PyeongChang is a unique homecoming for Korean-American adoptee athletes

Pennsylvanian slopestyle skier Meehyun Lee is suiting up for her first Winter Games. But the country on the Korea-Am...

Posted: Feb 16, 2018 8:44 AM
Updated: Feb 16, 2018 8:44 AM

Pennsylvanian slopestyle skier Meehyun Lee is suiting up for her first Winter Games. But the country on the Korea-American adoptee’s back is Korea. For Lee and several other Korean adoptee athletes, the PyeongChang Games are a unique, albeit unusual, return home.

The 23-year-old grew up skiing and was scouted by the Korean team as a teenager. In 2014, she learned that, because of South Korea’s dual citizenship policy, she could compete for the Korean Olympic team without having to give up her American citizenship.

To become U.S. citizens, many internationally adopted children have their birthright citizenships revoked. However, certain countries allow adoptees to hold dual citizenship, including South Korea. By 2015, Lee finalized her South Korean dual citizenship, and after years of training, she is ready to take to the Olympic slopes.

She’s looking to do well in slopestyle skiing. But she’s also looking for something more.

Lee hopes the amplified platform Olympians are given, combined with the increased media attention in her native country, will help her find her birth parents. Unlike many international adoptions, she has bits and pieces of useful information to aid her search. She has case numbers and names, but it’s only led to dead ends so far. Lee is no longer actively searching, but she’s appeared on South Korean TV leading up to the 2018 Games in hopes her parents will see her and make contact.

Across the country in Minnesota, the Brandt family features two athletes competing in the same sport but for different countries. Hannah and Marissa made their Olympic debuts in PyeongChang, but younger sister Hannah, born in Vadnais Heights, Minnesota, plays hockey for Team USA. Older sister Marissa was adopted from South Korea in 1993 when she was four months old and is a member of a unique combined hockey team fielded by both South and North Korean.

It’s not unheard of for multiple siblings to compete in the Olympics together – but representing two different countries is another story.

After playing for the Division III Gustavos Adolphus College hockey team, Marissa was asked to join the Korean national team. They wanted her because of her skill, but Brandt’s ability to apply for dual citizenship didn’t hurt.

Despite losing its first three games, the Korean team ignited the biggest roar from the crowd when forward Randi Griffin scored lit the lamp in its most-recent matchup vs. Japan. Marissa assisted on the play.

Brandt hasn’t publically mentioned a birth parent search, but she’s far from the only Korean adoptee to leave her adoptive country and don the Korean flag. It’s a personal choice about how involved and invested an adoptee is with their birth country. Brandt has said that growing up, she wasn’t interested in learning about Korean culture (even though her sister loves the food), but as a member of the national team, she’s been able to start picking up the language and appreciating her Korean heritage.

Korea’s dual citizenship policy has given several athletes the opportunity to not only connect with their heritage but also represent their roots on a global stage.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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