UNR graduate finds biological parents after almost 30 years
- UNR graduate finds biological parents after almost 30 years
At a glance
University of Nevada, Reno and Fernley High School graduate Nathan
Sung Budziak was adopted by an American family after his birth in
South Korea. Budziak found his birth family recently after 27 years.
Reno adoption agencies:
» Adoption Choices of Nevada: 775-825-4673
» The Adoption Alliance: 775-851-7888
» Holt Adoption Agency: 541-687-2202
Korean Air flight KA02 took University of Nevada, Reno graduate Nathan
Sung Budziak to Seoul, South Korea, on April 23.
He was nervous.
The 14-hour flight tired his body, but his mind raced with
uncertainty. Budziak's family waited for him at the baggage claim,
anxious to see him, greet him, hold him and love him.
Budziak, 27, pulled his luggage off the carousel and made eye contact
with his father, then his mother.
It was awkward.
Budziak's father spoke broken English. His mother began crying and
wouldn't let go of his hand.
They hugged him like they'd never seen Budziak before.
That's because they had never met.
Budziak, a Millennium scholar from Fernley, was placed for adoption by
his birth mother the day after he was born in 1983 in Seoul.
The family reunited recently after Budziak tracked them down following
a business trip to China in December.
"I felt like I was gaining a family," Budziak said. "But from their
perspective, they lost a member of the family and got him back. There
were definitely different emotions."
For Budziak's father, Dae Suk Ki, the moment was bittersweet. Dae Suk
thought his son was dead.
Dae Suk was in the late stages of liver cancer when Budziak was born.
His wife, Soon Ja Lee Ki, lied about the adoption and told him their
son died at birth.
'We were not fit to be your parents'
When Budziak was born, his mother was holding him in one room, while
his father was in a different hospital receiving treatment for liver
Seoul's best cancer doctors said they couldn't cure Dae Suk. The
hospital later turned him away because the family had no money.
Soon Ja Lee sold artwork on the streets and earned about $250 per
month, while Dae Suk was unemployed and on what many thought was his
death bed. The couple already had two daughters and lived in a
Budziak's mother felt she had no choice but to make an adoption plan
for her son.
"Your birthmother was all by herself when she had to give birth to
you," Dae Suk wrote in a translated email to Budziak last year. "(She
was) not able to tell me since I was in no condition to be there for
her. ... We were not fit to be your parents from the beginning."
But the circumstances changed. Soon after the birth, Dae Suk's
condition improved, and his cancer went into remission. He called it
an act of God, a second chance at life.
Meanwhile, his son was living with an adopted family in Medford, Ore.,
nearly 6,000 miles away.
Dae Suk took his second chance to improve his life. He went back to
school and received a master's degree in English literature at MyungJi
Around that time in 1999, Budziak's parents moved the family to
Nevada, where he attended Fernley High School. He played baseball and
football and was an honor society student.
At UNR, he majored in journalism with an advertising sequence and
minored in ethnic studies.
The father and son had never met but later would realize they have
many of the same traits -- motivation, enthusiasm, broad cheekbones,
forehead structure and relatively tall height for a Korean; Budziak is
"I have somewhat of a perfectionist thing I do, and I always try to
give my best in everything I do," Dae Suk wrote.
Budziak, full of energy and a bright smile, also shared
characteristics with his biological mother.
"Your mother is engaging, sociable, cheerful in all things, and she is
charismatic," Dae Suk wrote.
'It was astonishing'
After college, Budziak worked at the Banana Republic outlet in Sparks
and quickly moved up in rank to assistant store manager.
When the opportunity to help open some stores in Beijing arose, he jumped at it.
Budziak spent nearly four months in the country and was finally in a
place, he said, where he wasn't the only Asian, like he had been
through grades K-12.
He quickly learned and adapted to Asian cultures. His favorite dish is
Kalguksu, which is "like Korean chicken noodles soup," he said, but
with hand-cut noodles.
When he talks with other Korean adoptees, usually through a blog he
started (adoptedthoughts.com), he often mentions that he misses Asia.
"I fell in love with the culture," Budziak said.
When he returned to Reno, the jetlag was unbearable. He couldn't
sleep. The familiar image of Tiananmen Square crept in his mind.
He remembered seeing Asian families, in particular, one mother, father
and a child each holding a miniature Chinese flag.
"For some reason, that struck a chord with me," Budziak said. "It was
like, the Asian family."
One morning about 2 a.m., Budziak finally decided to start looking for
his birth family. He contacted a Korean adoption agency, not fully
convinced they would respond.
Six days later, at about 4 a.m., a reply email popped into his inbox
saying his biological parents had been located.
"I literally felt like I was asleep still, and it was a dream," he
said. "It was astonishing. I had a bunch of anxiety. It was surreal."
'We would like to ask for forgiveness'
On Dec. 28, Dae Suk walked up the patio to his home after a vacation
with Soon Ja Lee to find a telegram pinned to the front door.
It was from the adoption agency and said their long-lost son was
searching for them. Dae Suk thought someone made a mistake.
"It was a terrible shock for me at first since I always believed that
you died at birth," Dae Suk wrote his son.
At first, the news upset Dae Suk. Soon Ja Lee came clean about the
lie, and Dae Suk felt betrayed.
Those feelings turned into remorse. Dae Suk and Soon Ja Lee had
sleepless nights wondering if their only son would grant forgiveness
for the adoption.
Dae Suk finally responded to Budziak. The first sentence in his first
correspondence letter read, "Where could I possibly begin?" Later, it
said, "We would like to ask for forgiveness."
The telegram had photos of Budziak, and right away, Dae Suk noted the
similar eyebrows. He had his mother's nose. Dae Suk was so sure they
were related, he even offered to pay for a DNA test.
'Raising you in love'
Jerry and Vikki Budziak always knew they would adopt a child.
They chose the Holt Korean adoption agency because Jerry Budziak had
numerous Korean roommates.
At the time, a nationally syndicated television show, "Hour Magazine,"
was filming a feature on the founders of the agency, Harry and Bertha
Holt. One segment filmed the family's first encounter.
"The moment he was handed to me, he gave me a big squeeze around the
neck," Vikki Budziak said. "He bonded immediately with us."
After Vikki and Jerry Budziak divorced, Vikki and John McFarland
raised Nathan Budziak in Oregon before moving to Fernley when Budziak
was in the eighth grade.
When Budziak was exchanging emails with his biological parents, he
reached out to Vikki Budziak.
"I reassured my adopted mother that my love for her won't change
because she is my mom "» and she will always be my mom, and no woman
can take her place," Budziak said. "I never felt like a part of my
life was missing because I have had such a wonderful life, and I've
grown up with a loving family."
'You are my son'
Since their meeting at the airport in April, when Dae Suk put his
hands on Budziak's cheeks and shouted, "You are my son," the family
has kept in touch.
Budziak said the communication still is frequent and more meaningful
now that he knows them better.
Budziak talks with his sisters, Sena and Jina Ki. He also talks to his
7- and 10-year-old nephews on Facebook.
Budziak hasn't scheduled a trip back to Seoul but said that he intends to.
"They really want to come visit, the whole family does, to meet my
adopted parents and thank them in person about raising me to be the
man I am," he said. "Also, I plan on going back to South Korea within
Budziak's adoptive mother, Vikki, had a conversation with her son that
put the entire experience in perspective.
"She said that mothers have many children, and they have love for them
all equally," Budziak said. "So, one child can have the same amount of
love for many mothers. It's not just a one-way relationship."