Adoptees Today

A high school graduate shares her college entrance essay

Kindergarten students are cruel. Just down right vicious. However, in their defense, they most likely do not mean to be. They are just being brutally honest. I can personally attest to this. The memories of my own kindergarten days are still vivid — snack time, naptime, circle time and a kid named Bobby. We were gathering our belongings by the backpack cubbies. Bobby was shorter than me, with a lot of guts. As we were getting our backpacks, he looked up at me, pulling the corners of his eyes skinny to match my almond-shaped eyes. I felt weird; no one had ever made fun of me before. It was then that I realized I did not look like my peers. Yes, I did “know” I was different, but I did not know that my differences were “funny” to others. Bobby was just stating the obvious. He merely characterized the differences between my peers and I. Their eyes were not almond-shaped, their hair was not black, and their skin was not brown. I was an adopted member of society. And for this, I resented my heritage.

My biological Korean parents were engaged when I made a surprise appearance onto this earth. They gave me up for adoption right away, and I was adopted into a very southern, Caucasian family in Georgia at the age of four months. I have been raised only speaking the English language, yet treated differently because of my looks. I have never had any connection with Korea other than the ink on my birth certificate. I have sometimes wished I could fit in and be like all the other kids who matched their parents on annual Christmas cards. Why couldn’t I look on the outside the same way I felt on the inside?

Kindergarten kids not only ridicule physical attributes, but mental and social differences as well. My brother has autism and often appears socially inept. In school, he was “that kid” that everyone picked on. This enraged me. My brother has always had trouble making friends. Autism is a disorder that affects social interaction and communication skills. Other kids were harsh and unwilling to accept his differences. I despise the hardships my brother experienced. I still do not understand why people have to fit a social mold to be accepted.

The impact of being Asian in a Caucasian culture and having a brother with autism causes me to see life differently. I am keenly aware of students in my school who march to the beat of a different drummer. I have compassion for them and want to understand their view of life. In so doing, I not only learn about them, but I learn more about myself. By expanding my social circles, I expand my understanding of the world.

Because of my hardships and struggles respecting differences, I can confidently say that I have a passion for combating society’s ignorance. My life’s lessons have shown me that single-minded thinking and influence does not create a healthy world. I know what it means to be different and I know what it means to be misunderstood. I have learned to accept who I am instead of always looking to be something I am not. Because of this, I have learned to think differently and to view deeper into others instead of judging them based on surface appearances. Because of my life’s journey, I believe I am uniquely equipped to contribute to the diverse learning environment at the University of Texas.

Christine and brother, Sean.

We are currently accepting graduate submission forms for Holt adoptees who will graduate high school, college or vocational school in 2011.  Please click here to fill out a graduate submission form and send in a graduate photo.

Passing the Torch: When an Adult Adoptee Adopts

By Lawrence Gordon Vallandigham, Mountain View, California

“Are you okay with adopting?” asked Judy.

Startled, I thought, ‘how could I not be?’  I was adopted. But this wasn’t about me.  This was about our commitment to become a family. With that question, adoption was no longer an abstract idea but our unambiguous decision to transform lives.

Like many of our friends, we married later in life, established our careers, traveled and lived well. But we also discovered that conceiving a family wasn’t easy, nor was it fun trying to conceive through procedures. Ultimately, it mattered less to us how we became a family, so long as we did.

And so, on a warm Sunday evening in June 2008, we sat at the kitchen island, completed our application with excitement and trepidation, and embarked upon our adoption journey. In our hearts, a baby boy was waiting for us, even though he had not yet been conceived.

Family and friends could not have been more genuinely excited and supportive. My mother cried joyfully while my father reflected upon their decision decades earlier. Judy’s mother smiled such that we knew she had long reserved room in her heart only to be filled by her new grandson.

Time has stood still twice in my life – watching the sunlit silhouette of Judy approach the wedding altar, and on an otherwise unremarkable July 2009 afternoon when my iPhone pinged, alerting me to an incoming photo and call from my wife. Our son was waiting for us in Seoul.

The vibrant colors of fall signal metamorphosis, and so it was fitting that in November 2009 we expectantly flew to Seoul. Taking no chances for delay, we made a subway trial-run to the nondescript Holt building a day before our appointment. (Then we enjoyed the city sights and sounds). The next afternoon, when escorted into the nursery room to meet our son and his foster mother, the entirety of Judy’s body ached to hold him.

Upon returning to the hotel with Gordon, our list of things to do was pretty basic: bottle, diaper, sleep and repeat. Later, in the small quiet hours of daybreak, like every parent before us, we exchanged unspoken glances — “Now what?”

Gordon is our miracle and it is unfathomable to imagine life without him. From first steps to first words, reading and beyond, his nature is one of eager discovery and engagement. One morning, he proudly declared “birds eat dirt” after watching finches in the yard. On a recent vacation, he gleefully marveled at brightly colored fish swimming around his feet while he collected hermit crabs and clam shells along the white sand beach. Without doubt, he is all boy — playful, inquisitive and joyful — and we truly are his parents as he is our son.

Before returning from Seoul, we spent an illuminating day with Molly Holt, the woman who signed my adoption papers 40 years earlier. She surprised us by producing documents from my file and described candidly the challenging future awaiting orphans, then and now. Unquestionably, I have been granted the gifts of family, education, marriage, profession and social mobility. My parents’ love transformed not just one little boy’s life, but now two. Serendipity? Divine providence? Who could have foreseen the impact of Harry and Bertha Holt’s ministry?

As an adult Holt adoptee, I occasionally wonder how it informs my approach to fatherhood. Will my experiences be relevant to Gordon? Should I be more intuitive about identity issues? Of this I am certain: just as I was lovingly raised, Gordon will always know of his beginnings – not as a reason for solicitous gratitude, but to understand the richness of family and the blessings of life.

For Judy and me, our hope and charge is that Gordon will grow in body, mind and spirit. If we do this right, he will grow in the security of family love, he will chart his own course in life, and he will be prepared to serve others. Perhaps, one day, he too will be okay with adoption.


Learn More about Holt’s 55th Anniversary Celebration in Washington D.C.!

Help Repair the Ilsan Center for the Children! –Join Us at the Omaha Event on March 19th

This morning on Omaha Morning Blend, a local talk show, Celeste Snodgrass, Holt’s Midwest branch director, discussed Holt International’s upcoming gala and dinner auction. Adoptive parent Juliet Brown and her son, Gavin, joined Celeste during the interview.

“This event is going to help renovate the buildings at the Ilsan center in Korea,” said Celeste. “They have fallen into disrepair…the children need a safe place to live.”

The Omaha event will commemorate Holt International’s 55th anniversary of serving homeless children — a legacy of love that began at the Ilsan center. Since Holt’s beginning, many children with special needs at the Ilsan center have gone home to wonderful, permanent families.

Molly Holt, director of the Ilsan Center and daughter of Harry and Bertha Holt, will be the honored guest at this year’s auction in Omaha.

Click here to see a video of Celeste Snodgrass, Juliet Brown, and her son, Gavin, on Omaha Morning Blend….

Click here to RSVP to the Omaha event or contact Sandi Mehl at

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: The Good Enough Child

Adoptive parent Jane Ballback discusses internationally adopted children’s need for perfectionism

As you read the title of this blog, you are probably thinking, what in the world is she going to talk about? Adoptive parents might be offended by this title, implying that somehow adoption was a “second-best” option. That is not what this blog is about, but it is a serious topic.

This title, “The Good Enough Child” is actually a book I read several years ago by Brad E. Sachs. It’s an outstanding book and I learned a great deal from it. The subtitle, How To Have An Imperfect Family and Be Perfectly Satisfied, says it all.

How did we get to the point in our culture and society where we needed to have a book like this? How did we get so obsessed with being perfect? There are a lot of answers to this question. Parents who are older, better educated and wealthier than ever before, are raising the bar on the whole issue of parenthood. Parents are generally more likely to have been taught that they have an enormous impact on their child’s future success. And while that’s true, as usual it’s how you go about it that is so important. Many parents feel like if their child does not go to the right school, play the right sport, or evidence some unusual talent or skill, then they will not have a successful life. When I first heard the term “competitive parenting”, I wanted to drop out of the race as fast as I could.

I am one of those parents who believe that I’ve had a huge impact on my children’s lives, but I did it in a way that kept us all sane and centered. The reason this is so important for adoptive parents is that most adoptive children feel an enormous need to be perfect without any encouragement from us. In Patty Cogen’s brilliant book, Raising Your Internationally Adopted Child, she writes, “Internationally adopted children feel more strongly and dramatically than other children the pressure to be good and do what is right because deep down they still fear that they did something wrong that resulted in their relinquishment.” Because young children believe that adults cannot make a mistake, this leads them to believe they did something wrong, or they would not have been relinquished.

I saw perfectionism in all three of my children, but this story is about Stacee. Her perfectionism showed up first as she was playing board games as a small child. In the game of Sorry, she would often get to the game first and shuffle the cards so she would have the best ones first. I waited for that behavior to extinguish itself, and it did.

Her need for perfectionism then showed up every time she did something she had never done before. Prior to kindergarten she told me, in a very serious voice, “Mom, I need to learn how to read before I get to school.” No amount of me telling her that wasn’t so did any good. Her answer to that was to take a series of books called Bernstein Bears, and read every one of them until she had them completely understood. Along the way she did teach herself how to read, so she met her goal. Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: The Good Enough Child”

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Is This Lady Crazy?…She’s Adopting Twins and She’s Nearly 40 Years Old

Through candid (and often funny!) observations and heartwarming personal stories, a Holt adoptive mother shares the challenges and joys of parenting adopted children. Read more of Jane’s post adoption blogs by clicking here.

by Jane Ballback

My friends were too polite to say that to me, but I am often asked why I adopted twins? There are several good reasons for that. The idea first came from the social worker who knew I wanted more than one child. She probably got the idea because I am a twin myself. I was, and remain very grateful for this suggestion.

When I first began to think about adoption, I only thought about adopting one child. I figured I could handle that. As I was beginning the adoption process my own mother died. As usual my twin sister and I comforted each other a great deal as we went through the process of loss and grieving. That’s when I began to think about how incredibly alone this one adopted child would be — especially since our family was small, older, and mostly childless.

I never regretted the decision to adopt twins. The first night my husband and I brought the boys home we were greatly overwhelmed and not sure if we were up to the task. It was my “twin experience” that helped us through that first night.

By the time we got the boys home after picking them up at the Los Angeles International Airport, it was 10 p.m. and they were of course tired, bewildered, and anxious. They had been relinquished by their birth mother, spent time with their foster mothers, and then put on a plane with two new strangers for a very long flight. When we got them home, we did everything we knew how to do…we fed them, changed them and tried to rock them to sleep. Nothing was working, they cried and cried. My husband and I looked at each other at midnight and said, “Do you think we will ever sleep again?”   Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Is This Lady Crazy?…She’s Adopting Twins and She’s Nearly 40 Years Old”

Auction Events in Eugene and Omaha to Celebrate Holt International’s 55th Anniversary

The upcoming Eugene and Omaha auction events will commemorate Holt International’s 55th anniversary of serving homeless children – a legacy of love that began at the Ilsan Center in Korea. Since Holt’s beginning, many children with special needs at Ilsan have gone home to wonderful, permanent families. This year, all proceeds from the auctions in Eugene and Omaha will be designated to update the Ilsan Center and provide ongoing, quality care for the children and other residents. Molly Holt, Ilsan director and daughter of Harry and Bertha Holt, will be the honored guest at this year’s Omaha auction on March 19th.

The Eugene auction and dinner on February 5th will feature the following auction items:

*Hawaiian Bed & Breakfast for a Week

*Use of an LTD Bus for Three Hours

*Schooner Landing Resort for a Week

*Sweet Cheeks Winery Party

*Chinese Calligraphy by David Kim

*Korean Dinner for Six

*Chinese Scroll presented to Grandma Holt on her 95th Birthday by the Chinese government

*Pick Your Paradise from Bali, Italy or South Africa

*Opportunity to attend the 2011 Masters Excursion

*Beautiful artwork and jewelry, Restaurants, ethnic items, wine, and so much more!

Click here for more information and to RSVP or contact Sandi Mehl at

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: The “Real” Story

Through candid (and often funny!) observations and heartwarming personal stories, a Holt adoptive mother shares the challenges and joys of parenting adopted children Read more of Jane’s post adoption blogs by clicking here.

All young children have some trouble expressing their true emotions. I think this is particularly true of adopted children who feel the need to hide more of what they are feeling in an effort to fit in and not rock anybody’s boat. Sometimes they will act out their emotions and sometimes if they are willing to talk, they tell you something that really isn’t the issue.

Stacee came home from school very sad and crying one day when she was seven. I had a special place in my bedroom — a chair — where I often invited the children to sit and talk to me when I sensed that they needed to tell me about something or express some emotion. When we were sitting in my chair I asked Stacee what was wrong. She said in a tearful voice that she was sad because she was the only girl in her class who did not have blonde hair.

I knew this wasn’t true because I had visited her class many times and her best friend was Japanese. I listened for a couple of minutes, let her cry, and then I said “Sweetheart, I think that’s not actually what’s going on. There are certainly a lot of blonde girls in your class, but there are girls with brown hair like yours and even some girls with black hair like your best friend. So why don’t you tell me what this crying is really all about.” She started crying harder while we sat there for a few minutes longer, and then she said in the saddest, softest little voice, “I have a hole in my heart.” I said, “You do? Why do you have a hole in your heart?” She said, “I have a hole in my heart where my birth mom belongs.”

I sat there for a moment and let her cry and thought very hard and quickly about how I might respond to her. I hadn’t told Stacee very much about my own birth mother who died the same year I adopted my twin boys. I hadn’t told her very much because there wasn’t a great deal of “positive” to tell. But Stacee was so intuitive at her young age, I thought I could now say something about the situation without giving a lot of details. I said to Stacee very softly, “Well Stacee, you know Mama had a birth mother too. You know you haven’t met her because she died before you were born. But I need to tell you something Stacee…despite the fact that I had a birth mother, I have a hole in my heart too. My birth mother was very difficult to live with and very hard to get along with. I think maybe one of the reasons you and I are together is because we fill each other’s hearts.” Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: The “Real” Story”

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Having Brown Eyes in a Blue-eyed world

Through candid (and often funny!) observations and heartwarming personal stories, a Holt adoptive mother shares the challenges and joys of parenting adopted childrenRead more of Jane’s post adoption blogs by clicking here.

by Jane Ballback

Since my children are Korean and look different from my husband and myself, I’m often asked whether or not there were any huge issues with that as they were growing up.

The short answer is that we are so fortunate to live in Southern California, a melting pot of every conceivable ethnic and racial identity. People were, for the most part, endlessly curious, but kind.

As the children got older and were in high school, we actually experienced some of what I call “reverse discrimination.” All three of my children struggled some with math in high school. I hired tutors for all three of them because I wasn’t able to do the work, and my husband was too tired to do it at night. While they mastered all the concepts they needed to master, it was difficult for all of them. Each of them came to me at different times and asked me to write a note to their teacher saying they really were trying, and despite the fact that they were Asian, they simply were not math geniuses! By the time that it had happened with my third child, Stacee, I just couldn’t stop laughing!

Jaik did struggle with looking different than other people around him. Despite the fact that we live in a very ethnically diverse environment, we live on the small island where, for the most part, the population is Caucasian — a lot of them are blonde and blue eyed. So, until Jaik got to high school he did look different than most of his friends and classmates. Jaik’s reaction was to change his name when he was nine.

I know a lot of adoptive parents choose to keep their adopted children’s names. My husband and I also made a decision to keep the children’s Korean names as their middle names instead of their first names. My decision was born out of trying to limit the things my children were going to have to explain in their lives about why they were different or why they looked different from me and my husband.

• Jaik is named Jaik Joon Hwan,

• Brandon is Brandon In Hwan, and

• Stacee is Stacee Mee Sun.

We used their first and middle names together many times so that they got used to hearing that we were very comfortable with using both their American and their Korean names. I also decided to give Jaik’s name a different spelling. I had read in a book that in India the name Jay is spell “Jai’ — so I spelled his name as “Jai” and put a “k” on the end for “Jaik.” Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Having Brown Eyes in a Blue-eyed world”

It’s a Win-Win for Adoptive Families as Obama Signs Two Important Acts!

Great news!  President Obama has approved two important pieces of legislation affecting adoptive families — the Help HAITI Act, signed into law December 9th, and the Adoption Simplification Act, signed November 30th.

The Adoption Simplification Act does more than simplify the process for families.  It helps ensure the safety of adopted children.  Previously, the U.S. required all children adopted from Hague Convention countries – including China, Thailand, the Philippines and India – to receive all their vaccinations before entering the U.S.  Delivered all at once, these immunizations can be unsafe to young children.  “It’s good public health,” Susan Cox, Holt director of public policy and external affairs, says of ensuring everyone receives routine vaccinations against infectious diseases.  “But not for babies.”

With the passage of this act, all children 10 or younger – adopted from any country – may wait to get their shots until after they enter the U.S.  Delaying immunizations has one additional effect on the adoption process – an effect important to every parent and every child eager to be united as a family.  “It means the children won’t have to wait so long (to enter the U.S.),” says Cox.

The Adoption Simplification Act includes one additional provision.  Families who’ve adopted from Hague signatories may now adopt their child’s siblings, up to 18-years-old.  Previously, the cut-off age was 16.  For the siblings who will now be able to reunite in an adoptive family, this news is monumental – as well as a major step forward in protecting the rights of orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children.

Another breakthrough for adoptive families – and 21 Holt families in particular – occurred December 9th.  Nearly one month shy of the one-year anniversary of Haiti’s massive earthquake, Obama signed into law the Help HAITI Act, ensuring citizenship for every child brought to the U.S. from Haiti on humanitarian parole visas.

Following the earthquake, the U.S. issued these visas to approximately 1,000 children already matched with adoptive families – including 21 children living at the Holt Fontana Village, the care center Holt supports in Haiti.  Unlike children adopted through the usual process – who are automatically naturalized – these children faced years of waiting for the legal protections entitled to U.S. citizens.  Among the children to become citizens are Nephtalie, pictured above with her sisters, Mazie Grace Jean, who joined the Polzin family in Wisconsin, and Sthainder, who lives with his family in Oregon.  Click here to read more about how the 21 Holt Fontana Village children joined their families after the earthquake.

Holt adoptee Interviewed by New England Cable News Channel

A letter from Holt adoptive mom Nancydee MacFarland about her son, Noah:

December 14th, 2010.

Dear Holt Family,

Six years ago this weekend, Noah walked into our hotel room in China with an un-repaired cleft palate. At 7:45 this morning, The New England Cable News Channel interviewed Noah and the executive of Boy Scouting in Greater Boston about the 100th anniversary of Scouting, and the dinner to be held at the Boston Harbor hotel tonight.

This evening, Noah is looking forward to speaking to a ballroom of CEOs and the leading businessmen of Boston. Our newly elected Republican Senator Scott Brown will be honored at the banquet.

God is so good. I wish the moment could be shared with Noah’s Chinese parents, his foster parents, his surgeons and his speech therapists. Noah has an amazing confidence and ability to handle whatever life puts in front of him. Neinei, Noah’s foster mom/grandmom in the Lanzhou, Gansu foster care project, wrote in 2004: “Someday Qian Hong will be a leader.” It seemed a funny thing to say about a “failure to thrive” baby with a cleft lip/palate and gums. Perhaps there was truth in her early prediction. Blessings do have power. God certainly has plans for this young man. To God be the glory.

Click here to view Noah’s interview….

Many children with manageable, treatable medical conditions are waiting for permanent families in China right now.  Click here to Learn more about Holt’s China Child of Promise program.