The topic of traveling to Korea to meet one’s child versus having one’s child escorted from Korea to the U.S. comes up fairly frequently in the Korean adoption forums and circles. Having been asked my opinion on the topic again today, I thought I’d weigh in with a blog post addressing my perspective.
The first thing families will want to do is discuss with their agency what the agency’s current policies and preferences are. For my agency, it is my understanding that travel is now required in most cases for children in the WC program, kids who are over a year at placement, etc. and that escorting is allowed only on a case-by-case basis. Your agency will let you know what their particular policy currently is and will be able to discuss your family’s situation with you.
You will also want to discuss with your agency if recent changes to Korean adoption law will impact your ability to choose escorting over travel. Korea is tentatively planning on moving towards becoming a Hague Convention country which may also limit one’s ability to choose the escorting option. All these things should be discussed directly with your agency.
As for when you have to decide, this is also something your agency is in the best position to advise you on. If I remember right, I think we filled out a travel vs escort form in our acceptance paperwork, though I’m sure that you can change your mind for quite some time after that given that it’s a while between referral and TC.
In terms of timeline, it is generally faster to travel than to escort. Sometimes the difference is very short (days), other times much longer.
Assuming your agency gives you the option, the choice to travel versus escort is a very personal one. In general I strongly recommend travel as I think there are some huge benefits to the child and traveling positively impacts other members of the adoption constellation as well (foster family, the program & its perception within Korea, and you as an adoptive parent). However, I also recognize that there are sometimes family situations which need to be considered. There are also lots of people who travel solo with great success.
For us, here are the reasons we are glad we traveled (apologies in advance for the length of this):
CHILD – For us the biggest reason we traveled is we thought that it was a benefit to our children that we were bringing home. We are our children’s eyes and ears when we travel…we are there to take in as much as we can, so we can later tell them about the experience. I love that I will be able to say with complete certainty from first-hand knowledge that our children were truly loved by his foster family and the staff at Holt. You will be able to learn information that you just won’t get unless you travel that will give you a better picture of your child’s early days and months…pieces to his past that may very well be treasured by your child as they grow up. Information gained from meeting the foster family may also provide you with information that will help you ease your child’s transition (this was a HUGE benefit to us personally). Traveling is also a way to eliminate one of the transitions for your child.
FOSTER FAMILY BENEFIT – Having heard directly from both our children’s foster families how much it meant to them to have us travel and how very sad and difficult it was for them to have a child they cared for escorted, I can say without doubt that the foster family benefits when adoptive parents travel to meet their children. The foster families of both our children were genuinely happy and touched that we traveled. We were also able to personally thank them for all they have done for us and for our children. As children stay in care in Korea longer, I think this becomes even more important as their connection to the children increases with this additional time. Having a formal hand-off to the adoptive parents is a helpful right-of-passage in this transition. Traveling also boosts the potential of a longer-term bond with the foster family as it helps build a connection between the adoptive parents and the foster family.
PROGRAM PERCEPTION – I personally believe that traveling is a small way to help boost the public perception in Korea about American adopting Korean children. We have several conversations while in Korea with Koreans about this; one conversation stands out…while we were flying back, one of the Korean flight attendants asked me if we were our child’s escorts. I said ‘no, we are his parents’. The flight attentant started to mist up and thanked us for coming. She has been flying internationally for over 30 years and said that on each trip from Seoul to the US she sees children coming home…the vast majority of the children are escorted. She said that they (the other Korean flight attendants) talk about this and about how incredibly sad and actually heartbrokedn it makes them each time. Since they don’t often have the opportunity to meet the adoptive parents, they are left to wonder and worry about these children. They said they are very reassured each time they meet the parents. This was the general sentiment we found from those who engaged us in conversation.
ADOPTIVE PARENT – Traveling benefitted us as adoptive parents. It gave us the opportunity to see and experience our children’s homeland. We got to meet the foster family or the caregivers and see personally their commitment to your child. We were able to learn things about each of our children first-hand from the foster family that no pre-flight report can adequately convey. Korea is an amazing country — we had a wonderful experience, one I would never trade.
I cannot overstate how much traveling helped us personally in the transition for both children. Because we traveled, we had the chance to spend some time with our son and his foster family. This gave us the opportunity to see our son with the people who have loved and cared for him for many months. It gave us a good glimpse into our son’s personality. It was helpful to see how both the foster parent interacted with him…to see how she fed him, how she played with him, what their dynamic was. I was better at helping my son through this transition because I went to Korea. For our daughter, this was an even more important benefit. She had a very rough transition, and the things we learned about her from her foster mother because of travel were immensely helpful to us. She was also a waiting child, so the medical information would have been difficult to accurately and completely convey had she been escorted.
IN THE END, this is a very personal family decision. One has to look at the whole family situation and weigh all the factors. I realize that there are certain exceptional circumstances that preclude a family traveling. There are definitely some reasons why, when looking at the entire family situation, escorting can be the best overall choice for some families. I also want to specifically say that I do not believe that families who choose to escort love their children any less than those who travel do; I have friends who have had their children escorted, and I can say with certainty that they absolutely love their kids as much as those of us who traveled to meet our children love ours. That said, if there is anyway for you to swing it, please try to. Traveling to meet one’s child is an amazing experience. The foster family, the program at large, and, most importantly, your child will all benefit from your decision to travel.