GANGNEUNG, South Korea – Marissa Brandt isn’t quite sure what her new position will require, and she’s only had a couple of days to start getting used to the idea of being an honorary ambassador.
The Korean-American hockey player is more than happy to do whatever she can.
“It’s going to be nice to kind of have this platform, and hopefully I can help between Korea and America,” she said.
Brandt, who played hockey for Korea’s historic combined women’s team under her birth name, Park Yoonjung, was named as an honorary ambassador for adoptees searching for their birth families Sunday on the final day of the Games.
Neunghoo Park, the South Korea minister of health and welfare, made the announcement at a luncheon including Brandt, her parents and two other adoptees taking part in the Olympics. Hanna Poeschl, or Young-Hye Hwang, is an intern with the Olympic Broadcasting Services, and Isaac Myers, also known as Seung-lee Choi, was an Olympic torchbearer.
Park told Brandt and the two other Korean-Americans that the government wants to help all adoptees following their adoptions and also with searches for their birth families.
“I’m really honored for this position,” Brandt said. “My goal coming into the Olympics, it was bigger than hockey for myself and just to be a role model and hopefully inspire others. And now adoptees, hopefully inspire them to find their birth parents and reach out and kind of get to know their culture more.”
Brandt was about 4½ months old when adopted by the Brandts and grew up in Minnesota, where she played hockey along with her sister, Hannah, who plays on the gold medal-winning U.S. hockey team. They both played high school hockey at Hill-Murray in Maplewood. The family lives in Vadnais Heights.
Since the Korean War, more than 170,000 Korean children have been adopted by families around the world, many in Minnesota. More adoptees are visiting South Korea looking for their birth families, but culture and language differences have hindered those searches.
Brandt thought her hockey career was over when asked to help Korea in the Olympics as the host country. She had the primary assist on Korea’s first Olympic goal and made history when 12 North Koreans were added to the roster in January under an agreement between countries still in a technical state of war seven decades after the Korean War.
Even though the combined team was together only about a month, Brandt said she considered her new teammates like family even though she needed a South Korean teammate to translate when smiles and hugs just weren’t enough. “I’m going to miss them a ton,” Brandt said.
Her job representing Korea isn’t done with the Games ending, even if the details of what her honorary role represents have yet to be defined. Brandt said just knowing the government is willing to help adoptees find birth parents is a big step. She hopes to “encourage more to be confident in looking for their birth parents.”