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Vietnam Culture Camp is a Success!

By Lynne Flood

Vietnam adoption culture camp experience.

This was our first experience with culture camp, and we had a great time. My thanks to all the volunteers who worked so hard to give us this wonderful experience together. Leah (born in Tam Binh orphanage, Saigon in May 1998) and Lynne (Leah's mom) flew from Charleston, SC to Minneapolis and took the St. Olaf shuttle to the camp on Friday afternoon. We arrived just in time for dinner, and then enjoyed meeting the other families at the welcome party. The maps of Vietnam and the United States were a fun way to see who else was there.

Our trip home did not go as smoothly. Things went well on the St. Olaf shuttle, but not after we arrived at the Minneapolis airport. You know how unreliable flying is... we were supposed to be home at six in the evening, but arrived after midnight. Leah was a great traveler, and really did better than I did!

Lifebooks Session with Sarah Dankert

This young speaker is a Korean young adult adoptee with a valuable story to share. As a young teen, she found herself missing a concrete, written documentation of who she was, since she had no baby book or record of the six years before her adoption and move to the United States. With her twin sister and another adopted friend, she worked to create A Dream Come True, which is a memory book for adopted children, available through Adorable Adoptees on the internet.

In her talk at the Culture Camp, she urged adoptive parents to create some sort of memory book for their children with as many pictures, names, and written recollections as possible, especially including dates and places, where they are known. She also encouraged allowing adoptive children to have their own copies of adoption documents and other legal paperwork, relating to their beginnings and adoption.

Sarah also shared with us her personal story of her ongoing search for her birth family in Korea. She had a rough beginning, and learned some surprises about misleading information she was told as a child, and is now preceding with caution. She urges us all to be honest with our children, as these surprises coming later in life are very disruptive. She recommends searching for birth families only with the support of accompanying loved ones, as one never is sure just how the process will go.

Returning to Your Child's Birthland

The Ties Program with Becca Piper

Perhaps the next session I attended was the perfect follow-up to Sarah Dankert's story. Becca Piper is the director of an organization which arranges travel for international adoptees to the land of their birth. There is not yet a program for Vietnam, but she reports that because of a lot of recent interest, one may be available in about three years. Travel is usually arranged about a year ahead of the actual trip.

The Ties Program arranges travel for several families together to the same country, with about 40 people being an ideal group size. The trip consists of some touring, but the emphasis is on providing the adoptees with personal contact with the people of their birth country. Her biggest priority is for children to experience the people as warm, caring, and fun, so that they have a positive picture of the heritage from which they were created.

Becca had some advice for those of us who may be considering traveling with our adopted children in the future. She recommends talking about the trip for months before it happens, and allowing the adoptee to have some input on his or her level. One suggestion she made was to post a note on the refrigerator for the child to fill in "Things I want to do in Vietnam" and to expect simple additions like shopping, swimming in the hotel pool, sending a postcard to my friend, etc.

Many children are fearful about this type of travel, and Becca has had a wealth of experience which allows her to understand some of the reasons. She suggests talking not just about the trip, but about what the family will do AFTER the trip, upon returning home, so that there is no misunderstanding on the child's part about being left behind or lost in the travel. This is a good way to reassure fears without creating them, if they are not there.

Another excellent point she made during the talk was to allow your child to experience poverty in the United States before the travel experience. Vietnam is not the only poor area of the world, and the travel experience should create positive feelings rather than shameful ones about the adoptee's original culture.

This talk was very professional, and I was impressed with the experience and knowledge Becca has in arranging Ties Program trips. The idea of traveling with other families with adoptive children from the same country must provide the children a wonderful sense of community which can only help their self-esteem. She arranges the travel so that families are together for much of the time, as they experience the entire country, but also have time to break off and investigate more closely areas where they have the desire.

Specifically, she finds that while some families are not motivated to do any searching for birth families, others would like time for that. The travel is arranged to meet these individual preferences, so that everyone is able to do as much or little visiting of hospitals, orphanages, foster families, and other locations as they desire.

Life is Short with Renee' Rongen

Saturday morning for the parents was entertaining and encouraging, as we listened to this adoptive mother of two young girls share her revelations about the importance of parents on an adoptive child's life. She shared many candid and touching stories from her own experience, and kept the audience laughing and dabbing at tears, as we experienced a variety of emotions in response to her recollections.

Favorite Moments at Culture Camp

The food was good, the company great, and the Saigon Market a good opportunity to purchase souvenirs with meaning for our children. The accommodations were economical and provided a lot of interaction between families during free times.

Leah and I enjoyed the Dragon Dance and the tie-dye T-shirt project a great deal. We missed the afternoon Games, as Leah still naps in the afternoon after lunch. We left after breakfast on Sunday morning, and so did not have an opportunity to experience the Sunday activities. We enjoyed taking the group photograph, and look forward to receiving a copy in the mail.

But the highlight...

Well, that has to be the Saturday evening festivities in Kelsey Theater. Watching our children show us what they had learned in the morning, and enjoying parading in their "finest" Ao Dai's was worth the entire, tiring return to Charleston on Sunday. Maybe it is because my daughter, Leah, loves being the center of attention, loves dressing up, and loves showing off. Maybe it was seeing even the shyest of the camp participants up on the stage, enjoying themselves.

I have to admit, I liked seeing the counselors having fun, as well, and was encouraged to see the positive relationships between our children and the counselors. The evening reinforced my conclusion that we will definitely return to Culture Camp in years to come... though we may drive out next time.

More Information: Current Vietnam Adoption Culture Camp events and dates provided on the Families with Children from Vietnam website. Or visit the Catalyst website.

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