Meeting KUMSN

It has been only three days since I started my field placement with KUMSN and so far I’ve found it to be energizing and exciting, but also difficult and at times frustrating.

The KUMSN office is actually located in an apartment building rather than a formal office building, so it is a very home-like environment. Based on the stigma on unwed mothers and those that openly support them, finding affordable office space may have been difficult for KUMSN. Their sole office is located in a district called Mapo-gu (which is not too far from where I am staying in Seodaemun-gu). There are three full-time office staff including the Executive Director, the Project Public Relations Chief Manager, and my field educator, Han Seo, Seung-hee (family name, given name), who is the Research & Education Chief Manager. The board chairperson, Angela Kang, also has her office here but only comes once or twice a week.

KUMSN cute sticky notes that say  "All the mothers of the world have the right to raise their own children,"

Translation: “All the mothers of the world have the right to raise their own children,”

After getting lost on the bus system and walking in the freezing cold, I finally arrived (an hour late) on my first day. I met with Seung-hee and learned about KUMSN’s current activities. She provided me with brochures in Korean and English, as well as some cute post-it notes with their information on them.

Although KUMSN was founded in 2007, they were registered as an organization in the U.S. Very recently in 2011, KUMSN became a registered organization with the Korean government although they do not receive any government funding or support. Through the foundation that Dr. Boas established in the U.S., KUMSN will have a funding source for its first two years in Korea with the goal of becoming self-supporting by June 2014. Additional funding is obtained through donations (both monetary and in-kind), sponsoring members, and memberships for their budget. However, because of the stigma on unwed mothers, it is difficult to gain the support of businesses and organizations who do not want to be affiliated with KUMSN.

This month, they have been very busy preparing for their U.S. tax audit that they must complete since they receive funding through Dr. Boas’ foundation. At this time, I have been helping by doing miscellaneous office tasks such as copying, filing, organizing, etc. Although these tasks are not directly related to our roles as social workers, I have come to accept that paperwork and organization are important and will always be part of the job, especially in an administrative or management position.

My other responsibilities will include reviewing and proofreading the English website as well as the news and academic articles after they have been translated by KUMSN volunteers from Korean to English. I also search for academic research and news articles (in English) related to unwed mothers, intercountry adoption, birthmothers, and families in Korea and other areas of the world.

It is also a reflection of cultural differences in that Korea has a very different work environment than what I am used to working in the U.S. It is common for the newest person to the company or organization to do these kinds of activities such as copying, getting coffee, and filing. Working beyond the designated work hours is also common and a regular occurrence, but is not reflected in their salary or wages. For example, a friend of mine who is a Korean National, started working for KT Telecom and has been working from 9 am until 11 pm most days although he’s only paid until 6 pm.

I am very excited to work with KUMSN because of my own thoughts and feelings about the issues unwed mothers face in Korea and I do believe that woman have the right to become mothers and to keep and raise their children. It is also important to me because it is this stigma that has really fueled the Korean international adoption industry.

KUMSN's banner on adopted children

As a woman, it is also important to me because of the traditional Korean beliefs and norms that historically and continues to place greater value on men: not only in families which are the private and domestic sector, but also in employment, owning property, politically, economically, educationally, and even in everyday public and social interactions. I hope to go into greater detail with my thoughts and understanding of these aspects throughout the time that I am here, but I think that I have written enough for tonight.


Categories: Child welfare, Field Experience, Korean Culture, Social Work, Women's Issues | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Meeting KUMSN

  1. I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to learn more about this issue, Katie, and have come to understand the lack of support for unwed mothers as a human rights issue.

    Your blog may help to raise awareness of this important issue! Laura

  2. Debbie D

    Glad you made it to KUMSN! Seodaemun..that’s near ESWS I think! I’m really enjoying your blog so far. Can’t wait to hear about what else you learn and explore. Take care.

  3. Margie Quartley

    Katie I have found your posts very interesting! What an incredible challenge to be willing to venture both physically and emotionally beyond your own comfort zone.

    I can’t begin to understand the complexities of the issues and barriers that unwed mothers face in Korea. In our country we certainly have our share of biases and challenges that exist as well (though I imagine to a much different degree than what you will encounter in Korea).

    I look forward to hearing more as your journey unfolds. Take care, Margie Q.

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