Critical things to consider when choosing a birthland tour

It has been exactly one week since I returned from my birthland tour to Korea. I am in the midst of continuing to process the experience, organize photos, journal entries, and play catch up with documenting my experience via the blog (this is in the works…). The experience of being in Korea was unbelievably unbelievable at times. Being surrounded 24/7 with faces that looked like me, even if I couldn’t understand the language 99.9% of the time, made me feel at home in Korea. Even though I spent a better part of a decade in Los Angeles, which is home to one of the largest populations of Koreans outside of Korea in the world, it still wasn’t the same as being in the majority so to speak everyday versus being considered the “other” most days than not in the USA.

Being with other Korean adoptees and adoptive parents/families on this trip also made the experience unique versus simply a tourist tour to Korea. Spending time at my Korean adoption agency, talking to the volunteer staff on the trip (one volunteer was a Korean adoptee and one volunteer was an adoptive parent of 3 children from Korea), and learning more about Korea and the myriad of issues involved in the complex and complicated world of adoption, specifically transnational/transracial adoptions, were all life-changing events.

One of the most challenging aspects of the birthland tour was the fact that the tour director, who was also the director of post-adoption services and education for the US adoption agency, and the post-adoption worker who was tasked with helping with arranging for everything from Korean file reviews at Korean adoption agencies, to side trips to see birth clinics/birth cities, meetings with foster parents, and even birth parents, were both inexperienced with regards to Korea and Korean adoption. Both of these post-adoption professionals had never been to Korea before and had very minimal knowledge and experience about Korea, Korean culture, and the complicated issues involved with Korean adoption. Both of the post-adoption professionals also both stated they did not have any personal connections to Korea or Korean adoption either. The fact that the post-adoption professionals leading and accompanying us on this birthland tour of Korea had no personal connection to Korea, Korea adoption, and minimal at best knowledge and experience about Korean culture was disappointing and frustrating. And having post-adoption professionals who have a personal connection to the adoptee’s birth country and adoption from the adoptee’s birth country is a vital and primary necessity for any adoption agency providing birthland tours for transnational/transracial adoptees and their families.

When looking for a birthland tour, here are some questions to ask of the potential tour and post-adoption agency staff leading the birthland tour:

  • What is the connection post-adoption agency professionals and tour staff have to your birth country, and to adoptions specifically related to your birth country? For example, if you were born in Korea having agency/tour staff who are from Vietnam and/or an adoptive parent of Vietnamese children is not the same as Korean adoption/adoptee/adoptive parent experience.

  • What knowledge and experience do the agency and tour staff have about your birth country culture, and the complex history related to adoptions from your birth country?

  • What training and experience do the the post-adoptions workers you will be working with have in terms of transnational/transracial adoptions from your birth country?

  • What specific kinds of support can you expect from the post-adoption agency professionals before, during, and after the birthland tour?

  • What experience do the post-adoption agency professionals have as far as working with the post-adoption/adoption agencies in your birth country?

  • Why is a birthland tour like this important to you, as the post-adoption agency professional, and how do you see your role on this tour?

  • What kind of activities will be part of the tour that are post-adoption/adoption related to your adoption and birth country?

These are just some basic questions that I think are important to ask of potential tour(s) that you may be considering for your birthland tour.  There are other organizations that also provide post-adoption services such as tours and even birth families searches that are not directly affiliated with US adoption agencies. For example, during my trip to Korea I arranged on my own a visit to the offices of G.O.A.L. (Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link) which is an adoptee founded and run organization in Korea for Korean adoptees and some of their services include First Home Tour and birth family searches. It may take some additional research, but you may be able to find organizations specific to your birth country that provide post-adoption services that are run by adoptees and not associated with a US adoption agency.

As the adoptee volunteer staff on our tour reminded us, these “birthland tours are about US as adoptees and our experience as adoptees.” Adoptees are encouraged to, and are entitled, to advocate for themselves and their post-adoption services such as birthland tours. Post-adoption services provided by adoption competent post-adoption professionals who have personal connections to your birth country and adoption from your birth country is a necessity and not an afterthought or optional option.