A Return Home; A Known and Unknown Journey

Holt adoptee Ling O’Donoghue shares about her experience on the 2015 Holt China Tour.

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Ling with her mom, Sharon, at the site where she was left as an infant — the gates of the orphanage where she spent the first several months of her life, Nanping Children’s Welfare Institute.
Looking back on the Holt China tour, I feel that it went beyond all my expectations. I’ve been looking forward to this trip ever since I was little. It was a dream come true, allowing me to experience my culture, visit my orphanage, and absorb and share my feelings about adoption.

The excitement of preparing for the trip was half the fun. I spent the fall researching the reasons and policies behind adoption, and shared personal stories with other international adoptees. I also created a mosaic artwork for a school project, which represented my feeling about being “Rooted in Two Worlds.” I wanted to be prepared for any new emotions that would arise on this trip. So I met with a therapist who helped me process my feelings about adoption. It was fun getting ready for the trip, especially thinking about and deciding on the gifts for the people we would meet and for the children at the orphanage where I lived until my mom adopted me in 1999. I prepared physically, emotionally and spiritually as best I could. In China, I learned the preparation was worthwhile. I felt engaged, I was eager to learn the history of the places we visited, I asked questions of the Holt staff, and I was open to sharing my feelings. It’s not about how many presents you brought or the great experiences you can brag about to your friends. It was an incredible feeling to discover my birth country.

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Ling at the Great Wall of China.
Meeting adoptees from all over the country was so amazing, and we all became one huge extended family. We trekked all over China. First, we stayed in Beijing, exploring the Silk Museum, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Hutong neighborhood, the Silk Market and the Great Wall. Next, in Xi’an, we toured and learned about the terra-cotta warriors, West City Wall and its famous theater dumpling house. It was amazing to experience the sites and get a better sense of their historical and cultural significance.

After Xi’an, each family headed to their province for a visit to their former orphanage or foster home. I was off to Fujian, a southern province full of banyan trees. My mom and I and another family flew into Fuzhou and took a van to Nanping for the orphanage visit. There, the orphanage staff welcomed both me and Jenny, another adoptee on the trip who came from the same orphanage. During our visit, we learned that most of the children living at the orphanage today have some sort of special need. Part of our visit involved playing with the children as their ‘nannies’ clad in pink scrubs sat nearby. Another building on the orphanage grounds housed the physical therapy activities. A child therapist explained how the different machines worked to build leg and arm strength. She then provided a tour of a music therapy room used by the children. It was obvious that the staff members genuinely love and care for the children.

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Ling’s handwritten card (in Mandarin) that she wrote to go with the gifts to children at the orphanage where she lives, and gifts to the director and orphanage caregivers. Ling writes, “I included this note (or a similar one) with each gift. I wanted to thank the caregivers for taking care of me while I was at the orphanage, from when I was dropped off (3 or 4 days old) until 16 months old. After that, I was placed through Holt with my Mom (August 1, 1999) in Fuzhou).”
Jenny and I took pictures with the director in front of the orphanage. Then we each had a private meeting with her. I shared what my life has been like, what I was interested in and what my future goals are. I gave the director a photo album highlighting major events in my life. I also presented the director with a mosaic artwork I created that signified my Chinese birth and American upbringing.

After the orphanage trip, the entire group met back together in Guilin. In Guilin, we took a boat ride to Yangshuo. While we were there, we shopped in the markets. I never realized how fun bartering could be; I brought back wonderful gifts for family and friends. We returned to Guilin for the last night. At the farewell dinner, everyone wore their custom-made Qi Paos — Chinese dresses that were a gift from Bridges of Love Adoption Services (BLAS). The dinner was filled with beautiful smiling Chinese girls wearing dresses in every color of the rainbow. Everyone enjoyed themselves, sharing the last meal before heading off to Hong Kong, Chengdu or the United States. We ate, laughed, hugged and posed for what seemed like hours on end. It was a perfect ending to a wonderful trip.

River Cruise
Ling with some of her fellow adoptees on the boat ride to Yanshou.

Honestly, for me, it was surreal being there. To see the life I would’ve lived, and knowing the one I do. I have been shaped by both cultures. I’m very grateful for the life I have now and the one I was born into. Although many people have said, “You’re so lucky to be adopted” and I feel fortunate for the loving family and opportunities I have, I feel unfortunate for not knowing my birth family and not being immersed in my language and culture.

Ling with one of her fellow adoptees at the Holt China tour farewell dinner. All of the adoptees on the tour received Qi Pao dresses as a gift from Bridge of Love Adoption Services.

It’s meaningful and powerful to discover one’s birth country and feel the full impact of being in the ethnic majority. The trip has also encouraged me to continue in my Mandarin classes; I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my verbal and written skills were much better than I thought.

Through this trip, I’ve learned and gotten great advice — especially from Kat, an older adoptee counselor who shared about the journey she went through in understanding and processing her feelings about adoption. It was important to reconnect with the heritage I’ve missed out on and it reinforced my desire to study abroad. Processing my adoption will continue to be a lifelong journey of self-discovery. I really am “rooted in two worlds” and wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m so thankful for all this heritage tour made me realize, and for those who made it possible.

Ling O’Donoghue | Chevy Chase, Maryland

Interested in traveling on a Holt family or adoptee tour? Click here to learn more.
















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