Ajumma Anna: Healing People from the Inside Out
Updated: Mar 11
In honor of both Women’s History Month and National Social Work Appreciation Month, we present Ajumma Anna, a small-town Midwestern gal with a big heart for mental health. One of the newest members of Ajumma EXP, Anna explains how she’s a born again Seoul sista’ after growing up as one of the only POCs in her town.
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF
I was adopted from Korea at 7 months old by a lovely caucasian family in a tiny farming town in rural MN. They had two biological boys and my mom did not want to risk having another. From there I went to a small private school in Kenosha, WI (Carthage), then on to grad school (University of Denver) and received my Master's in Social Work. After a few years, I headed back to the Midwest and lived in Chicago for 6 years and took a break from social work to work as a corporate software trainer. I was able to travel all over the US and caught the travel bug!
In 2008, I met my now husband on a work trip in San Diego and after surviving a long distance relationship, moved here in 2009. He's also a fellow Minnesotan! We have two kitties - Colonel Mustard and Badger (she's like the Honey Badger and does not give a S&!t).
After over 10 years out of the mental health field, I joined a private practice doing Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I also am a certified yoga instructor and Reiki Master.
WHAT DOES BEING AN AJUMMA MEAN TO YOU?
I am still fairly novice to Korean culture, so I am honored to be an Ajumma and part of Ajumma EXP! Being an Ajumma has shown me that life is just beginning and we can accomplish anything; especially with the support of other women. It also means, I can say "no" without feeling guilty (still working on that one), I can dress how I want and I can eat ALL the foods with no guilt (also still working on that one).
AJUMMAS ARE KNOWN TO HAVE SUPER-HUMAN STRENGTH AND ABILITIES. WHAT IS YOUR AJUMMA SUPER-POWER?
My friends and co-workers describe me as zen! I can go with the flow and rarely let things get to me. However, if you mess with someone I love, you may live (or not live...haha) to regret it.
WHAT IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES THAT YOU’VE OVERCOME?
Learning the routine for the latest Flash Mob was pretty challenging, LOL.
Also, I pretty much grew up as the only minority in rural Minnesota. Another family in town adopted twins from Korea, but they were at least 6-7 years older than me, so I was never in school with them. Being surrounded by mostly white people, I never saw myself as Korean until college.
Last July, I went to Korea for the first time and joined 500 other Korean adoptees from all over the world. It was a life-changing experience, and I have never been so proud to be Korean American. From the moment I landed, I felt a familiarity and comfort that I have never felt when visiting other countries. I stayed in Seoul and thought of my birth family often and how my life would have been dramatically different had I been raised there.
One rainy day, I wandered into a temple full of Ajummas and wept. I was overwhelmed by the idea that perhaps my birth mother was in the room with me, and I had no way of knowing. As I talked with other adoptees, we also became overwhelmed with the idea that perhaps some of us were related. Sharing the loss of our birth families was both vulnerable and beautiful. We are bonded for life! One of my favorite memories of the trip was walking around Bukchon Hanok Village in rented Hanboks. I felt like a princess (albeit a super hot and sweaty one!).
This was also the first time I traveled alone and while most people were polite, there were times when I felt that people were definitely not interested in talking beyond "niceties". As a therapist (and woman in her 40's) I try not to take things personally, but it made me take a step back and look at how much I use my race as a crutch. When people appear dismissive, I like to assume "Oh, they just don't really like Asians." But in Korea, I had the horrifying thought that "They just don't like my personality!" LOL. It was a great lesson in making assumptions. My Korean life exploration is just beginning and I hope to return with my husband as I begin the birth family search process.
ANY SAGE ADVICE?
I know a lot of people (including myself) have a hard time asking for help. I have found that when you ask to lean; people's shoulders become very broad.
Also, always go with the fries over the salad.
ANY GUILTY PLEASURE THAT YOU CAN SHARE WITH US?
Cheesy Netflix teenager movies, e.g. To All the Boys I've Loved Before and The Kissing Booth.
FAVORITE KOREAN FOOD
Kimchi and Bibimbop!