His parents flew across the Pacific Ocean to adopt him nearly 46 years ago with hopes of giving him a better life.

For the last 16 years, he has worked with city, and state, government to better the lives of those around him.

Mitchell Berg has been the Mahnomen city administrator for the last eight years and used his own experiences growing up as an adopted Korean-American to better the lives of the large, native population he currently serves.

Berg will be the featured speaker during a webinar hosted by Central Lakes College, on Thursday, May 6, where he will detail his story of adoption and culture, and how it molded him into the city administrator in Mahnomen, a position he has held for eight years.

"I was only about 6 months old when (my parents) came over," said Berg. "So then I came over from South Korea right to Minnesota."

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His parents, Larry and Gail Berg, were unable to have children of their own, so after meeting with an adoption agency they decided to adopt from overseas.

"Korea was one of the countries that were really open to overseas adoptions," said Berg. "After the Korean War, the war actually devastated the country and it was a combination of the economic conditions … and socio-economic statuses … so there were a lot of kids needing to be adopted."

This was the second Korean adoption for Larry and Gail, they adopted Mitchell's sister, Sidne Larson, two years earlier.

"I assume they said, 'hey, this one ain't that bad,' so they just tried again," said Berg.

He also said his parents wanted Berg and his sister to experience their own culture since the area they grew up in, in the Twin Cities, was mostly white.

"They were open to affording us our culture," said Berg. "The adoption agency we were from has a very vested Korean program, so they would take us to Korean camps as kids, so we can kind of understand the culture which included different foods and different activities."

After high school, Berg went back to Korea as part of a government program aimed at outreach to Koreans living abroad, which was eye opening for Berg as he met other Koreans from around the world.

"If you think of a Korean with a Minnesota accent, that's actually pretty unusual," he said.

Berg made connections with other Korean adoptees in North Carolina and ended up teaching Korean culture at their Korean camp.

Dr. Mitchell Berg, city administrator for Mahnomen. April 29, 2021. (submitted photo)
Dr. Mitchell Berg, city administrator for Mahnomen. April 29, 2021. (submitted photo)

He earned his doctorate degree in management and public service from Hamline University, his master's degree in urban and regional studies from Minnesota State University- Mankato, and has taught classes at Bemidji State University, Minnesota State University Mankato and Argosy University. Currently, Berg is an adjunct professor at White Earth Tribal and Community College.

Berg joined various multi-cultural organizations while at college and, during his time trying to connect student renters to possible apartments, he began to see inequality that focused around people of color.

"That really kind of got me onto a path of really wanting to go into public service to try and help people," he said. "I've been, truly, blessed. I was adopted by a good family, yes, I've encountered racism and prejudices, but I don't dare say I've experienced it as much as other people have."

Berg said working in public service is a way for him to use his privileged upbringing to give back to others who may have had a harder road to travel.

"It's a very divided country, all you have to do is turn on the news," he said. "We have to get back to being able to build relationships in a healthy manner."

Building common ground among members of different cultures is going to be a large part of bring people together, he said.

He encourages people to see firsthand how other nations live, work and structure their societies as a way to learn that the differences that may not be so different, he said.

"One of the things I wish people would do is travel to other countries," he said.

To join the webinar, pre-register at https://tinyurl.com/f3ppsape