[Pre-departure] Thoughts as an Adoptee Before Studying Abroad in China

Words cannot describe how excited I am for summer. But this summer won’t be like any summers that have come before it. I will be enrolled in CET’s Intensive Language Learning Program in Beijing, China (2014), and this will be the first time I return to my “homeland.”

In 1996, I was adopted from Xiamen, China when I was two and a half years old. Although I wish I could remember, I do not have memories before my adoption. I grew up in Minnesota with a loving family: two Caucasian parents and an older, adopted brother from South America. The city I lived in most my life was not very diverse, so once I attended college in Minneapolis, my understanding of identity suddenly became very complicated. Am I American, Chinese, or Chinese American? Can I be all of these and none of these at the same time? Recently, I’ve started to develop my own identity without feeling pressure to fit a certain stereotype. I am a Chinese American adoptee.

During summer 2013, I researched Asian American adoptee identities and grief through documentaries, which helped me better understand adoption perspectives as well as my own outlook on adoption. Perhaps this experience gives me an advantage for being aware of what to expect in China as an Asian adoptee. However, I won’t truly know what will happen until I’m in China, surrounded by Chinese language and culture.

Like many who are preparing for study abroad, I’m nervous about getting lost, not understanding conversation, missing friends and family, and becoming ill, but I am also excited for immersing myself in a new place, improving language skills, meeting new people, and trying new things. However, as an adoptee, I also worry about my emotional stability while abroad. Will I constantly be thinking of “what if” questions while I’m abroad? What if I wasn’t adopted? What if my biological relatives are in Beijing? What if they never think about me? Will I feel like something is missing? Or will I adjust normally without thinking too much about my adoption?

Even though my birth city is in southern China, I might find myself searching in Beijing for familiar Chinese faces, one that looks like mine. Do my biological parents look like me? Do I have biological siblings? I’m nervous I might not be able to handle the emotional outcome of returning to China for the first time without my close friends and family. However, I have thought a little about how my adoption will affect this experience. Although returning to China for the first time will be emotional in some way—and I  will be reminded of my adoption during conversations—I  will need to take a step back from my own concerns and focus on appreciating the amazing language and culture of China.

Beijing will have its own special qualities and customs, so I think I should wait to truly reflect on my adoption until I return to my birth city, which will be a completely separate journey. Sometime after graduation, I hope to travel to my orphanage and birth city. If I am able to visit my orphanage, I hope I can communicate without a translator; I want to personally thank the caretakers and tell them about growing up in America. Searching for my birth family and Chinese foster parents is also something I hope to do in the future, even if I may not find any information about my past.

Studying abroad in Beijing this summer will be a big step toward my goal of returning to my birth city, whenever that may be. I am confident that academic, social, and emotional benefits will come from this summer abroad experience as long as I stay positive and keep an open mind. In the end, I know that once I return from Beijing, China, I will have gained an invaluable experience and a new understanding of identity, culture, and language that will help me toward future endeavors.

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