It’s probably fair to say that Nikki Pauls DeSimone is more knowledgeable about adoption than most adoptive families. She is, after all, a Licensed Master Social Worker who’s been working in adoption since 2004. She’s an adoptive parent as well; she and her husband adopted their daughter, Yiyi, from China in 2014.
But when it comes to homeland tours, there’s still some confusion, even in the adoption professional community, about how to best make the journey. A homeland tour is a trip to an internationally adopted child’s home country. Understandably, it can be intimidating; it’s an emotional trek for everyone involved.
Some families choose to go through an agency for a guided heritage tour, but the DeSimones chose to go on their own. They preferred to have the freedom to do their own thing, and, because Nikki is no adoption newbie, she knew she had to be very purposeful in setting their itinerary. Her family traveled back to China in the beginning of June 2016, and now she’s using her own experience to demystify homeland tours.
For families considering doing the same for their adopted child — and Nikki does recommend that adoptive families take their children back to their home countries when possible — she shared a few tips at this month’s meeting of the Metropolitan Adoption Council of Greater Kansas City.
Tips for Affording the Trip:
- Save for two years. This should give you enough time to come up with the money, but it’s a short enough timespan to keep you from abandoning the idea.
- Consider traveling during the schoolyear. While it may be tougher to schedule around the kids, it can save massive amounts of money on travel.
- Think about whether you really need a guide the entire time. Say a guide costs maybe $150 a day. If you eliminate the need for a guide on even two days of your trip, that saves you $300.
- You may not need to bring all of your children. If you have kids who are too young to appreciate the experience, it’s okay to leave them at home. It’s also okay to take only the child whose home country you’re returning to.
Tips for Preparing Your Child:
- Talk to them about the realities of the trip in the months leading up to it. Make sure they understand that:
- Familiar places may have changed in the time since they’ve been away. Buildings are remodeled, torn down, or built frequently. Depending on how long they’ve been gone, things could look very different from how they remember.
- They may encounter language challenges that they didn’t before. Depending on the child’s age and the amount of time they’ve been away from the country, they may not have the same grasp on their native language that they once did.
- People may remember them that they have no recollection of, and vice versa. It can be disorienting to a child to see someone they have fond memories of and find that that person doesn’t remember. They may also feel guilty for not recognizing people who remember them.
- Have your child help set the goals for the trip. You know what you want to accomplish, but what is important to him or her?
Tips for Traveling:
- Use a guide for part of the trip if you need one, but also get out and explore on your own.
- Plan for downtime. You never know what’s going to happen.
- Allow your child to set the pace. There’s a lot coming at them; they may need emotional rest breaks.
- Depending on where you go and the customs in that country, you may want to bring gifts. If that’s the case, bring more than you think you’ll need. People come out of the woodwork.
- Plan to buy things for your child. It may have been a while since they’ve seen their home country; now that they’re older, they will probably want to pick out things that are meaningful to them.
- Always be flexible.
Tips for Coming Back Home:
- Encourage your child to process what they’ve just done. Having someone ready to help them work through their emotions — maybe another international adoptee — may be beneficial.
- Have your child help you make a photo album documenting the trip.
- If you make any promises on the trip — especially regarding birth parents, foster parents, return trips, etc. — make sure those promises are kept.
To read more about Nikki, Yiyi and their family’s trip back to China, you can visit Nikki’s blog.