Hyun Sook Han, Korean Social Worker and Adoption Pioneer, Dies at 83

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Over 3 decades, she placed thousands of Korean orphans with families successful the Midwest and made definite the children ne'er forgot their heritage.

Hyun Sook Han successful  2017. The haunting representation  of seeing children abandoned during the Korean War stayed with her passim  her life.
Credit...Suzanne Shaff

Dec. 6, 2021, 2:44 p.m. ET

Hyun Sook Han’s puerility abruptly ended erstwhile the Korean War began. She was conscionable 12 erstwhile she fled her location by ft with her household 1 wintertime day, carrying her small sister connected her back. As she marched done the acold she kept looking down her successful despair. Children had been abandoned connected snowy banks, near to fend for themselves.

The ache she felt for them ne'er near her.

“All those children crying,” Mrs. Han wrote successful a 2004 memoir, “Many Lives Intertwined.” “I could not look into their eyes and admit specified sorrow. Instead, I whispered to them: ‘I volition travel backmost and assistance you.’”

After the warfare ended successful 1953, and Mrs. Han grew into a young woman, she decided to survey societal enactment astatine a assemblage successful Seoul. She joined the country’s nascent kid payment tract and began assisting Korean families who wanted to follow children who were orphaned by the war. She past started aiding American families seeking to follow Korean children, but wondered astir the culturally disorientating transition they mightiness look overseas.


Credit...Suzanne Shaff

So successful 1975 Mrs. Han emigrated to St. Paul, wherever she helped commencement a Korean adoption programme astatine the Children’s Home Society of Minnesota. Over the adjacent 3 decades, she pioneered and expanded planetary adoption services successful the Midwest.

Mrs. Han died connected Nov. 5 astatine her location successful St. Paul. She was 83. Her daughter, Shinhee Han, said the origin was kidney cancer.

Working from her tiny bureau astatine the agency, Mrs. Han helped spot thousands of Korean orphans with families crossed the authorities and beyond. She became a captious liaison to Korean kid payment agencies by providing a taste span during the labyrinthine adoption process.

“When the kid meets the household astatine the airport, the parents are truthful excited,” her girl said. “But for the child, coming into this caller world, they don’t recognize who these radical are. They’ve mislaid everything acquainted to them. My mother’s imaginativeness was that the Korean portion of their individuality shouldn’t dice astatine the airport.”

As her charges grew up successful the Midwestern scenery of frosty winters and assemblage shot games, Mrs. Han provided a tether to Korean traditions.

She met with the children successful groups, serving Korean fare similar beef bulgogi and homemade kimchi portion they discussed their experiences adjusting to their caller lives. She ran camps and workshops that taught Korean language, past and people songs, and she created enactment networks truthful the adoptees could found a consciousness of community.

When they grew older, if they wished it, Mrs. Han connected them with their commencement families successful Korea.


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“Over the years, I person helped galore adoptees find their commencement families and unraveled galore bittersweet stories,” Mrs. Han wrote successful her memoir. “Most times I cried with them. Still, I believed successful adoption.”

“I knew that adoption wasn’t cleanable oregon the champion solution, but I judge adoption is bully for the child, for the commencement parents, and for the adoptive parents,” she added. “I judge the United States is the champion state for planetary adoption, arsenic it is simply a melting pot.”

Hyun Sook Shim was calved connected June 15, 1938, successful Seoul. Her father, Sun Ki Shim, worked for an electrical company. Her mother, Yong Ok Lee, was a homemaker. Hyun Sook was the eldest of 10 children, but arsenic poorness and starvation ravaged the state during the war, 3 of her siblings died.

After graduating from Ewha Womans University successful Seoul successful 1962, she joined Young U Han, a businessman. She had been successful the kid payment tract successful Korea for a decennary erstwhile she participated successful an speech programme with the Children’s Home Society of Minnesota, which was astatine the clip lone opening to commencement its planetary adoption initiative. The acquisition proved revelatory.

When she returned home, she told her hubby that she wanted to proceed her adoption work, but successful America, and that she would person to determination determination to bash it. As it happened, helium was an adoptee himself, who had been separated from his household during the war. He had heard that if helium became an American citizen, helium mightiness beryllium capable to question to North Korea 1 day, wherever helium could reunite with his family, truthful helium eagerly agreed to the move. (He successfully reunited with them successful the 1980s.)

In Minnesota, Mrs. Han embraced Midwestern culture. She became a Vikings instrumentality who sat done games successful the acold and she learned to marque greenish legume casserole. Several times a week, adjacent successful the blustery snow, she drove to a Korean religion to pray.

In 1987, she accepted an grant from South Korea’s president recognizing her work, and successful 2007, she was honored astatine the legislature Angels successful Adoption gala successful Washington. She retired successful 2004. In her precocious 60s, she began traveling to India to unpaid astatine orphanages and prosecute successful missionary work.


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In summation to her daughter, Mrs. Han is survived by a son, Mike; 4 grandchildren; and 5 siblings, Hyun Jung Shim, Hyun Ja Shim, Hyun Ran Shim, Hyun Tae Shim and Hyun Yoon Shim. Her hubby died successful 1995.

Among the mourners astatine Mrs. Han’s ceremonial past period were crowds of adoptees and parents who had benefited from her efforts. They walked up to her children to wage their respects.

“So galore radical came up to maine astatine the ceremonial to explicit the aforesaid thing,” her girl said. “They wanted to archer me, ‘Your parent shaped and created my family.’ I heard radical accidental that implicit and implicit again.”

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