Abby Newell's adoptive parents have been preparing for her "birth tour" for years. They have attended Chinese culture camp in Silver Spring, decorated their Fairfax home like a Shanghai apartment and - most important, they say - enrolled Abby in Mandarin classes on the weekend.Each of my girls started Saturday Chinese School at age 3, the youngest age the school will accept. It has definitely been a good thing for both girls. I agree that language is the key to culture, and that we're getting more than language out of the exercise, we're also getting cultural competence.
The goal is for her to land in China sometime in the next few years with a sense of her own complex identity: She is both an 8-year-old girl from suburban Virginia and a child whose birth mother left her in a rural Chinese outpost with a note pinned to her saying, "I can't keep this child."
Thousands of American parents who adopted girls near the peak of the Chinese adoption boom earlier this decade are facing similar dilemmas as their children reach school age. Increasingly, they are turning to weekend classes in rented public schools or storefronts taken over by bare-bones Chinese language programs.
"We've always believed that language is the key to culture - to Abby's heritage," said her mother, Robin Lelyveld Newell. "These classes aren't just about fluency. They're about identity."
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