Now that I’ve had time to recover from the jet lag, and get somewhat caught up on work, I look back on my two weeks in China and Taiwan and am truly grateful for the experience. I learned so much!In China, I was able to tour one of the orphanages, meet several different officials, and speak with the orphanage directors in Shanghai and Nanchang. I was able to have frank conversations about the care of the children in the orphanages and in foster care. I was able to ask questions about stories some of the children I work with have revealed about their time in the orphanage or a foster home. We discussed the cultural differences in parenting as well as differences in terminology used in referral paperwork. We discussed expectations in adoption and also how to better prepare families for adopting from China. All of my meetings were informative and encouraging, and in the end, we were ultimately all on the same side, trying to find a loving home for children of various needs while also ensuring a placement that fits the needs of both the child and the family. I also traveled to Beijing and met with several different departments at China’s Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA). I was able to ask questions and have great conversations that will hopefully benefit our program and the work I do with our families. During my trip, I was also lucky enough to meet two of our beloved guides in-country who both work extremely hard for our families. I was constantly amazed by the amount of time and energy that everyone puts into their work. With every person I met, there was an obvious desire to ensure a better life for these children. And then lastly, I experienced so much of the Chinese culture with the best guide I could ask for, Gongzhan Wu, Vice President & Executive Director - Asia.
During my second week, I traveled to Taiwan, where I was able to witness the Superkids program. I met more wonderful orphanage directors, caregivers and social workers. I also toured Chung Yi’s Children’s home. I was able to be a part of the children’s assessments and see how the Superkids team works together to gather so much info on each child. I saw matched children, whose parents are eager to come and pick them up. I saw new children, many of them older, who are waiting for their chance at a forever family. I learned so much more about the adoption process in Taiwan and was able to discuss Gladney’s services to our families once the children are placed.
I learned that the workers really do remember the children from years ago and they asked me about various specific children and families I’ve worked with. Each of the social workers wanted to know anything and everything that would help the children, from recording various physical therapy exercises the children were doing, to asking how to handle certain behaviors. It was encouraging to see the investment they have in the quality of care for the children. I think overall I was able to gain so much information and meet so many different people that hopefully will help me when working with families both before and after placement.
My time in both countries also offered me the opportunity to experience some of the culture. I know it may seem insignificant but when trying to prepare families and later relate to children I’m working with, it’s actually really beneficial to have that knowledge. I had a wonderful tour guide, Gongzhan, who took me around to various parts of each city we were in. I saw some famous places and also some off the beaten path places. I tried to soak it all in. I ate as much local cuisine as I could. I have a new love for dumplings and surprisingly one of my favorite dinners was Peking duck. I also surprised myself with how much I was able to eat with chopsticks, a small victory in itself. I tried to experience as much of the culture as I could but certainly missed the luxuries of home. Not having to brush my teeth with bottled water and no squatty pottys here in the US...something I never knew I needed to be thankful for.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, there’s nothing like a trip of this nature to put into perspective all the things you have to be thankful for. Although I was overall impressed with what I saw at the orphanages and the care the children receive, it’s hard not to think about all that they lack. A loving family, not just parents and siblings, but also the extended family that often is a part of the holiday season. Their lack of resources that we have and I don’t just mean medical, educational, therapeutic, etc. but all of the small things we take for granted. A nice comfortable bed to sleep in at night, maybe a room that’s not also occupied by several other children with various needs, a sense of safety and security, waking up and knowing you’re loved, food and knowing undoubtedly that you’ll never be hungry, access to so many different toys and movies, activities, playgrounds. Trips to museums, amusement parks, restaurants, friend’s birthday parties. All of these things, part of a typical childhood that we don’t normally think twice about. Even just a trip to the grocery store, a bubble bath, or someone to cuddle up with and read a goodnight story. The simple things. Those are the images that I pictured and the fond memories that popped into my head as I toured the orphanages. I couldn’t help but make the comparisons and reflect back on them now that I’m home. A trip like this changes you and I, for one, am grateful for it.
I must also mention the new found appreciation I have for our families that travel back from other countries with their child. That plane ride is loooong! I have a pretty good attention span so I can’t fathom being a child, never been on a plane before, with strange people you just met, and having to sit still/be quiet for so long. Also, the jet lag alone took me out of commission for several days (let’s be honest, almost two weeks). I honestly can’t imagine what it’s like to parent through that fog. I’ve concluded there’s simply not enough coffee for that.