Discovering Your Child’s Culture: From Good to Great


Help your child discover her birth cultureAdopting internationally gives you the opportunity to explore a culture and country which is often much different from your own. It leads you to learn what life has been like for your adopted child while in that country, and exposes you to a plethora of new tastes, smells, sights, and sounds. Going to visit your child in-country provides you with a unique “window to their soul” as you get to see where they come from. Meeting new people connected to the adoption process there, whether that is an orphanage director, driver, social worker, attorney, or Central Authority official, allows you to learn about the customs, rules and regulations of that country and to better understand their processes and procedures. Traveling in-country allows you to view historical buildings and cherished monuments, see colorful native costumes and artifacts, and admire the diverse religions and icons unique to that area of the world. When you visit restaurants there, you get to try and taste new and delectable foods, traditional dishes of the region, and common snacks and fruits. The language becomes the colorful audio of your journey and you soon find there are certain words or phrases that are easy to learn which will be very helpful in learning to communicate effectively with your adopted child. Mannerisms, gestures and cultural mores begin to make sense to you. Before long, this new country begins to assimilate itself within your memory as you continue to add more cultural building blocks to the family your child will soon call “home.” What an amazing process!

Cultural competence does not happen overnight. It is a process that starts from the moment you decide on your adoption country of origin and continues to build and evolve throughout the entire course of your adoption journey. Yes, we are talking years, not months!  It takes a focused interest, unabashed enthusiasm and a solid commitment on your part. It is all or nothing if you want to get it right. No one can make you culturally competent; they can only advise you or guide you in the right direction.

Most international adoption agencies offer cultural training classes for you related to your adopted child’s country or region of the world. The class will usually explore some of the national history, world location, customary dress, and current lifestyles of the country and it may also touch on traditional foods, music, dance, or celebrations. If you are lucky, you will also be offered links to learning some of the native language, recipes for cooking special foods, or methods of traveling while in-country. As the adoptive parent, however, it is your job to take this introductory education even further; to invest your time into learning about other facets of the country such as their current events, politics, the arts, holidays, military issues, heroes, cultural successes, society, and common educational processes. As these types of topics are ever-changing, you will need to be the one to discover more about them; they cannot be easily inserted in to a cultural class as they will quickly become outdated. You will need to go that extra mile to learn about some of these nuances of your child’s country by yourself.

Your international adoption “waiting phase” is the opportune time to take that Rosetta Stone language class to help you communicate better with your child or to purchase a cookbook from Amazon and start perfecting some traditional meals from your child’s native land. How wonderful it would be for your child to feel welcomed by familiar words and foods when he or she comes home! It would certainly make his or her transition to the United States a little easier and more comforting.

Searching a bookstore can help you find informative books for yourself and cherished books for your child about their native land and its people. Picture books will allow your child keep his or her memories alive. Taking the time to read about your child’s country and its development provides you with a greater understanding about how you are now able to bring this child into your family and to America. You will be more successfully able to meld the two cultures into one once you know some history of your child’s country and can compare this to your own. Knowledge is power, and in this case, knowledge is also a bridge being built from that country to yours.

Finally, as an adoptive parent, you will find your child will look to you over and over again for answers to their questions, help in understanding an idea or concept, and for facts and memories about their early beginnings in life. Those parents who have taken the time to fully explore their child’s country and culture will be the parents best prepared to do this.

Discovering your child’s native culture in these ways not only prepares you to respond to your child’s questions and concerns with knowledge and understanding, but it also provides you with an appreciation for both their past and their unique history. A good adoptive parent will take only the required culture class and consider that obligation done, but a GREAT adoptive parent will immerse themselves in all things culturally and historically significant to their child’s origin. Strive to be GREAT!

Karlene Edgemon works as MLJ Adoptions’ Director of Social Services. Throughout her 25 year social services career, Karlene has been able to watch adoption transform the lives of children and she is always brainstorming new ways to support adoptive families before, during and after their adoption.