Posted by: fatherof11 | January 25, 2006

Cultural Challenges

Gean asked: “What is/was the hardest thing culturally for the kids to deal with as they made the transition from their past to your home? “

I assume in this case you are talking about the children we adopted from Russia, as the others had already been in the US for a while. There are so many cultural issues that it is really hard to put a finger on one that was the most challenging.

For those who will be adopting – as you travel to adopt or visit your child, it helps to relish the feeling of being in a different country and culture. Carry this with you as a reminder when your child comes home, so that you will have a taste of what they are going through. The good thing about your short trip is that you know it will soon end, though, and you will return to the comfort of your home. For the child, when they are adopted and brought to the US, they have no hopes of returning to that comfort. Even if theirs had been a horrible setting and environment, it was what they knew and there was most likely some comfort in that familiarity.

Coming to a new country brings so many new sensations. The smells, tastes, sounds, sights, feelings – EVERYTHING is different. It can be overwhelming to a child… even an adult for that matter. New demands are being made on you, words are being spoken that you don’t understand, foods taste different, nothing looks familiar… Some children will adapt easily to their new surroundings, but you must be understanding of the one who seems challenged by it all.

How can you help this child? The best way we have found is to introduce them to new things slowly. This means bringing them to your home and staying there for a good while, limiting visitors. Do not go galavanting around the town, showing them off and trying to impress them with all of the material goods of their new country. This is a disaster waiting to happen! Rather, allow them time to adjust to their immediate surroundings – their home and family. Establish a routine with them, try to feed them some familiar foods if possible, find out who this child is that God has placed in your hands.

So, in answer to your question, Gean, I guess “cultural overload” is the biggest issue. An understanding heart and a calm voice (surrounded by lots of prayer, of course) goes a long way in smoothing those bumps.

Hope this helps!




  1. Thanks, Ramona.

    These boys live in a group home of 250 children, on a river in a tropical area. They have friends, routine, and are used to certain sounds and smells. The orphanage raises and slaughters its own pigs and chickens, raises its own vegs in greenhouses.

    I have hoped they will come to love the backside of the suburban mountain we live on and my cooking, but my, it will be different for them. I’ve thought about just a grocery store as being overwhelming. So your advice is much appreciated.

    It is a glorious thing that the Bible, although rooted in a time and culture, is past time and crosses all of our cultural lines. That is what we count on as we move these little ones from where they are to here. We thank our Lord for his providence and wisdom.

  2. Grocery stores – oh yes!! I will never forget the first time I took Irina and Vanya to KMart. Well, the first thing they were uncomfortable with was – ME DRIVING! You see, women just don’t drive in Russia, period.

    Then, as we were going into the store, Irina just stopped and started staring. She was mesmerized by the automatic door,opening and closing on its own. 😉 Once we got past that, it was a real challenge to keep Vanya’s hands from touching everything thing he saw.

    Ahhhh, the memories.

  3. There are cultural differences even between similar countries like Australia and the US. We found it quite odd living in the US for over two years. It was like the Twilight Zone. What seemed similar, when pressed a little, was quite different. The biggest issue was food. We never did get acclimatised to US food and there are many things we couldn’t obtain that were common in Australia.
    If you have someone from another country it is worth your while to go through the hassle of getting some food from “home”.

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