The Clash: American Culture and International Adoption


Conflict of Cultures or Clash of Cultures is evident in international adoption work. It is difficult to explain to someone that has never worked in international adoption, how culture can play such a significant role in the international adoption process. Culture compounded with poverty creates a process that is completely indescribable or fathomable by most.

Culture conflicts are quite evident when asking a question to a foreign staff member, attorney or government official. When asked a time for a family to receive their referral, the foreign staff or government official indicates “very soon” or next week. However, as experienced professionals we are able to discern a difference in cultures. The foreign staff or government official may answer that question with the answer that the questioner wants to hear, even though it may not be realistic. While Americans find this frustrating and some even consider it lying, adoption professionals’ experience tells us that it is truly a difference in cultural understanding (or misunderstanding).

MLJ Adoptions and most adoption agencies do not promote direct contact with foreign staff in a protection of the prospective adoptive parent and in protection of the foreign staff, due to the problems the direct communication can create. Misinformation, differing cultures and misunderstandings can create additional frustrations in an already difficult process. In addition, the foreign staff’s main focus is the processing of the adoption and the day to day communication with prospective parents would distract greatly from this focus.

While our adoption agency and other agencies understand that prospective adoptive parents are eager to talk to foreign staff, travel and learn as much as possible about their process and child. It is our job to protect you during the process. Adoption professionals commonly find misinformation is given in time lines and social background documents/stories. Through experience we know that foreign governments and foreign staff are attempting to make the prospective parents happy when in fact they are providing misinformation. This misinformation is seen by them as much more acceptable then indicating no information or bad information as that would be rude in their culture.

Another example of cultural differences are the comments Americans make on blogs and the internet. Americans often discuss how long a process takes, how no information was available or how their child’s condition was terrible. These comments, even with the most benevolent intentions can be considered quite offensive to the foreign government or orphanage care takers. While dissemination of information is good, we must be cognizant of how the foreign cultures and governments may feel about this type of language and comments. We must also realize that our comments, deemed offensive in the foreign country, can then negatively affect the adoption of orphans.

It is important to attempt to educate prospective adoptive parents about these cultural differences. However, it is almost impossible for us as Americans to ever fully understand a culture in which we have not lived or experienced. As you go through the international adoption process, relax, trust and breathe. It is ok, to ask questions, but be at peace that there may not be any answers and that is better than experiencing the clash of cultures with misinformation. The differences and unknowns created by the clash of our cultures can be frustrating, but I believe they are all worth it.

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.