Birth Country Travel: Language & Identity

Birth Country Travel: Language & Identity

International adoption

This is part 3 in a series on international adoption and identity.

For most kids on a homeland journey, language and the ability to communicate is an immediate piece of how they see themselves. Very few are able to speak in their birth language. As a result, their first interaction with people in their birth country is usually awkward and unsettling.

Thankfully, for kids traveling with other kids, the moment happens almost simultaneously. Almost in unison, we hear, “I was at this shop, and this lady was talking to me thinking I could understand her and I had NO IDEA what she was saying!”

Because awkward things tend to feel less awkward when they happen to other people at the same time, the kids do something really wonderful at this point. They use the experience as a bridge to one another, bringing them closer together and better able to help one other.

Amazingly, something that divides can also connect.

When I do workshops I use this great analogy. I ask people to close their eyes, then ask, “If you have you ever walked into opposite gender bathroom by accident, raise your hand.” Nearly all hands go up.

And then I quietly say, “Do you remember how strange you felt as you walked out? Like you just wanted to wish it all away? Hope no one noticed your blunder and embarrassment?”

“Now, imagine several of us made the same mistake, resulting in the same embarrassment all together? In your mind, picture how we would exit the bathroom. We would all be laughing, and it’s almost a sure thing that next time we saw each other, we would still be laughing about it.”

I love the bridge it creates among kids traveling to their birth country.

Language is actually such a big issue that many adoptees talk about wanting to learn the language so they can connect better with people the NEXT time they visit. This desire seems to reflect the hope of integrating “where I come from” with “where I’m going.”

On many adult adoptee panels I have attended over the years, one question related to language has come up many times. A parent will invariably ask the panelists, “When you were younger, did your parents encourage you to go to language classes? If yes, were you glad they did? If no, what do you think about it now?”

And the answer usually sounds something like this, “Yes, my parents encouraged it, but I didn’t want to go. Looking back on it now, I wish they had made me.”

I don’t think that will change how your kids will react, but it may change what you do as a parent. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Hmmmm….no panel that I have heard has answered that question, yet!

Next Up: Blending In & Standing Out

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