Posted 3:55 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024
In new book, Docan-Morgan documents experiences of transnational Korean adoptees
What does it mean to be “family”? Many people wrestle with that question, and it may be especially nuanced for individuals who are adopted.
Sara Docan-Morgan, a professor in the Communication Studies Department at UW-La Crosse, recently published “In Reunion: Transnational Korean adoptees and the communication of family,” a book exploring the complexities of communication surrounding reunions of transnational adoptees and their birth and adoptive families. The book is based on interviews with 18 transnational Korean adoptees who had been raised in America or Denmark and had reunited with their Korean birth families.
“Hearing from and interacting with adoptees who have reunited and found the research helpful has been really rewarding,” Docan-Morgan says. “And it’s rewarding to generate something that is going to be useful and helpful to people in the future. I’ve always wanted to do research that was practical and applied.”
After her first set of interviews for the project in 2010, she authored several academic articles about her findings. “In Reunion” started to take shape 10 years later, as she was interviewing more adoptees about the same topic, something she did not predict to do a decade earlier.
“I think I always hoped to write a book because books tend to be written in a more accessible manner than journal articles written for other academics. Plus, there's more freedom in writing a book,” Docan-Morgan says. “I didn’t know how much I would enjoy it until I actually started doing it.”
One topic highlighted in the book is “discursive burden,” which Docan-Morgan defines as communicative responsibility. Adoptees who are in reunion bear a lot of discursive burden, ranging from initiating the search and reunion to masking uncomfortable feelings as they adjust to cultural norms that are different from those they were raised with.
“In sharing that idea of discursive burden, I wanted people to know what they’re doing is hard and what they’re doing requires a lot of courage,” Docan-Morgan explains.
There is the possibility of discursive burden happening within the adoptive family, too. Adoptive parents may feel threatened by the reunion, so the adoptee feels they must reassure them.
“I want people to have a wider view of reunion,” Docan-Morgan says. “The book is not just for adoptees, but for families of adoptees who support them as they go through reunion.”
Docan-Morgan has a personal connection to the topic, being a transnational Korean adoptee. She first met her birth parents in 2009 and spent 2016 to 2018 in Korea building a relationship with them. Her personal experience led to her research, which has been both fulfilling and meaningful, but not always easy.
“Getting emails and DMs from people that tell me the book has impacted them makes me feel fulfilled and thankful to be in the position I’m in,” Docan-Morgan says. “From a personal perspective, because I’ve reunited and I share part of my story in the book, people ask me personal questions in Q&A and conversation. Being adopted is only one part of my identity, and sharing the book has been emotional and vulnerable as it’s made me think more about that part of my identity and my American parents who passed in 2003 and 2008. So, I wouldn't say it’s been easy, but it’s been meaningful.”
Taking a sabbatical in the 2021-2022 academic year helped Docan-Morgan create time to complete the project. She urges other faculty to do the same if they have research they would like to pursue but have trouble fitting it into their heavy teaching load.
“A faculty sabbatical was really helpful for me,” Docan-Morgan says. “It's important that people support faculty research and talk about faculty research, and for faculty to learn how to set boundaries to create time to work on research projects.”
After publishing the book, Docan-Morgan has found another topic she would like to explore in future research: the process of interpretation. There is no standard way of translating across language and cultural barriers. Some translators give cultural context, while others think it should be as straight-forward as possible.
“There’s an intertwined relationship between culture and language,” Docan-Morgan explains. “I’m interested in the different perspectives on how to best do it.”
Additionally, you can join Docan-Morgan for an evening book signing event on Feb. 29 at Pearl Street Books (323 Pearl St., La Crosse).
“In Reunion: Transnational Korean adoptees and the communication of family” is available for purchase online.