A Handbook to Korea: For Your Next Trip Back ~ By Jodi Gill
(The Adoptee Group, self-published, Portland, Oregon, 2021, ISBN# 978-I-666-28841-4)
Review by Bill Drucker (Fall 2021 issue)
I made my first trip back to South Korea in 2010, 50 years after arriving in the U.S. I almost didn’t go. On the encouragement of fellow Korean adoptee friends, I finally went. Still, the first trip back was a scary jump into the deep end of the pool.
Like a lot of travel newbies and first-time adoptee returnees, I could have used a reliable travel guide and up-to-date reference book. For Korean adoptees planning their trips, Jodi Gill’s A Handbook to Korea (2021) is the right book to know before you go, and to take along. Well thought out and designed, this user-friendly paperback even has blank pages after each topical section for personal notes (Special Moments) and planning (To-Do List).
Gill’s tone is friendly and conversational, the kind of person you would want sitting next to you at the airport or on the plane. She knows the ins and outs of travel, having visited Korea 18 times between 2015 and 2019, and her aim is informational. She includes photos that complement the subject matter. All the travel basics are covered, including what to pack, what to know before you go, and what to expect after you land on Korean turf.
Gill notes that some 15,000-18,000 Korean American adoptees do not have U.S. citizenship, and that, for a variety of reasons, Korean adoptees with incomplete documentation may have difficulty getting a passport. She suggests contacting the adoptee immigration reform and support organization Adoptees for Justice for assistance. Other contacts for Korean adoptees in the U.S. and in South Korea are referenced in the book.
A Korean adoptee’s first visit back to South Korea is all new, regardless of whether one is a seasoned traveler or has learned/remembered how to speak Korean. Regardless if you can speak Korean, have traveled to other foreign lands, your first visit to South Korea is all new. One of the exhilarating moments is seeing that everyone looks like you. Then the reality hits when you open your mouth.
Gill describes how all passports are stamped at the Incheon International Airport, and that the official will ask the purpose of the trip, and possibly, where you will be staying. This is good information, because every traveler must be ready with answers. She also describes the various types of transportation from airport to Seoul.
The author includes a list of basic phrases in Korean to use. The 10-to-12-hour flight is enough time to practice everything on the list; and perhaps the right place to find a Korean speaker to practice with. Although it is good to know some Korean, all of the important signs in South Korea are in both Korean and English.
The author also includes information about South Korea’s currency, the won. Of course, any printed handbook is frozen at a point in time, which should prompt readers to do some internet research to check the exchange rate and any other fluctuating information.
Gill mentions the practice of tipping. While it is not expected, the gesture is a good show of appreciation for kindness or service. This reviewer remembers that, after a meal and being the only customer in a very tiny place, I paid the bill and waived the change. The proprietor did not protest.
In terms of packing, Gill includes a list of essential equipment to ensure adequate clothing, electronics and health care items. Just concerning shoes, she lists three types: walking shoes, dress shoes, and indoor sandal or slide.
Gill describes Korean weather and climate – the pleasant springs, sticky and humid summers, the wet monsoon time preceding its colorful falls, followed by cold winters.
Even with a modest budget, no traveler will go hungry in South Korea. Gill describes typical Korean cuisine, from sit-down restaurants to noodle shops and fast food places.
When to give gifts, and what to give in the Korean gift-giving culture can be a puzzle for Westerners. Jodi Gill suggests Western teas and coffees, gourmet chocolates, or candles. Other American snacks can serve as a novel small gifts; trail mix, candies and snacks, especially for children.
While the book focuses on first-time travel for adoptees, the subject of birth and family searches is addressed indirectly. Gill does not dwell deeply on this sensitive issue, other than that it can be emotionally exhausting whether or not the travelling adoptee succeeds in finding birth family. The author provides a list of resources for searching adoptees, including Korea-based and U.S.-based organizations. Birth searching requires planning, the author cautions, and well before the trip, adoptees who intend to search should contact organizations that can help.
Gill provides an excerpt from Our First Steps in Korea by Janine Vance, author of The Search for Mother Missing. The Vance twins founded the Adoption Truth and Transparency Worldwide Network and have championed the cause of records access for adoptees. In the essay, they describe their first travels in Korea, the challenges of language, a story of trusting a charming host, searching for food, and finding some 500 other Korean adoptees in a convention center, all hungry to know about Korea, and other adoptees.
Handbook to Korea (2021) is this author’s first book. Gill is a Korean adoptee who has worked as a teacher in the Portland, Oregon area. In the course of her career, she has directed and administered international educational programs between U.S. schools and foreign schools in South Korea, China, and Japan. In 2020, due to COVID-19, Gill and Korean school teacher Johan Kim set-up a mentor program called KOREDOOR. This program connects Korean students with American teachers via online video meetings.
The proceeds from A Handbook to Korea will benefit a new venture by Gill and partners called The Adoptee Group, which concentrates on mental health initiatives for international adoptees.