Identity: Do Adoptees Need to Know The Past?

About This Article Series

This is the first in a series of articles on identity building and international adoption. Over the past 20 years, we have learned a LOT about what is important to adoptees as they take the giant step of visiting their birth country. 

We hope you enjoy the series from Adoptive Family Travel by The Ties Program Team


Identity Building Do Adoptees Need to Know The Past?identity building for international adoptees

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

But how do we know what lies within us without knowing the past or the future? Is it possible?

Certainly we live life without knowing the future. But the past… It’s the “past” that gnaws at us because we feel like we should have it, because unlike the future, it can be possible to know. Further, we’ve been told “we learn from the past” and “history repeats itself.” We’ve come to accept that history defines us and provides us a foundation upon which to grow.

Like seeds planted in the ground, without knowing our soil, we don’t know if we will become a palm tree or a mountain pine. And it bugs us, despite the fact that both are immensely beautiful.

A person’s birth country is more than a place on a map. It is more than soil, more than environment. It is the core upon which international adoptees create their identity. Knowing the past (at least as much of it as possible), allows us to put the past to rest, if we choose. And in doing so, we can launch a future of our own making. It is a powerful transition. 

Each of us begins building identity within a geographical sphere that starts with our place of birth and the circumstances of our conception. Throughout our lifetime, that sphere expands to all the places we’ve been, and integrates all the experiences we’ve had and all the people who have touched our lives.

A unique identity emerges, and like a fingerprint, no two are ever alike. But unlike a fingerprint, identity changes from day to day, indeed from moment to moment as life unfolds.

So, how do we help those we love so much find their soil? How do we help them complete the sentence “I am…..”?

Perhaps the most significant and exciting thing about homeland travel is what adoptees are doing with the experience related to identity building. It is so interesting to see adoptees country after country doing the same kinds of things as they work toward understanding of self.

In this series of articles, we will explore the things international adoptees are doing as they travel that lead us to believe that “Yes, Adoptees do Need to Know the Past!”

Next Up: Birth Country Travel: Upon Arrival

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