Adopted Koreans in Sweden and Scandinavia

When discussing diaspora and the movement of peoples across continents, it is easy to forget about the hundreds of thousands—even millions—of international adoptees that contribute to large-scale migrations; indeed, it is the one group that is often overlooked in the analysis of disparate countries. Since the mid-20th century, over 200,000 Korean children have been sent overseas to at least twenty different Western states for international adoption; in fact, among the leading countries, Korea is the nation that has sent the largest number of international adoptees in the world. Much of this phenomenon is a direct result of the Korean War: Adoption was originally seen as a solution for the growing number of orphans, as well as a way to confront the immediate aftermath of the war. In 1961, however, a special adoption law was passed in South Korea that created an efficient and large exporting structure, and many Korean children were sent to North America, Europe and Australia. Although majority of the adoptees reside in the United States, a considerable number of Korean babies were sent to Scandinavia—here, they constitute the second largest number of Korean adoptees, according to Tobias Hübinette, PhD in Korean Studies from Stockholm University. Sweden in particular, as the country with the highest rate of international adoptions in the world (compared to its population), accounts for over 9,000 individuals. These numbers are even more remarkable when one considers that the adopted Koreans in Sweden (and Scandinavia) also account for almost all the ethnic Korean population in the region. In these countries however, where ethnic diversity is not as varied as the populations in North America or the rest of Europe, these adopted Koreans face a complex struggle for identity, one that transcends their current borders and their lost, forgotten homeland. The narratives of adopted Koreans in this region do not only call into question what it means to be Korean, but also what it means to be part of a larger network of migration. Their stories are ones that are transnational and, more importantly, deeply personal, as many often try to return to Korea to become reunited with their birth families and their sense of past.

Further Reading and References:


Eleana Kim. “Wedding Citizenship and Culture: Korean Adoptees and the Global Family of Korea.” Social Text 21, no. 1 (2003): 57-81.

Hübinette T, ‘The adoption issue in Korea: diaspora politics in the age of globalisation’, Stockholm Journal of East Asian Studies 12, pp 141–53, 2001

Hübinette, Tobias. “Adopted Koreans and the Development of Identity in the ‘Third Space.’” Adoption & Fostering 28, no. 1 (April 2004): 16–24.

Eleana J. Kim. ADOPTED TERRITORY: TRANSNATIONAL KOREAN ADOPTEES AND THE POLITICS OF BELONGING. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, (2010), 344 pages, 978-082234

Yngvesson, B. (2007). Refiguring kinship in the space of adoption. Anthropological Quarterly, 80(2), 561-579.

Kim, E. (2007). Our adoptee, our alien: Transnational adoptees as specters of foreignness and family in south korea. Anthropological Quarterly, 80(2), 497-531.

PARK, HYEON-SOOK. 2015. Korean adoptees in sweden: Have they lost their first language completely? Applied Psycholinguistics 36, (4) (07): 773-797,

Website Links, Articles, and Films:

Embassy of Sweden in Seoul on Korean Adoptions in Sweden:

“I am a Korean Adoptee”—A First-Hand Account:

Korean Adoptee Looking for Birth Mother:

Assisting Swedish Koreans in Finding Their Roots:

Korean Adoptees Struggle For Records Access:

The Adopted Korean Foundation in Sweden:

Swedish Korean Film Susanne Brink’s Arirang (1991):

Director Malene Choi Jensen on her film The Return, on Korean Adoptees:

In film by director Deann Liem, Korean Adoptees search for their history:

Youtube and Video Links:

Interview with Swedish Korean Adoptees:

Swedish Documentary on Korean Adoptees (In Swedish):

“Where Are You From?”—Danish Korean Adoption Stories:

General Introduction to Korean international adoptees’ search for relatives

Malene Choi Jensen’s 2018 film on Korean Adoptees, The Return:

Geographies of Kinship – The Korean Adoption Story, a film by Director Deann Borshay Liem: