An unexpected reunion
Accompanied by her mother, Lake Oswego's Robin Gellinger meets her birth parents -- for the first time -- during a trip to South Korea
Few are aware of true-life stories of adopted children who long to find their birth parents - and eventually do.
Fictional accounts of similar tales and searches are usually left to sappy made-for-TV movies or novels in a bookstore.
Nevertheless, one may be surprised to find out that one of these success stories happened to a young woman from Lake Oswego.
Nineteen-year-old Robin Gellinger was adopted from Seoul, South Korea, when she was four months old in 1987. She has a younger brother, also from Seoul, who was adopted when he was six months old. Their mother, Cindy Gellinger, was unable to have her own biological children, so she and her husband decided to adopt two beautiful babies from Korea.
The Gellingers have lived in Lake Oswego for the last 15 years or so, with Robin going to Westside Christian High School for three years and home schooling for the last year so that she could graduate early. Her younger brother is currently home schooled as well.
Robin and her mom had always talked about taking a trip back to Korea after Robin graduated to see her birthplace and get a taste of the culture. They went on a 12-day trip in June and stayed with a family friend of theirs, a young man named Kim Jae-Young, who'd stayed in their home twice - once about 10 years ago as a teenager, when he visited with a group of young people for three weeks to learn about American culture and study English, and the second time when he came independently last summer to stay in their home for two weeks.
Robin was adopted through Holt International Children's Services, whose office was in Seoul. Robin and Cindy planned to visit the office the second day they were there to view her adoption record and see the hospital where she was born.
Upon arrival they were told by a social worker that the hospital where Robin was born was no longer in existence, and that her birth parents had not once tried to contact the office to inquire about her. They said that they would try to get ahold of them while they were still here but that it was unlikely that they would contact them as sometimes it can take several months.
Robin and Cindy spent the next eight days seeing the sights in Seoul. Cindy had taken Korean language classes for six months before the trip, so she was able to sound out words and recognize symbols, which was helpful while they were navigating around Seoul by themselves.
After getting back to their room on the Thursday night before they were to leave that Saturday, Robin and Cindy got an e-mail from a case worker at Holt. The e-mail said that they had contacted the father and that he would love to see her the next day before they left.
When they got to the Holt office the next day, the social worker told them that Robin's birth father had contacted her birth mother after he'd gotten the message about Robin. She of course wanted to come too, and had brought Robin's biological sister and her new husband.
When Robin walked into the room with all four of them everyone immediately started crying. There was a lot of translation going on back and forth, with the birth mom saying how sorry she was and Cindy saying how she understood how hard it was, but that they had been so blessed to receive Robin as their own and raise her with a good life.
The day was an emotional one, with the family taking them out to lunch and shopping, as well as driving them over to the birth mother's house and meeting her two sisters and Robin's grandmother. Everyone kept commenting on how much Robin looked like her brother, who was unable to make it to Seoul on such short notice.
'I was shocked,' Robin said. 'I wasn't really thinking, just taking it all in. It was nerve-wracking and I didn't know what to expect going in.'
Robin and Cindy found out that they had to give Robin up as a baby because they couldn't afford that many children. They had divorced and both were remarried. The father said that he wanted to give her up to a wealthy country so that she would have a chance in the world. The mother hadn't tried to contact her because she was ashamed and was afraid that Robin would resent her for giving her up. She had even told her other children when they were in middle school that when she died they should go look for their sister in America.
'I was curious to meet them but mostly just so excited,' Cindy said. 'It turned out to be a great trip anyway - meeting them was just an added bonus.'
When they left, Robin's birth father gave her a gold pendant of a dolphin with diamonds on it because his nickname is 'Dolphin' due to him being a diver. Her mother gave her a beautiful ring and told Robin, 'Don't forget me.'
Robin still plans to stay in touch with her birth family. She wants to go back soon as her sister is having a baby in February, and to meet her brother who couldn't make it.
Robin is currently living in Pendleton, working and going to school at Blue Mountain Community College to become a dental assistant.
She hopes to eventually go to the Euro Institute of Portland, which is a school for aestheticians to learn about skincare and the body, and eventually work for a spa or health facility.
'It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I didn't expect to happen at all,' Robin said. 'I'm so grateful to have been able to meet my birth family and hope that others in my situation will be able to do the same thing.'