Monday, July 11, 2011

Heritage Camp -- What's the Point?

As we return from China Heritage Camp, I ask myself, "What's the point?"  After all, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute study, Beyond Culture Camp: Promoting Healthy Identity Formation in Adoption, notes the inadequacy of culture camp in its very title:
We title this study Beyond Culture Camp because we recognize that parents adopting across race and culture, and the professionals who guide them, have developed strategies such as camps and festivals to introduce or strengthen children’s connection to their cultures and countries of origin. Yet, as this study found, such activities – while important – are insufficient in helping children adopted across racial and national boundaries develop a healthy, positive sense of self.
And at the group adoptee blog Transracialeyes, they question the value of sending kids to culture camp (I think it likely that mine is the "blog of an adoptive mother who sent the children in her care to China Heritage Camp (run by Dillon International)" referenced in the post).  I absolutely agree with their implication, in asking for reactions to "culture by camp," that culture cannot be imparted by camp.

So what is the point of culture camp/heritage camp?

When I asked my kids what they value about China heritage camp, their answers have little to do with culture.  They like being with kids like them -- brown, Chinese-born, adopted by white parents.  They love the teen counselors, who are also like them -- brown, Chinese-born, adopted by white parents.  Yes, they enjoy cooking and eating Chinese food, learning Chinese legends, and the like.  But they really love being surrounded by kids like themselves.  They love not having to explain their strange family.  For Maya, who hates being "different," this is a chance for her to be the "same as," instead.

I know they're not learning much about China or their Chinese heritage at this camp (they usually already know the language/songs/festivals/stories being taught).  But we go BEYOND culture camp, as the Donaldson report suggests is necessary, with weekly Chinese School during the school year, for example.  They've developed relationships with Chinese-American kids and families there;  they have something in common with those kids, too.  They are all minority kids, they are all immigrants or children of immigrants. That's really valuable. But they are different from those kids, too. At China heritage camp, they are the same. And both are necessary.

Adoptive parents, do you send your kids to culture camp?  Why or why not?

Adoptees, did you attend culture camp as a child?  Was it valuable?  Why or why not?

Thanks in advance for commenting!


Linda said...

I did not attend any adoptee camps as a child, mostly because there were no such camps, and because I am a domestic adoptee.

Obviously, these camps/programs do not even come close to living in and/or being part of your own culture/family, but I think they could be a good thing.

I just worry that they may be a little heavy on the "be grateful" thing. I have heard older adoptees say that there was little to no talk about the negative aspects of adoption, and the counselors were pretty kool-aid-y. (I know, not a real word, lol)

I guess camps are not really therapy, though, and more of a fun activity for children who are adopted, so in that respect, I feel they could be good.

I know for myself and many other adoptees from my era, we were just expected to "adopt" our adoptive family's culture/heritage, and it was pretty craptastic at times. I would have loved to have known about my own culture.

Reena said...

My girls are still fairly young- but we may try a family heritage camp this year if it is available (the poor economy is rearing its head in a lot of places where we live).

We do take a weekly preschool Mandarin class and use words, phrases at home. We participate in a China Cares program at a local University during the school year. We participate in China Holiday Celebrations offered by the community as well as recognizing them in our home and celebrating them as a family (as best we can).

We also have several family friends with children through adoption, both domestically and from China. The girls typically have at least one play date a week with other children who were adopted into their family.

Sharon said...

We've attended Ethiopian camp for five years because it's within an hour of our home -- how could we not go? As you say, it's all about being with similar families. Also, many adult Ethiopian adoptees attend as well as members of the local Ethiopian community, so it feels like the culture is a bit more authentic than some camps. I love to see my kids getting their hair braided or playing sports with the teenagers and young adults;they clearly love the feeling of belonging. BY consistently attending, we've all built relationships with the folks we see every year.

We traveled out of state last year for Indian camp and it was less satisfactory on many fronts, including culture, in part because it was mostly planned and run by white parents. No one in our family enjoyed it that much. The parent ed panels were excellent, though. I heard an adult adoptee who grew up in a small town somewhere in the heartland say that when she came to camp each year that was the ONLY time she saw ever people who looked like her. Without camp, she would've had no idea of what an adult Indian woman looked like, so she saw the counselors as needed role models. She looked forward to camp each year.

Going beyond culture camp is essential, but it can have value in the mix. We're going to try a different Indian camp next time just for the experience of being with other adopted Indians. We're fortunate that the area we live offers lots of opportunity to go beyond culture camp for both Ethiopian and Indian ties, including adult role models who are part of our everyday lives.

Anonymous said...

Regular camp for me (DIA) but where there was a dozen or so other adoptees and that was what was good...being around other adoptees. Now if it had been run by an adoption agency that preached the greatfulness sermon - not so much.

Truly Blessed said...

Interesting that you just posted this, as I sit here and process my own thoughts about Heritage Camp, my girls' first year attending and my first year teaching.

IMO, it's not about culture, food, crafts or the like. It is all about being in the majority and being "like" the other kids there -- adopted with parents who look different than their children.

Our city's Heritage Camp is not affiliated with any adoption agency and included camps for all adopted children (domestic, South America, Central America, Eastern Europe, Haiti, Korea, Vietnam and China). Heritage Camp gave the kids a chance to be with other adopted kids and simply be kids -- with no funny looks or questions.

I taught in the Kindergarten room and the 14 girls and one boy there just loved being around kids who looked like themselves. They adored the teenage helpers in our room and scattered throughout the school where our camp was held. They enjoyed a variety of assemblies where they heard songs and instruments from cultures around the world.

Did a week of Heritage Camp impart Chinese culture into my kids? Nah. They heard stories, legends, did some crafts, made homemade ice cream and had a wonderful time. I could have done all of the above at home with them with similar results, but I could not give them kids with a shared history to do it with.

We are looking forward to our 2nd year of Heritage Camp next year!

Amy said...

I had planned on sending my daughter for the first time this year, but it filled up and we're on the waiting list. The reasons were the same that some others posted--not to learn about China specifically--that would take a much longer program-- but to be in the majority, because my kids are never in the majority. That's also the main reason I like to have her attend FCC events. As they get older, I assume they will seek out situations where they can vent with others in similar situations.

Anonymous said...

Our oldest child attended culture camp for the first time this year; we waited a bit, as it involved extensive travel and we wanted to do our homework and make certain the camp we chose well balanced, free of the "gratitude" threat.

We were fortunate thatthere were also sessions held for paretns and family members, with topics including such things as bullying by peers, how to approach racial matters ( as in teaching your kids the best ways to handle racism in the school setting, etc.)and more. Nothing terribly new, but it never hurts to be proactive!

Our daughter had a positive experience and we specifically looked for and attended a camp that allotted time for break out sessions to explore the harder & complex issues our adoptive children often face ~ not just the rosey overtones.

This allowed our child to not only be among others just like her and just like our family (in larger numbers than our local gatherings) but also to vent, share, ask questions she may not wish to explore with us right now or to share with others who have walked a similiar path.

The fact that she also gained some additional insight into her birth culture is simply an added bonus. Again nothing terribly new, but she did learn a few new things!

At the conclusion of the week long camp her self esteem was soaring(its already healthy, but we saw a boost!) as was her ethnic pride.(again already healthy, but with a renewed energy). All positive things.

But most of all it was her telling us on the very last day that she loved it & wants to come back every year and someday be a peer leader. That clinched it for us!

My advice would be to do your homework and find the right one for your child and their circumstances.

veggiemom said...

We've been to Ethiopia camp once and will go back this year. For my older daughter, it's not about the Ethiopian culture, it's all about the adoptee culture. She loves seeing the teens who've been in her shoes.

Anonymous said...

Our daughter attends a dual- immersion school in her birth language/culture so she kind of does "heritage camp" all year- she's in the majority at the school, and most of the teachers and staff share her heritage. She is going to a two-day "adoption camp" next week and she's quite excited. The kids come from many backgrounds, but share the experience of adoption. There is a one week heritage camp in our town, but we've passed on it so far for a lot of reasons. I think you have to be clear what the outcome of a few days is going to be - certainly not a meaningful connection with "heritage" but perhaps a good connection with other adopted kids, teens and young adults, especially if you don't know many.

Deidra said...

Having just adopted from China I would love to find out: is there a resource that lists the available camps? How do you find them? Thanks for your input.

YoonSeon said...

I agree with the whole "what's the point?" thing. I never wanted to go to these as a kid because I just wanted to be like my family, and going to these would only highlight my differences, because I would have been the only person in my family going.

I can totally relate, however, with your daughters' sentiments of liking being around others "like them". Ultimately, I think that's what matters the most for adoptees, and anyone, really: just being around others that are like us is what helps to build better self esteem in ourselves and our lives.

Gina (Caleeo) said...

We were also in Tulsa. This was the first year my daughter was old enough to attend and she loved it. She learned new things and enjoyed spending time with her friends.

As I am always seeking ways to provide connection for my daughter to people who look like her, and she loves all that is China, this was perfect.