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Internationally Adopted Children and Adults

People who were adopted internationally have unique experiences that people who were adopted domestically may not share. Whether you’re parenting your internationally adopted child, you’re considering adopting internationally, or you’re an international adoptee yourself, it’s important to be aware of the challenges that face many international adoptees as well as the benefits of adoption for adoptees.

Three of the biggest challenges for international adoptees include:

Lack of Information About Their Pre-Adopted Lives

Although almost all modern domestic adoptions are open today, most international adoptions are still closed or involve little to no information about a child’s birth family. Some records regarding a child’s adoption may be lost between the two countries, and no two countries keep adoption records the same way.

For these reasons, it can be difficult for Korean adoptees, Chinese adoptees, Russian adoptees and other internationally adopted persons to find information about their life before adoption or information about their birth family. This makes it hard for many international adoptees to search for or reunite with birth family, if they wish to do this as an adult.

Early Childhood Trauma

Some internationally adopted children were temporarily housed in orphanages within their birth country, or they lived with a local foster family who they were later separated from. You may have been separated from siblings in addition to being separated from your birth parents and/or caretakers. These are all losses that may cause you pain. Internationally adopted children may have experienced additional trauma prior to their adoptions that they are unable to remember or articulate in a new language.

While many adoptees have experienced trauma in some form, the trauma of being removed from the only home, culture, language, and people that you had ever known is one that is unique to international adoptees. For some, these life-altering experiences leave lasting impressions.

Disassociation from Race and/or Cultural Heritage

Again, because internationally adopted children are removed from their home country and culture, being raised in the U.S. in a foreign environment can be a disorienting experience for some. Many international adoptees are adopted transracially, so they may also struggle with their racial identity.

Some international adoptees struggle to adjust to a new culture and identity when they come the U.S. to live with their American adoptive family.

Race and culture are both important parts of a person’s identity, and if you were adopted internationally and/or transracially, understanding your self-identity can be more complex than for adoptees who were adopted domestically. Your identity as an American, your racial identity, your identity as an adoptee with a birth and adoptive family, and your cultural identities are often as complicated as they are personal and unique.

Ways to Help

These are basic ways to cope with some common challenges that internationally adopted children face, whether you’re an adult adoptee or you’re parenting your internationally adopted child:

Find racial and/or cultural community

This could mean providing your child with “mirrors” of positive role models of the same race, participating in heritage camps for adoptive families or getting involved in a local group who shares your cultural heritage. This can be more of a challenge for people who live in areas of the U.S. that are less diverse, but making the effort to get involved in a supportive racial and cultural community that helps you feel connected with aspects of your pre-adopted life is worth it.

Consider a homeland visit

While not every adoptee has interest in or is ready for a visit to their birth country, it can be a healing experience for some people. Particularly if you have no information about your birth family, visiting where you were placed for adoption or where you were born can offer you some sense of closure.

Find professional support to resolve lingering emotional struggles

If adoption-related emotional issues persist, it can be beneficial to seek out a counselor who has experience with international adopted children’s issues. It’s ok to need some help sometimes!

While internationally adopted children and adults face a unique set of challenges and benefits related to adoption, you need the same amount of love and support as you explore your self-identity as any other person would.