"Emotionally, it's a whole new world!" Kim Ok Le, Italy Trine Jensen, Denmark
Kim Ok Le, 43, was abandoned in a Catholic church in Daegu, South Korea as a baby. After a brief period spent at the White Lily Orphanage in Daegu, she was placed for adoption with an Italian family in September 1976.
Kim was always curious about her biological family, and around 20 years ago, she traveled to Korea to look for information about them. She visited the agency that had placed her for adoption and was able to recover her adoption files — and inside was a huge surprise: a handwritten letter from her mother.
The mother wrote in the letter that the child’s father was killed in a car accident, and that she herself had been seriously injured, and was therefore unable to raise the child by herself. The mother also said that she was considering taking her own life, and begged whoever found her daughter to raise the child well.
Kim naturally assumed that the narrative in the letter was true: her parents were probably dead, and her unfortunate mother had abandoned her because she was unable to care for her due to her injuries.
She still wanted to find out if she had living relatives, though, and at some point did a DNA test with a private agency, but the results were inconclusive. A year and a half ago, she took a MyHeritage DNA test, but got no significant results.
And then, out of the blue, she received an email that turned everything she thought she knew about her story on its head. She had a DNA match through MyHeritage, and the estimated relationship was for a full sister.
Trine Jensen, 40, was born in Busan in 1978, and was abandoned by her mother at the age of 1 year, 3 months. After a while at the NamKwang Orphanage in Busan, she was adopted by a Danish family in 1980. She, too, had tried to find her biological family, and learned from the Korean Social Services that her biological mother had tried to find her a few times during the 80s.
About a year ago, Trine took the MyHeritage DNA test just to learn more about her ethnicity. She never expected to find any of her relatives — let alone a sister!
Kim and Trine are full sisters, which means that what Kim’s mother wrote in her initial letter could not have been true. Kim’s father must have been alive when Kim was abandoned. Was the letter a fake? Or did Kim’s mother invent the story to protect her child from a different narrative?
The matter of adoption is an open wound in South Korean society: the Korean War and the Vietnam War brought 2 decades of American military presence in the region, and many multiracial children were born from relationships between American soldiers and local women. These children were shunned by society — people saw their very existence as being problematic. The nation’s leaders instituted a policy of sending these children abroad for international adoption. But it wasn’t only multiracial children who were placed for adoption: children born out of wedlock, or to families struggling with financial hardship, also placed them for adoption to ensure a better future for them.
By the early 80s, 24 Korean children were adopted by foreigners every day. An estimated 200,000 Korean children have been placed for adoption all over the world since the 1950s.
At the moment, the origins of the letter Kim found in her adoption files remain a mystery. But in the meantime, the sisters are making up for lost time. In December 2019, they met in person when Kim came to visit Trine in Copenhagen.
The sisters are still hoping to find their biological mother in Korea — and wondering if there are any more siblings they haven’t found yet.
“Emotionally, that’s a whole new world,” says Kim. “It was the beginning of a new search that I’d given up on.”
“I found out about my roots, and then I got a sister!” says Trine. “This outcome has been the best present I could ever have imagined.”
Kim and Trine’s story is the third case of Korean adoptees that MyHeritage DNA was able to reunite in the past 2 years. Another of those cases, another pair of full sisters who were both abandoned and placed in the same orphanage is Kim — was developed into a documentary film called The Missing Piece.