Exploring our Homelands

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by Christine Chan

In our search for identity, it is quite common to return to our native country. My mother and father immigrated to New York from China in their twenties. I was born and raised in America but have always been curious about my Asian heritage. When I had the opportunity to go to China, I was unsure about how I would feel – whether it would be an “I’m finally home” feeling, relief at not being a minority, or possibly even horribly out of place. Unfortunately, following a guide with a flag among a throng of other tourists did not give me the opportunity to feel like anything but…a tourist. The next time I travel, I will either go with a small, specialized group or journey independently. Here are some great resources for those taking trips to explore one’s roots.

The Ties Programs arranges tours for adopted children and their families to experience their birth country with other adoptive children. The focus of the group is to “help children see that the people with whom they share their heritage are warm, wonderful, genuine people”. Ties help families reconnect with people and places related to their adoption (i.e. the place where they were found, orphanages, people who cared for them). A neat feature is the provision of adoption social workers and professionals for optional “Talk Times” throughout the trip to relieve stress. They offer trips to Romania, Russia, China, India, Philippines, Guatemala, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Korea, and Vietnam.

Tour Scotland offers travelers (which they distinguish from tourists) a chance to explore the real Scotland in small groups (2-12 people). A local guide shows travelers places that are not normally seen by tourists and allows them experience authentic local culture. This is a great idea for custom-designed family reunions. My friend Ely went last summer and had a blast.

Korean Homeland Tours shows adopted Korean children and their families what their lives would be like if they were raised in Korea. This 16-day trip incorporates visits to schools, an unmarried mothers home, adoption agencies, historical sites, sporting events, shopping, an optional overnight stay with a host family, and more. An adoption social worker accompanies the tour.

Our Chinese Daughters Foundation provides family-oriented “Culture Camps” in China. These camps do not visit orphanages or focus on adoption, but rather on experiencing Chinese culture in a comfortable, kid-friendly fashion. They are quite touristy, but very nice for families with young children. Other opportunities offered by OCDF are family volunteer programs, sports camps, and “Hug a Panda” tours.

The Jewish National Fund offers an opportunity to celebrate your child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s in Israel. They offer several 11-day educational tours during the summer. Highlights include: rabbinical tunnels at the Kotel, kayaking on the Jordan River, jeep ride at the Goland Heights, hands-on archeology digs, and Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies on the Southern wall. In addition, they offer missions trips and tours specifically for singles. A tour of Israel is a great way to connect this important ceremony to one’s heritage in an unforgettable way.

Of course many people prefer to travel independently. If you choose to do so, here are some tips:

  • In addition to the popular tourist spots, try to experience normal daily life. Go shopping in local markets, visit parks, schools, go to a church service, chat with the locals, etc.
  • Visit a graveyard where your ancestors are buried.
  • Research dress code so you don’t feel out of place. Little did I know, locals never wear tank tops and shorts in China. It is hard to feel like you belong when you are dressed like a prostitute by that country’s standards.
  • If you are visiting an orphanage, find a way to give something back-volunteer or bring books, toys, clothing, toiletries, etc.

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