LYNNWOOD — Kerri Dortch was 7 months old when she was adopted from South Korea and brought to the United States. She was much too young to experience her native culture or learn the language, and for the next three and a half decades it remained that way.
“I grew up American, and that’s the way it has always been,” Dortch said.
That all changed with a mission trip to South Korea last fall, including a service-focused visit to an orphanage similar to the one where Dortch was adopted.
Emotionally stirred by the trip, Dortch and her husband, Eric, who live in Lynnwood along with their three children, are now learning the Korean language in preparation to move to South Korea.
“This was a life-changing trip,” Kerri Dortch said.
The devout Christian couple was looking for a service-oriented trip and spent the better part of two months searching for the perfect organization. They found it in Oklahoma-based Dillon International, whose Sharing Heart program brings Christian volunteer groups to South Korea. The Dortches celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday by serving needy children and the elderly in Seoul.
“It was an amazing trip,” said Eric Dortch, who works for a software and information technology consulting company. “We wanted this to be more than a vacation; we wanted to help others. But we were also able to stay four extra days to sightsee and shop.”
As part of the mission, the Dortches served children at the same orphanage where Kerri Dortch lived 37 years ago. They also helped disabled children and women at Sharon’s Home, a maternity center. And they provided services at the Sodaemun Community Center for the elderly.
“Eric and Kerri had great enthusiasm, not only in serving people but also for learning Korean culture,” said Dukkyung Um, Dillon International’s Korea program director. “They absorbed everything they saw, the people, culture, food and language with compassion, eagerness and understanding. They really appreciated the service opportunities the mission trip offered.”
The couple’s experience was so profound that they are now planning on moving to South Korea, possibly in the next two years.
The Dortches are taking Korean language classes and are sharing what they learn with their children: Tyler, 8, Jacob, 7, and Emma, 5. They even found a cellphone application that helps with phrases, letters and other Korean language sounds.
“Learning Korean seems overwhelming, but we can do it,” Eric Dortch said. “We’ve looked at some non-speaking Korean schools for our kids. That is probably one of the biggest things — learning the language.”
Kerri Dortch, a teacher who now is a stay-at-home mom, looks forward to sharing her newfound culture with their children. “I am Korean, and I am so proud of that,” she said. “My kids are half-Korean and I am not going to let them miss out on that.”