Lianne Finds Answers at Holt Camp
I attended Holt International camp for the first time when I was nine. At first, I was reluctant to go, because the last time I had attended an adoptee camp, it was not such a memorable experience. But I was intrigued by Holt camp. It seemed interesting and confusing all at the same time. And I was nervous. At Holt camp, I found a sanctuary where adoption was embraced and differences were set aside. Camp was unlike anything I had ever experienced, and at the time, I described it as a feeling like I had come “home.” I didn’t really understand this feeling until recently, now that college seems not so far away. I’m at the age where I’m now beginning to really discover and become curious about who I am, and my heritage is often in my thoughts. The truth is that camp is the first place where I found myself surrounded by kids my age who had the same skin color as me and understood what other people found so hard to understand.
At only one other time did I have a similar experience — when I was four, and returned to China for the first time. But I was too young to feel the significance of it. Being adopted was something that I knew was a part of me, but I never stopped to wonder what it really meant. Being around fellow adoptees at camp made me understand something: that I was not alone with my feelings. I learned that all of us were similar, but had such different stories.
The hardest part of getting people to understand adoption is trying to explain the reason why I was adopted. It was because my parents wanted to love a child. Not because they had sympathy for me. Not even because they were good people. At first, I thought that people were just ignorant, because growing up, I belonged to one of a very few minorities in my town. But then I realized that they simply didn’t understand. Many of the reasons why Chinese children are abandoned often conflict with American morals and philosophy. Many people just simply don’t get it.
Growing up in a small town with little diversity, I felt shy about telling people that I was adopted. I wasn’t shirking my heritage, but I also didn’t feel comfortable telling people since in the past, people tended to just nod and pretend they understood. Today, when I tell my friends that I’m adopted, they look at me and say, “Really?! I never knew.” Looking back on these moments, I realize that maybe I should have told them sooner that I was adopted, but at the same time, I wasn’t going to just hold out my hand and say, “Hi, I’m adopted.” Maybe if I had told more people that I was adopted, they might have become more knowledgeable and understanding.
I guess everyone has a time in their life when they either wonder or search for the reason why they are who they are. Still, today I think about why I act the way I do and what I did to make the friends I have. Most people attribute it to genes, or they say, “ I got it from my parents.” But being adopted just makes it more complicated. I don’t know why I am the way I am. I remember seeing my cousin compare her features to my uncle, and I couldn’t help but wonder, who did I get my features from? Did my dad have my nose or did my mother have my eyes? The frustration doesn’t quite upset me, but I often think about what my parents were like. How would my life be if I had biological siblings? As an only child, it seems strange to picture other people who look like me. I know it’s a common stereotype that all Asians look alike, but I would notice. I would see the similarities.
The first time I remember feeling distinctly insecure about what I looked like was when I met an exchange student from Beijing. I had never really met someone my age from China, so I was very curious. The whole time, I felt a nagging feeling deep down inside. She had paler skin that me. That’s what I remember the most. After meeting her, I suddenly doubted my appearance. I know girls who are about my age who were also adopted from China, and one of them has darker skin than me, and that never fazed me. And yet, after I met this girl, I felt something changing inside me. I wanted to be like her. Now reflecting on that, I realize that I was foolish to think that I wasn’t as good as her. I had put myself down and also tried to be better than her, but for no reason at all. It was completely pointless, and yet it gave me a drive that lasted the rest of the year.
Sometimes I wonder if Caucasian girls have such insecurities. Their skin is not as dark as my skin and their eyes are not slanted like mine. I have always found it puzzling how people in America want their skin to be golden and tan, but in Asia nearly everyone strives for paler, whiter skin. Vanity is a pointless war that no one ever wins. I may not particularly like my flattened nose or my tan-colored skin, but that’s the way I am. It’s a futile practice trying to change oneself. We are all beautiful.
That was one thing that struck me about Holt camp. No one cared about how dark my skin was or the fact that we weren’t all tall. I remember how being at camp, I found stereotypes to be kind of funny, especially those that were normally pitted against Asians. It was as if prejudice had been erased for those few days. World peace seems nearly impossible, like a dream. But being at camp made it seem like it could be possible. It was a place where we were all united.
Being adopted is like having an invisible string tied around us. It’s not really a bond, but even so it is a deep connection. No matter how different we all are, we all understand one thing completely – whether we’re proud about our adoption or saddened by it. I thank camp for showing me more about myself and leading me down the path of self-discovery. I remember one of the last activities they do at camp is to tie a red string around everyone’s wrist in symbolism that we are all connected in a way. It is a profound feeling, knowing that there is someone out there who knows how I feel. Thank you, Holt camp, for showing me that I am not alone.
Lianne Tjoelker | Adoptee
Holt Adoptee Camps
A week adoptees will always remember! Make new friends, try new things and discuss issues unique to adoptees. Holt’s overnight camps are open to adoptees ages 9-17.