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Kyle Witzigman with his parents, Todd and Cindy, outside the Holt International office in Eugene, Oregon.

Kyle Witzigman, a Holt adoptee from Vietnam and student at the University of Notre Dame, reflects on his summer as an intern at the Holt International offices in Eugene, Oregon.

Every August 3, my parents and I celebrate Family Day. In 1995, it was the day my adoptive parents signed paperwork in Hanoi, Vietnam, and I officially became a Witzigman. Since I was 18 months old when I moved to the U.S., I only remember one thing about living in Vietnam – sitting on a courtyard bench swing at the orphanage. Exciting right?

When people find out I’m adopted, their questions generally begin with, “Do you remember a lot about Vietnam?” and follow up with, “Have you been back?”

It’s been 18 years, and I still can’t answer yes to either of those questions. I’ve grown up as a proud American and as a proud Arkansan. Holt and Vietnam seemed so far off, so distant, during my day-to-day life.

Now, at the University of Notre Dame, I’m a member of the Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program. Each summer, Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars are given funding to explore their personal interests, and gain experience for the future beyond college. I decided to use this summer to learn about international adoption and my past.

I specifically wanted to work for Holt since I was adopted through there. After a written proposal to my advising professor, phone calls, and a Skype interview with Holt, I found myself flying to Eugene, Ore., and Holt’s headquarters on June 3.

Life in Eugene has been extremely enjoyable and rewarding over the past two months. Eugene is conveniently located where nature is just a short drive away. I walked along the coast of the Pacific Ocean with a trip west, gazed at the Three Sisters mountain range with a trip east, and floated down the McKenzie River on a boat.

Kyle Witzigman watches the Eugene Emeralds Fourth of July celebration with a fireworks show
Kyle Witzigman watches the Eugene Emeralds Fourth of July celebration with a fireworks show

In Eugene, I cheered for the Fighting Irish among a sea of Oregon Duck fans at the NCAA Track and Field Championships, since they were held at the University of Oregon’s “historic Hayward Field.” I also attended a 4th of July celebration at the Eugene Emeralds baseball game that included a fireworks show. The Emeralds’ talent level? …Not that high. Fun level? Very high!

The work aspect of my time in Eugene has pulled double duty.

First, I learned about the context of my own adoption. When I was younger, my mother told me about how she cried when she found out she was bringing me home. Her story included, “I cried because I was so relieved to know you were finally coming home!” I probably sat there as a teenager rolling my eyes hearing stories of my mom crying. She cries over everything, like animal shelter commercials on TV.

One experience that especially stood out this summer was when a mother-to-be found out that she could fly overseas and adopt her soon-to-be-child. She cried over the phone. In this instant of the mother getting her call, I gained a unique view of what my mom experienced in ’95. I smiled because I knew that her child-to-be will one day listen to a similar “I cried knowing you were finally coming home” story. Only through my internship was I able to connect my current experiences in the office to what my parents went through eighteen years ago.

Kyle Witzigman’s spends time off from his Holt internship in Eugene, Ore., to float the McKenzie River.
Kyle Witzigman’s spends time off from his Holt internship in Eugene, Ore., to float the McKenzie River.

Second, I learned about the sphere of international adoption. When I arrived in Eugene, I knew nothing – I repeat, NOTHING – about international adoption beyond the fact I was adopted. Over the course of two months, I took a crash course through manuals and statistics concerning child welfare, domestic and international adoption, and post-placement services. Every other word out of my mouth has related to family strengthening or child welfare. My dreams now include international adoption jargon.

It’s been a privilege to work alongside Holt’s staff. I won’t hold it against them that they root for the Oregon Ducks instead of the Fighting Irish (which has made for some good office debate about the upcoming football season). Holt brings together a staff committed to Harry and Bertha Holt’s mission of securing for every child a loving home. Each person at headquarters works here because he or she truly cares about helping children.

International adoption isn’t perfect – far from it, in fact. There are numerous challenges that Holt must face as the world of international adoption evolves. UNICEF estimates there are about 153 million orphans worldwide, yet the number of intercountry adoptions are decreasing each year. Holt’s work becomes child welfare and asking the question, “How can we best serve a child in our care?” Holt meets these challenges with a wide array of programs aimed at providing orphans the necessary skills for the workforce along with proper nutrition and medical care so they grow up healthily.

Harry and Bertha Holt stated that every child is beautiful when he or she is loved. Because of this internship, I realized that my parents aren’t the only people who loved me growing up. From three days old to eighteen months old, I had an organization fighting for me. As a former orphan, I am comforted knowing someone cared about me back then. Orphans deserve to have someone working on behalf of them. Orphans deserve Holt International, a larger family that they can always rely on and ask for help. That help may even come in the form of a summer internship for a 19-year-old college student nearly two decades after being adopted.

I’m honored to be a Holt alumnus, because I didn’t leave an orphanage to get a family. I went from having one family to having two. Now, with insight into how much effort was put towards finding me an adoptive family, I have a deeper appreciation for Family Day on August 3, 2013.

Kyle Witzigman, a Holt adoptee from Hanoi, Vietnam and raised in Springdale, Arkansas, is a student at the University of Notre Dame in the Class of 2016. He is double majoring in political science and English, and is an active member of the Band of the Fighting Irish. Contact Kyle by email.

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