Two and a half years ago, Valik was adopted by a family who never gave up on him. No matter how much he resisted, pushed them away, and tried to scare them off, they still loved him. He recently wrote a paper for school about being hosted and then adopted, and it is very eye-opening to what these kids go through when moving to America. It challenges us to think about these things, and most of all to be patient. Here is Valik’s story: “America can be very scary. Imagine what you would feel if one morning, you woke up and everything was different. The people were different, the food was different and the language was different. Everything had changed. Coming to a new country can make you have many different feelings. So, we remember these things to help other people who are coming into a new culture. Moving to a new culture can be very scary and confusing.
Tastes and smells and sounds can be very powerful. When I first came to America, I felt like everyone was staring at me and I wasn’t used to that. Everything smelled and looked cleaner than in Ukraine to me. America had different sounds than my other country, more traffic. I missed hearing the cars in Ukraine run over the potholes in the road. That was a comforting sound to me in my country. It made me sleepy. I also went from understanding everything in my county to nothing in this new place. My new family tried to use Google Translate but it did not help much. I missed hearing my language and was frustrated that nobody could understand me. At first, I did not like the taste of the food. It tasted like it was rotten to me. I couldn’t understand why anyone would put ice in their tea. I complained the whole summer about the food because I didn’t like to try new things. Now, having been here a while, some of my favorite foods are deer meat, sushi, hot dogs and pizza.
It is hard to explain how it feels to come to a new country. When I first got off the plane, I felt nervous and happy at the same time. I would say I felt 70% nervousness and 30% happiness. I wanted to feel happy but I was scared to death. Several people had told me that when I came to America, they would cut me up and sell my body parts. This made me very scared of my American family. I missed my good friends in Ukraine and a very close Ukrainian family for a long time. Today, I still miss them and look forward to seeing them again. Now, I have also made good friends and have a family here in America which makes me feel better.
I am hoping that by sharing my experience of coming to America, that it will help families understand what the kids are going through. I think having a translator come and talk to the kids sometimes would help them feel more comfortable. I also, think that giving the kids some space at first and not overwhelming them with hugs is a good thing. Remember, some cultures do not hug a lot. It also would be a good idea to have a bowl of candy from the child’s country out at the house for a while and a bowl of fruit that they know they can have at any time. Patience is so important when dealing with someone coming from another culture.
Moving to a new culture can be very scary and confusing. The sounds, tastes and smells are all different. Children can have many different feelings and emotions going on at one time. Families should remember these things and not be too hard on the kids at first. What if it were you waking up in a different country? What would you like them to do to help you feel more comfortable?”
Now, Valik is 18 and has some advice to share with other host kids, particularly teens.
- It isn’t all about getting stuff. Many kids think they are all going to get stuff in America, but Valik wants them to know that isn’t true. Knowing this up front helps.
- He says that he was shown videos about America to make them want to come. However, it showed roller coasters and water parks, which really set him up for disappointment about all the “down time” in a family. Valik said that is isn’t about going these places. It’s about being together and spending time together. He even recommended showing them photos of families playing cards, watching TV, riding bikes, cooking together. He said he had no clue that’s what families did – he thought it was all roller coasters and play time.
- Valik says that after being adopted, it was hard for a long time but it does get better. Learning the language helped him tremendously. Around 6 months, it got worse for a while because he felt like he was losing his ability to think in his language but wasn’t fluent yet in English. But it does get better. Be patient!
Thank you Valik for sharing your story and advice with us! Keep an eye out for our next blog, A Host Mom’s Perspective, with Valik’s adoptive mom! (Link coming soon)