For the past few months, Bellows Free Academy social studies teacher Darrin Dezotelle has been having, “one of the greatest experiences of [his] life.” After adopting his soon-to-be-three-year-old son, Gus, from South Korea with his wife, Katie, the family has been settling in well and enjoying their lives together.
“[Gus is] an awesome kid,” Dezotelle said. “[He’s] extremely happy, with a great sense of humor. He’s just a spitfire. He’s extremely outgoing, [too].”
According to Dezotelle, Gus has been settling in nicely and the family is extremely happy.
“Overall, it’s been going really, really well,” Dezotelle said.
The Adoption Process
However, it hasn’t always been this calm, Dezotelle explained. Before he and his wife got to take Gus home, they had to actually adopt him.
“[The adoption process] was wild,” Dezotelle said.
Dezotelle explained what the adoption process looked like for him and his wife. “We started looking into adoption years ago, and then, we started doing the paperwork…you go through the initial process, all background checks, and everything. That takes about a year and then, after about a year, you’re matched. So, we got matched with Gus when he was 10 months old. Then, there was another year-and-a-half until [my wife and I] got to meet him, so he was two-and-a-half the first time we met.”
The Stress of Travel
However, the chaos wasn’t quite over. Dezotelle described a lot of stress during the travel process as well. The most eventful story he told about the struggle of international travel took place about an hour before he and his wife boarded their flight from Atlanta, Ga. to South Korea to meet Gus for the first time.
According to Dezotelle, the flight to South Korea required a printed negative COVID test result within 72 hours of the flight. Dezotelle and his wife had both taken several tests to be sure they would have one to show, but, because Dezotelle’s test didn’t have a timestamp, it wasn’t accepted.
This put him in a tough spot, considering that test was the only negative one he’d had printed out. By a stroke of luck, though, Dezotelle explained, he had received an email during his layover flight from Burlington to Atlanta documenting another negative COVID test. However, it still wasn’t usable because it wasn’t printed out, and the airport didn’t have a printer available.
According to Dezotelle, this sparked a “mad dash” of sorts to find a nearby printer. Dezotelle rushed out of the airport to find a printer while his wife stayed behind as a failsafe, so that, in case he couldn’t find a printer, at least one of them would get to meet Gus in South Korea.
In yet another stroke of luck, Dezotelle was able to find a printer at a local hotel. With a bit of help from the hotel secretary, he managed to get his results printed out and sprinted back to the airport.
“[I was] completely drenched in sweat and just exhausted,” Dezotelle said.
After spending a bit more time with security, Dezotelle managed to get onto the plane just in time for it to take off.
“They closed the plane doors right behind me,” Dezotelle said.
Dezotelle described settling down in his seat after that and receiving a message from the adoption agency just as the plane was lifting off the ground. They had sent Dezotelle a photo of Gus after his monthly checkup earlier that day.
“And I was just like, ‘Alright, this was probably worth it,’” Dezotelle said.
After that bit of airport hecticness, though, travel went smoothly for the Dezotelles. Their flight successfully landed in South Korea, where the couple would then quarantine for two weeks, according to Dezotelle.
Once that precaution was complete, they were finally able to meet their son-to-be in person.
According to Dezotelle, the couple was brought into a private space in the adoption center the day they were set to meet Gus for the first time. They had gotten there first, so they waited with an English-Korean translator until Gus arrived.
“I’ll never forget hearing the sound of him running down the hallway towards us,” Dezotelle said.
The first thing Gus did when he saw them, Dezotelle described, was hug them both, which they found very sweet.
“He had only seen photos of us before, so [him recognizing us was] really great,” Dezotelle said.
However, according to Dezotelle, that positive feeling didn’t last too long. After hugging the two of them, Gus immediately turned and hugged the translator, who he’d never met.
“It was just like, oh, we’re not as special as we thought,” Dezotelle said
Despite that slight hiccup, though, Dezotelle said that their time with Gus went well. He also described the future meetups the three had.
According to Dezotelle, they spent another half hour with Gus a few days later. Then, a few weeks passed, and they hung out with him again. All of the meetings were spaced out a bit as they waited for the custody process to be completed, Dezotelle explained.
Exploring Seoul, South Korea
According to Dezotelle, the two weeks in quarantine plus the time needed to gain custody added up to two months, so the couple opted to stay in Seoul. Dezotelle took the time off of work at BFA, while his wife worked remotely.
One upside of this, Dezotelle said, was being able to spend some time out-and-about in Gus’s hometown before taking him home.
“Every day we did something different,” Dezotelle said. “Learning the culture, trying the food, all that.”
According to Dezotelle, it was really important to the couple to learn about their son’s culture and heritage before taking him to Vermont.
Seeing as Gus grew up in Seoul, Dezotelle described there being a bit of a culture shock for Gus coming to America.
“Not a lot of people look like him [here],” Dezotelle said. “No one’s speaking the language he knows, and the smell of things is really different.”
The Dezotelles have been trying their best to combat this, said Dezotelle, from celebrating South Korean holidays to connecting with Korean groups in Vermont.
Gus has been doing well with the shift. “He’s such a strong kid, very adaptable,” Dezotelle said.
Dezotelle also described a few funny language mishaps between the English-speaking Dezotelles and Korean-speaking Gus.
One example of this, Dezotelle explained, is the difference between Mama, as in Mom, and Mama, the word for ‘food’ in Korean.
“[It’s always funny], the way he says ‘Mama’ when he’s talking to [Katie Dezotelle] versus the way he says ‘Mama’ when he wants to eat,” Dezotelle said.
Dezotelle noted that even though he can’t say much yet, Gus understands lots of complex English phrases.
After all of that work, Dezotelle said that everything has been going well for the family, and they are settling in.
Gus will be turning 3 later this month and is currently in daycare with plenty of other kids his age, Dezotelle described. He’s also been spending a lot of time enjoying the outdoors, riding his bike or playing in the dirt.
The Dezotelles are also really enjoying their time with Gus.
“He’s great [and] always on the move,” Dezotelle said. “He has me running ragged every day, and it can be hard to keep up with him, [but] at least it keeps me busy.”
According to Dezotelle, he has also learned a lot from his son and giving new things a chance. For example, dried seaweed chips. Dezotelle said he was never a fan of them before but has been eating them a lot because Gus enjoys them, and Dezotelle is even growing to like them himself.
Dezotelle also noted that, even though the adoption process was a bit of a hassle, he wouldn’t have had things any other way.
“[In the end, adoption] was 100% worth it,” Dezotelle said. “I can’t say enough good things about it.”
This article originally appeared in The BFA Mercury.