By Lauren Filippini (Alpha Chi, Butler University), Editor
If you’ve watched the Netflix documentary Found – about three adopted teenagers who discover they’re cousins and travel to China to learn about their history – you may have noticed a few Alpha Chi moments, like a Dad’s Day event banner and a T-shirt. That’s because one of the women featured in the film is our sister, Lily Bolka from the Gamma Epsilon chapter at Oklahoma State University! She shares a bit about her journey with adoption, her experience with the film and what’s next for her!
“You know, I’m Asian in a white family, so I’ve always known I was adopted,” Lily says. “It was something my mom would always read me stories [about] when I was younger, so it wasn’t really a surprise.”
It wasn’t until high school that Lily decided to look into her heritage and adoption, so she completed a DNA test. One day while sitting in class, she got a message from a girl, Sadie, that they had matched as cousins. Shortly after, she got another message, this one a little different: it was award-winning director Amanda Lipitz, whose niece Chloe had also matched to Lily and Sadie as cousins, asking if Lily would be interested in being featured in her next documentary.
“My mom’s my best friend, and I sent her a screenshot and said, ‘Hey, we need to talk when I get home,’” Lily remembers. After the two talked with Amanda, watched Amanda’s previous film and discussed the life-changing impact of having their personal lives filmed, they agreed to sign on to the documentary.
Over the next several years, a film crew cycled between Lily, Sadie and Chloe to record their everyday lives, which for Lily meant a camera following along for events like her high school graduation and Alpha Chi Dad’s Day. Meanwhile, the three cousins were getting to know each other over video calls. “I think one of the things we really bonded over was filming,” Lily says. “That was something that brought us together, because you can’t really talk about that with your friends, and we’re not people who brag about it.”
As Lily explains, eventually it was time for a big moment for the documentary – “my life is too boring, all I do is go to school and hang out with friends” – so she and her mom traveled to China, the first time they’d been back since Lily’s adoption. Not only was Lily going to dive into her roots, she was also going to meet Sadie and Chloe in person for the first time, as they were traveling there with their families too.
“It was kind of scary,” Lily recalls. “Going into it, I was super open-minded because I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy trip. I was aware of my emotions.”
The three had been talking with genealogy researcher Liu Hao, who had been working to find the nannies who cared for them before they were adopted and their biological parents, should they want to know that information. You’ll have to watch the film to see how that part of Lily’s story pans out, but Lily did share that even though parts of the trip were “an emotional rollercoaster,” she doesn’t regret a thing – and she’s grateful that Sadie and Chloe were by her side through it all.
Lily was able to watch Found at an early screening in summer 2021 before it was released in October, when the cousins had a viewing party in New York City with family and friends (including a few of Lily’s Alpha Chi Omega sisters!). “I don’t think any of us have seen it more than twice,” Lily says. “It’s the past four years, watching yourself grow up.”
And now, the rest of the world is watching Lily’s journey too! She remembers the buzz right after the film was released. “Our phones were blowing up for a while,” she says. “I think I actually turned off my notifications.”
Fame has positive side effects, though, as it’s allowing Lily to make a difference. “I think it’s important for me to continue on with that work and be able to spread awareness and help people who are adopted and struggling with the same feelings we had,” she says. She also shares this advice for anyone with a similar story: “Mental health is such a big thing, and it’s super important to take care of yourself. For people who are adopted, it’s important to know you’ll always have someone who supports you, and it’s OK to have the feelings you have.”
As for the future, Lily is back to her “regular life,” focusing on graduating this semester and then pursuing a master’s degree in accounting or business. Beyond that, though, she’s open to the possibilities.
“During filming, my mom and I were saying that we don’t know what opportunities this will bring,” Lily recalls. “So I’m open-minded to what could happen for me, and I’ll figure it out on the way.”