‘I hated being Asian and wished I could turn white’
I am an Australian Korean-adoptee and I'm proud of this fact, however it was long after my 21st birthday that I could feel this way.
My formative years featured regular periods of self-hate, self-pity and general unhappiness about my circumstance.
My Australian parents adopted me from South Korea when I was six months old and brought me home to a small country town in Victoria in 1988. We stayed in the south west district for around five years, also adding my Korean adoptee sister to the family.
Dad took an international transfer and we relocated to PNG, then Fiji, for the next four years.
During those years we lost my sister to an accident, adopted my brother but had to return him due to an external breach, relocated to Fiji and adopted my current sister.
Our international stint culminated in my parents separating, which would result in Mum, my sister and I returning to Warrnambool.
My family's world had fallen apart.
A parallel struggle was that I was leaving behind four years of amazing international schools where I had friends from all corners of the globe. Colour, race, and ethnicity were fluid.
We came back to our not-so-diverse home town of Warrnambool. It's a beautiful coastal town to raise a family, but it wasn't in any danger of winning multicultural diversity awards.
Up until that point, I'd never felt like I was different from anyone else. I was just Shaun.
Knowing I was adopted was just a fact of life I never thought about. My parents were my parents and I was accelerating in school.
However, kids are cruel and it was brought to my attention that I was not just Shaun. I was "Slant Eyes". I was "Ching Chong".
I was a gifted, shy child and an easy target. I wasn't heavily bullied but the racial slurs cut me deep. I didn't choose to be here.
Most kids usually want to fit in like everyone else and I was the only Asian in my school. Whenever Mum, my sister and I were down the street I could always sense intrusive eyes trying to make sense of our situation.
As I went through high school I built some amazing friendships but puberty did its thing and I felt increasingly unhappy in myself. Rather than simply wanting to be white, I started hating my appearance and especially my circumstance. I pitied myself. Worst of all, I suffered in silence. Nobody would understand but I never gave them a chance to.
I didn't have the ability to identify or express how I was feeling. I just bottled it up and tried to wait it out until I could move to a diverse Melbourne for uni, to restart my life.
Finally, the day came when I could move out and start the next chapter. I remember wandering around Melbourne's CBD with a grin on my face that no one cared I was there. I finally blended in.
Uni offered a new confusion. I naturally gravitated towards other white country kids but on one occasion some Asian guys invited me to their group. We weren't able to connect. They found my ignorance of Asian values entertaining and made fun of how I was probably the most Aussie person they'd met, aside from my appearance.
I was mostly unfazed by this because I saw Asians as "them" rather than a race I identified with, but it nudged me further toward an "avoid being associated with anything Asian" mindset.
However a sequence of events would start transforming my attitude. An attractive Korean girl sought me out during a uni pub crawl. Korean barbecue was becoming popular in Melbourne, as well as K pop and K dramas. For the first time in my life I was receiving signals that being Asian was actually okay, and dare I say it, there were elements I was proud to be associated with.
From here I did several things. I sought psychological support as I realised I had been struggling with some fairly significant issues that I was struggling to reconcile. I improved my mental and physical health. I improved my perception of myself. I mustered up the courage to conduct a birth family search.
While I wasn't able to find my birth mother, I wouldn't label the experience as unsuccessful either. I've visited Korea multiple times, learning about Korean culture and what might have been.
Today, I am at peace with who I am and what I look like. There have been periods where I've considered fulling embracing my Korean roots and living in Seoul, however Australia is home and my bond with Mum and Sis is stronger than blood.
Shaun Hardwick is a guest on Insight's episode Adopted Abroad airing on SBS at 8.30pm on October 1 and SBS On Demand.
If you or someone you know is suffering, help is available.
Adults can contact
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Younger people can contact
headspace: 1800 650 890
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800