Holt’s unique approach to summer camps: Birth Culture vs. Adoptee Culture
by Steve Kalb, director of adoptee services
Birth culture has been oversized in our adoption community. Teaching adoptees about their birth culture has become a significant focus in adoption-targeted events and media. It has been this way for nearly thirty years. Camps, festivals, magazines, television, and websites are frequently built around the birth culture concept. Unfortunately, birth culture education is often used in place of equally, and sometimes more important, components of an adoptee’s identity – race and adoption. All of these components are frequently lumped together in adoption resources leaving race and adoption as low level afterthoughts.
In 1983, Holt pioneered the concept of summer camps for youth adoptees. They began as Korean heritage camps that were designed to lay a foundation of birth culture knowledge upon which the adoptee could build a healthy identity. The identity we as the adoption experts assumed they should embrace. Over the years, our camps have seen huge success expanding to 5 different states across the country. At first glance, it seems that the birth culture is what kept the kids coming back for more. But as we dug a little deeper, we discovered that it was the adoptee community that the kids enjoyed most. The space where they could be “normal”; not having to explain why they speak perfect English or have parents that don’t look like them or have last names that sounds German. They kept signing up because it was an adoptee rich environment where they were free to explore their whole identity with others who understood the complexities of adoption.
Based on overwhelming camper feedback, we changed the core programming focus in 2006 from birth culture to adoption culture. Where once we learned to cook recipes from a foreign land, we now discuss what life would’ve been like in our birth countries. Rather than choreographing an intricate fan dance, we discuss ways to respond to racist slurs. Instead of lessons in Chinese calligraphy, we practice having conversations with our parents around issues that aren’t easy to approach. This programming philosophy has proven popular and relevant to adoptees and their families.
Like in 1983, Holt is again pioneering a new approach to serve the adoptee. Our advantage over 1983 is 30 years of wisdom from the adoptees who were served with the birth culture model. They have informed us unequivocally that if they find themselves fortunate enough to be with a group of adoptees, they want to enjoy that precious time together without the burden of a mold people are telling them they should fit into. Our camps provide exactly that; a week of fun, friends, new experiences, and community. If you’d like more information about Holt’s Adoptee Camps, please check out our website at www.holtinternational.org/camps
A video from Holt’s 2011 Adoptee Camp in New Jersey…