John Hetrick and his wife Kelsey knew their child was out there somewhere, but a year ago they had no idea where. In November 2018, Hetrick, an owner at Tanner & Servies Insurance, decided with his wife that they wanted to adopt. They began the process assuming they would choose a domestic option, but after attending a meeting at their adoption agency they knew that South Korea was the right place for them. They were warned that it could take years and cost between $40,000 and $50,000, but despite those intimidating hurdles, the couple moved forward with the full support of their friends and family.
In an unexpected twist, Mennonite Mutual Insurance Company raised $1,700 with its annual staff silent auction to help the Hetricks with the adoption costs. The unexpected gift was presented by Hetrick’s friend, Mennonite field underwriter Rick Nystrand. “We love being able to partner with agencies and work to create a new perspective of what insurance companies are,” Nystrand said. “Mennonite’s goal is to strengthen, restore and protect, and we love it when we have a chance to help our agency partners in some way.”
The Hetricks completed a home study and background checks and were prepared for the long wait ahead of them when they got a surprising call. Just one year and two months after starting the process, their son, Jackson Dahyeon, was waiting for them in a foster home in Seoul, South Korea. Jackson, 3, is older than many children who are adopted from the country. Most are less than two years old and so the South Korean adoption system worked to rush his adoption through quickly so he could get to his forever home faster.
Soon they found themselves braving the 13 hour flight to visit him for the first time in December 2019. They were required to visit the country twice and go in front of a judge before they could officially adopt him. Some countries require a six-week visit before you can adopt, which was one of the reasons South Korea was a better fit for the couple. While in South Korea, the Hetricks had dinner with another American couple who were there adopting for the third time. They’d connected through an online support group and were able to get tips and feel a bit more prepared for the road ahead of them.
That first visit was full of joy as they met their son, but it was also heartbreaking. They had to fly home, leaving him on the other side of the world, knowing it would be weeks before they could see him again. “It was gut-wrenching. We had two visits with him and just fell in love and then we had to leave,” Hetrick said. “Words can’t explain how hard that was.” Jackson’s foster parents had worked hard to prepare him. They made sure he would know who his parents were by showing him photos of the Hetricks and explaining what was going to happen.
In January they flew back and officially took custody of Jackson. As their cab pulled away from the adoption agency and the only family he had known, their hearts ached for his loss, but they knew a bright future was ahead. After spending a short time in South Korea, they headed home. Before they had even reached the United States Jackson was calling them “Mom and Dad”. The toddler has adjusted well to life in America and his parents are glad to live near West Lafayette where there is a thriving Korean community. They are already planning to adopt from South Korea again in the future.
“We’d love for him to have a sibling who shares his background,” explained Hetrick. “It would be so healthy for him. I’m not looking forward to that flight again though!”