance things, it is also important for us to be mindful of what it can reveal. In the past I started to engage in this conversation in various ways bringing attention to it to individuals, agencies, and organizations. However now with advanced tools and technology it has become a larger dialogue for those who are seeking to find their birth families. On the flip side, it also may impact individuals who may have no intentions to search for their birth families and suddenly are connected. Additionally, I think it’s important for us to be discussing the coulda-should-wouldas. That if you have been reunified with your birth family and did not take a DNA test to confirm this, there is a possibility that you may not be in reunion with your biological family and thus inhibiting another possible reunion. Ignorance is not always bliss (!) and anything is possible.

How much of who you are intersects with what you do?  
Constantly intersecting within personal and professional worlds and identities! Always colliding and at times it can be hard to keep separate and I have a difficult time for example leaving my offices as I do what I love and love what I do. As a queer person of color, also a Believer, and an adoptee—all of these aspects of who I am influence, inspire and impact what I do/seek and how I try and connect and relate with the world.

Congratulations on running your marathon! And in Seoul, South Korea!  How did this happen for you?
Thank you! This was a dream come true and had been dreaming and scheming about it since my good friend who is also a Korean adoptee first did it in 2008 while we were living in Korea. It inspired me to want to run it one day and after doing seven marathons in different parts of America, it was time to do one back in the motherland. What made this one particularly special was my brother ran it (this was his first marathon!) and a friend that I’ve known since Kindergarten. There were other family and friends that also met up in Seoul for the weekend to run and support the event (also amazing long distance/remote support!) as well as promote awareness around 325Kamra’s work with DNA testing and birth family search and reunification. It was an incredible journey and worlds colliding in Korea!

DNA testing and your adoption story is intricately linked.  What would you like to share about this part of your search journey?
Adoption has a lot to teach the world. My personal story is no exception, but I do feel compelled to share it so others can learn from my unique experiences- the good, the bad and the ugly. While DNA testing can be a tool and resource to help advance a birth search, it’s important to be mindful of the information it will uncover and reveal. This is something that I was not prepared for and wish that I would have advocated for with the adoption agency prior to being reunified. To ensure quality and care in the best interest of everyone, I think it is also something that should be embedded within the search and reunion process to ensure everyone’s information is correct. It is important for us all to understand the significance of how it can help empower individuals to search on their own (separate from the adoption agencies). It can also open up information that like in my case, shows inadequate information. As I have learned throughout the years, there are others impacted similarly and my sense is that through DNA testing similar circumstances will continue to arise. At this point in my search journey the blessing in all of this has been finding others who have also experienced similar search and reunion experiences. Our connections have formed bonds that continue to give me strength and encouragement to keep searching and never give up hope.

*Editor’s insert* Robyn’s initial search for her birth family matched her with a family she was in reunion with for 6 years only to find out they were not actually biologically connected to each other.  DNA testing proved them to not be a match. Here is a clip of part of her journey, talking about this experience:


What do you wish people would know about adoption that gets little air time?
Adoption is a life long journey and the core issues/themes (loss, guilt, grief, rejection, control, relationships and identity) certainly come up at all different ages and stages. I wish that we could all have more compassion on one another and lift each other up as we all continue to navigate our own journeys. That we continue to learn from one another’s unique adoption experiences. That we recognize and support the mental health needs that can impact our community. The fact that studies and evidence is revealing that adopted kids are up to FOUR times more likely to attempt suicide than kids who live with their biological families is incredibly heartbreaking. We need to be talking about this and finding ways to address the underlying pain and suffering.

Lastly, Adoptee to Adoptee:

What is the best part of being an adoptee?
I love that you’re asking this question as I think we often focus on the challenges or hard parts of being an adoptee. While I didn’t always embrace this aspect, I have come to appreciate being in between two cultures and being able to find the best of both worlds. I love finally feeling able to have the choice to pick and choose various aspects of both American and Korean cultures that I deeply love and embrace as they both have shaped and influenced who I am. I have come to think of this journey similarly and in many ways parallel of how Joseph Campbell describes a Hero’s Journey (https://youtu.be/d1Zxt28ff-E). Have you ever noticed how many superheroes, supervillains, wizards, warriors, and Jedis have also experienced loss and separation from their families in various ways? (Luke Skywalker, Rey, Harry Potter, Superman, Spiderman, Iron Man, Kung Fu Panda, Amethyst). They all have been called to duty and transformed and as we know with great power comes great responsibility! As an adoptee and now a therapist, I feel I have a lot of “superpowers” and privileges and that as a result of my own challenges, transformation and re-birth must uphold in order to help heal so there is less pain and suffering in this world and we can experience more joy, love, hope and empathy with one another. This to me is the best part.

What is hard about being an adoptee?
Indeed there are many, however constantly living with ambiguous loss, or in other words the physical absence with psychological presence, I feel is the hardest. Was first introduced to this type of loss by the work of Dr. Pauline Boss who has researched and written extensively on various types of losses. This loss in particular applies to the adoption constellation and has helped me more deeply understand my own grief and loss.

Is there something you have incorporated into your daily life that is specifically Korean?
Korean food! After living in Korea for over two years, my palate expanded and exploded. My tolerance for spice increased especially after growing up not eating much spicy food. Fortunately Los Angeles continues to support this daily lifestyle with many Korean markets and restaurants alongside my mother-in-law’s amazing cooking.

Finish this sentence – next time I go to Korea…..
…so many things I always want to do when I go to Korea! To name a few…

I will…

  • Connect with others and organizations
  • Eat as much street food as I can!
  • Get another tattoo
  • Hopefully will be at a different point in my birth family search

We will post again the English subtitled version, but in the meantime, here is Robyn’s piece in Korea on her marathon run. Congratulations!

YTN piece (part 1 of 2) highlighting the marathon and also shining light on the significance of DNA testing and the impact it can have: