Finding True Belonging with Sun Mee Martin
Just a few weeks ago I had the pleasure to sit down with my longtime friend Sun Mee Martin, a Berlin-based holistic coach and sole entrepreneur. With her effortless style, holistic focused lifestyle and boldly inspired career choices, she is a woman we feel very aligned with here at AVMM.
Sun Mee and I have known each other for more years than one hand can count, and over these years I have often been in awe of her unique, playful and very mindful approach to how she engages in the topics she is passionate about, which are both varied and fruitful. It is very recently, however, that I have been extra intrigued by her strong and focused dedication in pursuing a very specific topic of interest, one that is near and dear to her heart and one that has influenced her life since childhood. That topic is transcultural adoption and her connection to that world now extends far beyond her own personal experiences.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon we met with Sun Mee in her Neukölln apartment for an intimate conversation about her new life direction as a holistic coach, how she stays grounded working in service of others, and what keeps her inspired in the world of style, design, and self healing. Then she took us on an adventure to some of her favorite places to recharge and we enjoyed a lush picnic together in the sun-soaked late afternoon, while savoring these end of summer days.
Sun Mee wearing the Rosalind Top and the Loretta Pants.
We know you have recently made a pretty big shift in your career focus; would you tell us a bit about that?
Yes, it has been a deep journey of self discovery and what 'belonging' means to me on a personal and also professional level. I was 3.5 years old when I was adopted from South Korea by my German parents. I grew up in the South of Germany, where there is little ethnic diversity. My whole life has been quite a journey of exploring where I'm from, who I am, what defines me and what makes me unique as Sun Mee, including my professional identity. I felt a deep desire to create more social impact and meaning in my work, and unite my personal values with it, a process that has been unfolding in a very beautiful way, while discovering what my unique gifts are which I can share with others.
So it sounds like before now you were working in a pretty different field?
Yes, actually, a few different fields. After my graduation in Communications and Design, I worked in the creative industry for a long time before I explored a multi-hyphenated career engaging in the fields of food, sustainability, events, and relocation consulting. When I moved back to Germany and to Berlin, I felt the deep desire to work more directly with people and engage in conversations around identity.
I founded NUMARU, which started initially as a conversation dinner series bringing people together from diverse backgrounds to deep talk on the topic of transcultural identity and what it means to be from a different place. Growing up in Germany, I adapted a lot to German culture, but at the same time I always felt that there is this Korean side of me that I needed to explore and create my own sense of it. Obviously, I look different; I look Korean, and often people from the outside simply label me as Asian, as an Asian woman.This created a lot of confusion in my early identity formation, as I simply didn't know how "to be" Korean. So it was a lot about uncovering 'who am I?' and liberating myself from all the labels and expectations.
With the pandemic and discovering my true calling, I further developed Numaru into a global platform that creates a space for honest exchange and healing for transracial/transcultural adoptees (Adoptees, that are of a different ethnicity than their adoptive parents).
Could you define more specifically what 'transracial' adoption is?
I actually prefer to say 'transcultural' adoption, because as we know race as a term is a social construct and was actually eliminated from the German constitution because of its discriminatory nature. Basically it means that a child is adopted from a different ethnicity than its adoptive parents.
Why did you decide to pursue this career as a holistic coach for other transcultural adoptees?
It is deeply rooted in my own personal journey and realizing that I needed to find belonging within myself first before I can find it elsewhere or with someone else. This healing journey is discomforting and challenging, but also very liberating. Though there is still uncertainty in my story, I have arrived at a place of peace, and am able to navigate the difficulties with more ease. My mission now is to support other adoptees in embracing their adoptee selves as part of their wholeness. I believe every adoptee can arrive at a place of balance and inner belonging.
Would you say there was a defining moment that deepened your personal journey towards what you call "exploring true belonging"?
There were a few pivotal moments of exploration. One was stepping out of the subway during my first visit to Korea, in Seoul, and awakening to my Korean-ness. I was mirrored in a way that I had never been before. I felt comfortable in the ocean of other Koreans, and at the same time I felt confused, as I didn't feel like I belonged fully there, which made me question what defines my identity. It has taken me some time and deep inner work to fully accept myself as being just Sun Mee, and that I can find my own way to reclaim my Korean identity.
Based on your work, what difficulties do you see transcultural adoptees struggling with the most?
For most adoptees it’s identity and belonging struggles, feeling confused and torn between our origin culture and the adoptive culture. Like myself, many realize the trauma of their abandonment and those effects on our health, behavior and identity development only later in adulthood. The emotions and feelings around that are so complex and often contradicting. There is the need to be seen and validated in that experience. We are supposed to be grateful, which many adoptees are, but we also experience deep loss and grief over our origin culture and biological parents.
I met many adoptees who grew up in healthy families. Still, the majority I have connected with have suffered from racism and emotional and physical abuse in their adoptive families, so there are additional layers of trauma to navigate.
The public narrative of adoption is that adoption is ‘pure love’, perpetuated by the media and adoption industry, which puts profit first instead of the needs of the child. There is love in adoption, but also an alarming shadow side. Listening to other adoptees and their stories about abuse, falsified documents, or child trafficking has shocked me. It created urgency and deep affirmation in my mission to support other adoptees in their healing journey, and to advocate for more awareness on the complexity of adoption.
I started NUMARU because I wanted to create a space for fellow adoptees to feel safe and seen so they can look into the deeper layers of who they are, accept their shadows, and ultimately find true belonging within.
Can you tell us a bit about your unique approach in helping your clients on that journey?
It’s a holistic and very personal approach in which we 'Connect, Care and Create.'
It's about coming together in 1:1 personal sessions or in an intimate group journey to 'Connect'. A space to foster honesty, trust, and active listening while learning from our different experiences. It's been amazing to see how impactful it is for adoptees to feel validated and experience a deep sense of togetherness and empowerment in a group.
The 'Care' part is about caring for oneself with mindfulness and present awareness. I realized in my own journey, that I needed to dedicate intentional time and space for my adoptee soul. Learning how to process my feelings through somatic movement and other mindful modalities has been life-changing.
Then we 'Create' space for a new sense of self through experiential learning and playful exercises. Everyone can discover their unique way to express themselves and embrace their adoptee self as part of their wholeness.
That leads us perfectly into our next question because I wanted to ask you what you do to keep your emotional wellbeing in check and maybe you have some rituals you can share with us?
Meditation, movement, and nature have really helped me to calm my active mind, to feel more into my body and connect to my soul. I try to dedicate moments of inner stillness in the day, 5 minutes can reset a whole state of mind. I tend to overthink, and mindful practices have helped me to calm down, relax, and attune to myself with the core of what I'm feeling. Breath work has also been an amazing tool to cleanse the body and create expansion.
Sun Mee Wearing the Selene Slip in Silk Crepe - Alabaster, Peitha Pants Viscose Crepe - Jade and Rhea Robe in Raw Silk - Natural.
How is it for you, finding a balance while wearing so many different hats? Being a coach, a partner, a sibling, a daughter… How are you able to maintain a healthy energy level for your personal life while now working professionally as a coach for others?
Yes, it is certainly challenging, but these rituals are very helpful for that as well as balancing the doing and producing mode with rest, feel and play. I love my yoga and journaling routine in the morning, and which sets the tone for the day. I really value that time. In the evenings I enjoy cooking with edibles and herbs from our balcony or experimenting with new Korean or fermentation recipes. On challenging days I practice more breath work, or turn on my favorite tunes and dance it all out.
Nature is my favorite place to recharge. I feel blessed that one third of Berlin is green space, so taking walks in the nearby parks and biking out to the countryside and lakes during the weekend are my favorite ways to keep in balance.
Sun Mee wearing the Farrah Jumpsuit in Eggplant.
We also wanted to talk with you a bit about style and fashion and are curious what role, if any, clothing plays for you in supporting self care and a nourishing lifestyle?
For me clothing has to feel good and effortless (laughs) and it's also a very sensory experience. Because clothing is so close to our skin and with us throughout the whole day, it has to feel soft, comfortable, and cozy. I bike a lot, so it also needs to be functional and easy to wear. Depending on my mood, clothing can also be soothing, so I like to wear color on a rainy day or a cozy big sweater when I feel vulnerable.
Could you tell us a bit more about how your style has evolved over the years?
It was much more about following trends and fast fashion in my teen years and early twenties, while now it is about slow fashion with more awareness of the ecological footprint. Besides being comfortable, it's also a way to express myself, but one can have style without overthinking fashion. I love pieces that are unique, vintage or handmade, and express my personality effortlessly.
Do you have any favorite colors, fabrics, or silhouettes that you are really drawn to?
I really like colors like emerald green and terracotta red, but I also like black. I love loose, wide, and geometric cuts in natural fabrics like linen, cotton or silk. I like the occasional splash of color, but prefer more uni and minimalistic shapes.
Sun Mee wearing the Rib Knit Bandeau Top in Oat and the Devi Pants in Hand-dyed Terra Cotta.
Is there any book or story you've read or come across recently which you found inspirational and want to share with us?
Yes, a combination of essays from John Berger called "Ways of Seeing". It examines how we look at artwork and media pieces and how what we see is always influenced by our assumptions and projections. This can also be related to one's own beliefs. Because how we look at things is always through our own lens of how we are culturally conditioned and biased. John Berger encourages us to remove these filters and always be curious and question what we see, as well as look at things in more detail to understand them. The metaphor for me here is that when people look at me, they see a Korean woman or an Asian woman, but inside there are some complex layers of who I am, by simply being me, Sun Mee.
This interview was conducted by Molly McDonnell, AVMM’s owner and founder.
Photography by Kevin Klein - @Inghrdchld