To Lose, Live, and Lose Again

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Hannah Hyun White

August 5, 2019

“Congratulations! I am pleased to inform you that you have been admitted as a graduate student for Fall 2019 to the Ph.D. program in Education Studies at the University of California, San Diego.” This one sentence changed my entire world. Everything I had been working and hoping for the past 6 years all came true in a matter of moments; I was going to begin pursuing my PhD at a school I never thought was obtainable and with a team I could only dream of. But as exciting as this time was, a part of me also felt sick on the inside, because pursuing my PhD also meant leaving behind everything and everyone I have ever known.

I knew moving to San Diego to start my PhD was the right decision for me. Although this was such an exciting opportunity, it also felt like I was losing all over again. As an Asian American transracial and transnational adoptee, I experienced loss before I could even say my first word. I was adopted by a white family at just four months old because (according to my file) my birth mother did not feel she could care for me on her own and wanted me to be able to grow up in a family full of love, financial, emotional, and educational support; so she gave me up for adoption the day I was born. Most people would say as a baby I couldn’t possibly remember this or even feel such emotions, but I do. Adoption is not natural; it’s traumatic. I was ripped away from my family, my country, and my culture and was the replacement baby for the child my adoptive family could not have on their own. While it looks like I lived a great life, there will always be a deeper level of trauma that non-adoptees will never understand. I experienced loss and it still impacts me and my experiences every single day.  

I have only lived in Arizona for my whole 24 years of life, so moving to California was absolutely terrifying for me. I was leaving behind family, a terminally-ill parent, a partner, a community, and everything I have ever known; I was losing all over again. The move to California broke my heart. I will never forget the feeling of watching my partner leave for the airport, knowing I wasn’t going back to Arizona with him and I was now all on my own. The first week was filled with non-stop tears, many phone calls home, and video chats with familiar faces. I woke up feeling anxious every morning, having to remind myself where I was, only to feel a sense of emptiness realizing that I was all alone. But if I have learned anything in experiencing loss again, it’s okay to not be okay.

I have now been in California for almost a month, and there is not a moment where I don’t miss having a sense of home and belonging. But I am slowly finding my place and building community again. I know moves and transitions are tough, and it just takes time, but I still can’t help but feel a sense of loss and ambiguity in my life again. But through it all my community both far and near as kept me grounded and reaffirmed with my feelings and experiences. There is still so much I am learning, experiencing, and growing through, but I am excited to see what new adventures this chapter brings as I learn to live once again.

About the Author: 

Hannah Hyun White, M.A., is a Korean American transracial/transnational adoptee from Scottsdale, Arizona. She is currently a PhD student at the University of California, San Diego. Hannah received both her B.S. in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, B.A. in Linguistics, and M.A. in Higher Education from the University of Arizona. She is also a NASPA NUFP alumna and currently serves as the Community Engagement Co-Chair for ACPA’s Asian Pacific American Network and the Research and Scholarship Co-Coordinator for NASPA’s Multiracial Knowledge Community. As a transracial adoptee, Hannah has always felt a deep commitment to her community to address issues of access, equity, and inclusion. Hannah has previously engaged in work around racial justice activism and her past research has focused on the experiences of Asian American transracial adoptee students and their journeys into agency, empowerment, and resiliency through engagement in activism and advocacy work. In this field, she hopes to empower students to realize their agency and capacity for leadership, share and speak the stories and lived experiences of transracial adoptees into existence, complicate conversations around racial identities, and affirm the values of students of color.

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