Over the years as I've been part of the adoption community, I've come across an attitude that just baffles me. I'm not actually sure what to call this attitude, so I'll have to describe it. It is the unwillingness to venture out of ones comfort zone to explore and experience the new child's birth culture. (Obviously I'm writing about intercountry adoption here.) I've seen more than one parent comment, almost proudly, when asked what they did while they were in country that they only saw the inside of the hotel and the local McDonalds (or Kentucky Fried Chicken, depending on city.) It is an attitude that I find a little mysterious and disturbing.
To be clear, if you were a parent who only saw the inside of the hotel because your child was sick or would bolt the moment a door was open or for any other reason that made it not wise to venture out, I'm not talking to you. Adoption travel is different from any other travel out there and it is no pleasure trip sometimes. It is stressful and exhausting. We all know our prime reason for being there is not to play tourist.
What if your child (and you) are coping fairly well? I can't figure out why one wouldn't want to do some exploring; to show your child (assuming they are older than a baby) something of their own country. Many of these children have never been outside the orphanage, so you want to be aware of that and not completely overwhelm them, but you can still go and walk around. You can still try new food. You can still create memories of the country where your child was born.
For instance K., at first was completely overwhelmed by the busyness and noises of Vietnamese city streets. We would carry him and comfort him as we walked along and the first few days we tried to keep exposure to the busyness at a minimum. But he quickly grew used to the sights and sounds slowly became more engaged in the world around him. Those three weeks we spent there with him were really the only exposure he had to his birth culture since he never left the 2-3 rooms where he spent the first two years of his life. The orphanage was a little off the beaten track, so he didn't hear anything outside except the loud chirping of cicadas. He loves to look at the book of those weeks which we made him and look at it and talk about all the things was saw and did.
I also know that being adventurous can be scary and not everyone is wired this way. It is not how I was when I was little, being adventurous (and compared with most of my family, I'm still not, my children would say), is a learned skill it is something that can be acquired. Mostly it has to do with attitude. Adventurousness means that you might be made uncomfortable, that you might be stared at. Yes these things can and do happen, but other things happen as well. You get to see new things, meet people you wouldn't have met, make memories you wouldn't have had. And it is worth the moments of being embarrassed or uncomfortable.
Then there is food. Food in international travel is a huge component of being adventurous. As a formerly picky eater, I can say that pickiness is a choice. It is a willingness to eat something you may not like. For a picky eater, the pay-off that you may actually like something is not worth the chance that you will not like the taste. But I will repeat, as a person who as an adult made a conscious decision that I didn't like my traits of pickiness and reformed, this really is a choice. I still have a moment of thinking it won't be worth it tor try something, but as my tastes broaden, it becomes easier. And you know what? I haven't died yet from something tasting bad. By refusing pickiness, I have also broadened my choices of where and what I can eat. It means I have the wonderful memory of going into a restaurant in China with my family... a restaurant where no one spoke a word of English and there was no English on the menu... and pointing to photos of food on the wall and ordering. We still don't have any idea what we ate, but it was good. And the memory of that funny dinner is even better.
What bothers me the most about adoptive parents unwilling to explore their child's birth country is that it is such a double standard. The adults, who have a choice, are unwilling to do something (experience a different culture, even if it is uncomfortable) that they are demanding their new child do. The new child coming into the family has no choice but to experience new foods and experiences whether they want to or not. Especially once they are home, nothing will be familiar. If the parents try to experience the child's birth culture, even at personal uncomfortableness, it gives those parents a little better insight into what their child is going through.
Being adventurous gives you empathy, memories, self-confidence, and makes you an interesting person. Don't close yourself off in little Western enclaves and miss what another country has to offer. You don't really mean to say that your child's birth culture has nothing to offer you, but that is, in effect what you are saying.