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Welcome, JeeWoo: 3-year-old adjusting to life with new family

The Loween family poses outside their Alexandria home. After an 18-month process, the Loweens took legal custody of their youngest, JeeWoo, on March 14. (Beth Leipholtz | Echo Press)1 / 2
In February, the Loweens traveled to Korea for their court date in the adoption process. There, they met JeeWoo and his foster parents for the first time before taking custody three weeks later. (Contributed)2 / 2

JeeWoo has a curious streak. He isn't the least bit shy. He doesn't like doughnuts but prefers eggs and bacon.

These are just a few of the things that Mike and Jaci Loween have learned about their 3-year-old son in the past three weeks, since bringing him home from Korea.

Taking custody

Eighteen months ago, in October 2015, the Loweens began the adoption process. Prior to adopting from Korea, the Loweens lived in Daejon, South Korea, and taught at an international school from 2005 to 2012. Their two oldest children, now ages 9 and 7, were born there. Their third child, age 4, was born after the couple moved back to Minnesota in 2012.

After waiting patiently for months for information about their impending adoption, the Loweens were notified of their court date in February. They, along with their three children, traveled to Korea and met JeeWoo for the first time. Then, three weeks later on March 14, the Loweens took legal custody of their son.

At age 3, JeeWoo had been in the same foster home most of his life.

"That's really good for attachment," Jaci said. "It's easier for kids to transfer attachment than to start fresh at age 3. His foster parents were very good to him ... They loved him to death."

Because of this, Jaci says it was difficult saying goodbye to JeeWoo's foster parents.

"You feel really bad for them when you're leaving and they're crying," she said. "The foster mom, I remember her grabbing my hands and saying, 'Thank you for waiting so long for him.'"

Before returning to Alexandria, the Loweens spent a few days in Seoul, South Korea, getting to know JeeWoo and bonding with him. According to Mike, he did well overall, but the nights were difficult, and JeeWoo would often cry out for his foster parents.

"There's not a whole lot you can do except hold him and tell him it's going to be OK," Mike said. "You feel sad and helpless. At the same time, you're not trying to get him to stop crying. You know if he doesn't grieve now it's going to stay inside him and build up and cause trauma in other ways."

Returning home

Since returning to Alexandria three weeks ago, the Loweens say they have been surprised by how quickly JeeWoo seems to be adjusting. Though naps and nighttime were difficult at first, JeeWoo has been watching his older siblings and learning the ropes.

"We kind of expected those would be hard for a few months, but he's already asking where his blanket is and is pretty much ready for bed when the other kids are ready for bed," Jaci said. "I think it's a huge testament to the fact that there were tons of people praying for us and praying for him, and the fact that he came from a really good foster home."

Because Mike and Jaci lived in Korea for seven years, they have a general understanding of the language and are able to communicate with JeeWoo. They have started to slowly introduce English words and hope JeeWoo will pick up the language with time.

"A lot of people we've talked to who have adopted kids his age say it takes about a year, and then they're up to about the same level of fluency as other kids their age," Jaci said. "I think their brains are just so absorbent."

The Loweens have chosen the name Nathan to be JeeWoo's American name. However, whether or not he wants to go by it will be completely up to him.

"We'll just kind of let him work his way into that identity if he wants it," Jaci said. "It's actually very common for a lot of Korean Americans to have an English name and a Korean name. That will probably be part of his coming of age and identity. And if he never wants to go by his English name, that's fine by us."

Because the past few weeks have been a whirlwind, Jaci says she and Mike haven't had much time to really take it all in.

"I think we're trying to figure out what of who he is right now is his personality, what is transition, what part of it is part of being a 3-year-old? I think it's a huge learning curve," Jaci said. "It's definitely a journey that I'm not so sure I even understand all the pieces of, or haven't had time to reflect on what they all mean."

After spending so much time preparing for JeeWoo's homecoming, the Loweens are just happy to be starting the next chapter with their family of six.

"After 18 months, we're at the end, but we're at the beginning," Mike said. "In a sense, the hard part is over, but there is still so much to be done."

Beth Leipholtz

Beth is a reporter at the Echo Press. She graduated from the College of Saint Benedict in May 2015 with a degree in Communication and Hispanic Studies. Journalism has always been her passion, but she also enjoys blogging and graphic design. In her spare time, she's most likely at Crossfit or at home with her boyfriend and three dogs.

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