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Going Back

Heritage trips help children discover their past—and influence who they become. Here, two families describe their journeys back to their birth countries of Colombia and Korea. Help your child prepare for the journey with expert-tested tips at

Personal journey: Right at Home

All my life I’ve wanted to return to my birth country. My family adopted me from Colombia when I was five-and-a-half months old, and decided to go back last year when I was 18. My sister, adopted from the same orphanage in Colombia, felt that it was not the right time for her, and stayed behind. I think of myself as a Colombian, and have often wondered what life was like there compared to the life I know here in the United States. The biggest difference is that some young people—particularly from my town of birth—do not have the opportunities that I have.

One of the surprises I discovered about Colombia is that it is filled with beauty. One of the main exports, aside from coffee, is flowers. In Medellín, we saw the annual flower parade and festival called Feria de las Flores (Parade of Flowers). The people walked down the mountain and through the city, carrying huge flower displays on their backs. While watching them, I realized I come from a wonderful country.

The most memorable part of our trip was going back to my adoption agency. Many things had changed over time—my orphanage, La Casa de Maria y El Niño, has expanded to care for older children now.

While we were there, I saw a little bit of what my parents went through when they adopted me. That day at the orphanage, there was a couple looking to adopt for the first time. I could see in their eyes that they were afraid they’d have to leave without a baby in their arms. At the same time, I saw some happiness—once they learned that I was adopted from this same agency, and saw how well I had grown up.

During a tour of the orphanage, we visited the room where the babies sleep. As I watched them, I began to cry. This was the place where I spent the first months of my life, I realized. The years since then flashed before my eyes.

When our two-week trip came to a close, part of me wanted to go back to the U.S. But part of me would have been happy to stay where I was. I knew that I was finally home.

Andrew, adopted from Medellín, Colombia

Personal Journey: A Last-Minute Birthmother Reunion

My family felt that it would be good to travel to South Korea to have some of my 10-year-old daughter Anna’s questions answered. Despite everyone’s efforts, it is not easy to grow up as a Korean-American in a Caucasian home. We felt that knowing more about Korea and about Anna’s first few months might help her as she moved into adolescence. I was glad to know that social worker Deborah Johnson, also a Korean adoptee, would be on the trip.

We planned to meet Anna’s foster mother, but were told that we wouldn’t be able to meet Anna’s birthmother. Understandably, Anna was somewhat relieved. She could meet with her foster mom and find some answers, without experiencing the emotional roller coaster implicit in a birthmother reunion.

While in Seoul, near the end of our tour, we were told that Anna’s birthmother had changed her mind and now she wanted to meet her. Deborah made it clear to Anna that she was under no obligation to meet her birthmother, which relieved some of Anna’s stress. They brainstormed about ways to make the reunion work. Anna asked if there was any way for her to just see her birthmother—perhaps wait outside the room and observe us as we met her. Deborah suggested that Anna, accompanied by her family, meet her birthmother with the option of leaving should it become too much. Once Anna saw that she could be in charge, she realized that she should not discard this opportunity of a lifetime simply because she was nervous.

When Anna embraced her birthmother for the last time at the airport, she noticed her lovely perfume. And on the flight back to Seoul that afternoon, Anna recognized that the flight attendant was wearing the same scent! I used my phrase book to ask the flight attendant the name of the perfume. Anna purchased a small bottle of the scent, so she could relive the moments with her birthmother after we got home.

Mary, mother of Anna, adopted from Korea

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