After 60 years, woman reunited with part of her birth family
Published 7:32 am Tuesday, March 26, 2019
NILES — For Jean Gustavsen, of Niles, southwest Michigan has always been home. So, she never wondered much about her life before she was adopted from South Korea.
That changed, though, when Gustavsen received a 23andMe DNA testing kit for Christmas last year.
“I got this kit and thought, ‘ok, I will do it,’” Gustavsen said.
Since then, Gustavsen has been on a quest to not only piece together her heritage but reunite with the family she was separated from at birth.
Finding a home in Michigan
Gustavsen does not know why she was put up for adoption and her path to finding a loving family was not without a few hurdles.
She was originally adopted by a husband and wife in California.
“It didn’t work out, and she [the adoptive mother] wanted to send me back to Korea,” Gustavsen said.
One of the woman’s siblings, however, offered to welcome Gustavsen into their family. At the age of 3, she was sent to Glenwood, Michigan, just outside of Dowagiac, to live with the people who would become her family.
Gustavsen’s new family included three sons and a daughter, Gyl Bateman, who was also adopted from Korea.
Her adoptive father was a brick mason at Andrew’s University and her adoptive mother was a nurse.
“We were just a typical family,” Gustavsen said.
Bateman, her new adoptive sister, was a little jealous of her at first she said. She recalled arriving at her new home to find that Bateman had gathered up all her toys to stand guard over them. The sisters soon became friends, though. Because there were not many Asians in the southwest Michigan community, the girls were often made fun of by their peers. When they were picked on, the girls stood together.
The 23andMe test revealed that Gustavsen was half Korean and half Philippino. It also indicated that she had a half-brother named, Patrick Metcalf.
“That was a big surprise,” Gustavsen said. “I was wanting to find my mother.”
After finding Metcalf, Gustavsen first attempted to contact him through the 23andMe, but she did not hear back from him. Eventually, she was able to get in touch with Metcalf’s son through email.
“He said, ‘I will tell my dad right away,’” Gustavsen said. “Within half an hour, I heard from him, and he was shocked.”
Gustavsen found out that Metcalf was an immigration lawyer living in Schaumburg, Illinois. He had grown up in Montana after being adopted when he was 12. Today, he has three children. They arranged to meet for the first time earlier this month at a Korean café in Schaumburg.
“One of his first questions was, ‘how tall are you?’” Gustavsen said. “I’m short. And he goes, ‘our mother is small.’”
Gustavsen found out she shared many other traits with her newly found family that she had not been able to explain growing up. She said she has often been described as optimistic and happy, and she found out that Metcalf had a very similar personality trait.
“He is a very positive person, too, and that was neat to see,” Gustavsen said. “He said, ‘You only have one life, and it is short, and I try to make the most of it.’”
As they sat in the café and talked, they shared their life stories and Metcalf even brought out photos of his family to share. Now, Metcalf and Gustavsen talk almost every week.
Metcalf also helped Gustavsen to get in contact with their mother. Gustavsen started writing to her and found out that her mother, Lee Bun Ok, who is in her 80s, would love to meet her. Lee Bun Ok now lives near Seoul, South Korea.
For Gustavsen, the months since the test have been a whirlwind, but one that she has none the less been glad to experience.
“So far, it has been really rewarding,” she said. “[Patrick] has been receptive and wanting to keep in touch. He texted me yesterday day morning and said, ‘I’m not religious, but I feel like it has been a blessing to meet you.’”
Gustavsen is now in her 60s and works as an administrative assistant for Andrews University’s Department of Aviation. She has two daughters, Carissa and Annelise, and a son, Tyler. While her adoptive parents passed away, Gustavsen said she has shared her story with Bateman and her children.
In the months to come, Gustavsen is hoping to take her children to Korea to meet their grandma for the first time in the upcoming months.
Gustavsen encouraged people looking to find their family roots to explore their DNA.
“If anyone wants to look up their ancestry, I would say, ‘go for it’ because you do learn a lot,” Gustavsen said.