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Lesson 6: Aftermath of the Korean War: Korean Transnational Adoptions
​Activity 6.2: ​Korean War Orphans 


Students learn about one of the many groups of displaced civilians whose lives were forever changed by the war, Korean children. They learn how Korean children became central to international aid efforts that led to the advent of transnational adoptions.​ They analyze an article from 1953 about a Korean transnational adoptee and consider the broader impacts of Korean transnational adoptions on Koreans and Korean-Americans.

Ri Kang Yong. (Source: Michael Rougier, “The Little Boy Who Wouldn’t Smile” Life (July 23, 1951); Ben Cosgrove, “’The Little Boy Who Wouldn’t Smile: A Story of the Korean War,” Time (July 24, 2014))


​Activity Questions

  • What was the status of Korean children after the war?

  • In what ways did the war separate families? What was the "tragedy of separation"?

  • Why and how were Korean children adopted by US families?

  • What were the perspectives of  United States families regarding these adoptions?

​Instructional Strategies​

  • To support this lesson, use the Lesson 6 Teachers' Guide and Lesson 6 Presentation found under Lesson 6.

​Introduction to Lesson Think-Pair-Share

  • Use the prompt and questions below to open the lesson as a think, pair, share.  Allow students to use their Viewing Worksheet as a reference.

    • Estimates are that 10 million Koreans were separated from family members during the Korean War, the vast majority of whom have yet to reunite after 60 years.

      1. After reuniting with his brother and sister in North Korea, Min Yong Lee says, “After I met my siblings, I then knew who I was and I was very relieved.” What does he mean by this comment?

      2. What were your reactions to the family reunion experiences of Heebok Kim, Kee Park, Min Yong Lee, and Suntae Chun?

      3. What did you learn about how the tragedy of separation occurred from the experiences of each person in the film?

  • Have students jot down their ideas for the first dive minutes and then share their ideas with their partner.  Invite student teams to share with the class.

  • Present brief information about what happened to Korean children after the war and the influx of U.S. missionaries and social workers who came to their aid.  Introduce Ri Kang Yong.

The US Perspective of Adoptions: Document and Photographic Analysis

  • Provide students with a copy of the article about Korean adoptee, Ri Kang Yong. Have students read and annotate the article, underlining words used to describe the adoptee and phrases that describe life in Korea and life in the United States.

  • Then have them write a few words next to each photograph to describe what they see being portrayed in that photograph. Encourage students to be detailed and specific in their analysis. 

  • Have students answer the following questions (on back of the article or on the provided worksheet)

    1. What is this story about?

    2. What is the tone of the article (i.e. happy, sad, optimistic, pessimistic, etc.).

    3. What is the story being told by the photographs? Select one of these photographs and take a second look. According to that photograph, how is Ri Kang Yong adapting to the United States? What specific parts of the photograph support your answer?

    4. How does the article as a whole, text and photos combined, describe Korea? Describe America? What is the overarching message about these two countries?

    5. Does this article promote or oppose Korean adoptions? Provide evidence from the article for your answer.

  • As a class, discuss answers, especially questions 4, 5, and 6.

The Broader Picture of Korean Adoptees

  • Present additional lecture material that connects the adoption of Korean children to larger, global patterns of transnational adoption. 

​Closing the Activity

  • End class with review and discussion of the activity questions and/or the Research Extension (found under Lesson 6 Assessments).​ ​



Worksheet: A Famous Orphan Finds a Happy Home (PDF)

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