Beyond Culture Camp, continued:
The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute’s study “Beyond Culture Camp” states that singular cultural events such as festivals (and culture camp?) are valuable, but it is daily lived experiences that are most important in establishing a strong racial/ethnic and adoptive identity. Did we really need camp? And yet… I felt that there was something special about the month-long summer program I was considering that maybe she shouldn’t miss.
Kira loved her month at culture camp. She fell deeply in love with lion dancing, an interest that she is continuing to explore. She learned traditional brush painting, which she practiced later in the summer with her grandmother, a talented artist.
While the camp was not primarily a language program, she did keep her language skills in use during the summer. All of this was great. But there was something more, which I still can’t fully put my finger on. Maybe it had something to do with the first day at morning line-up, when I saw that she was a member of the majority. Perhaps it had to do with the continuity of the program, campers who come year after year until they become counselors.
Alongside the pride I see in my daughter, I sometimes field questions or see in her play hints of worries that she might have done something to bring on the loss of her original family. Although I know these are typical concerns and I speak against them, I worry.
Panda in a Teacup in an Apple by Kira Frey
Reading “Beyond Culture Camp”, a groundbreaking study that not only reviewed decades of research but, most importantly, asked adult adoptees themselves about their experiences, I learned that three factors can help predict comfort with racial/ethnic and adoptive identity: being female (either a given or not), satisfaction with life and high self-esteem. The latter two make sense to me (especially the last). But how to ensure their attainment is not quite so easy to understand. How important are experiences like culture camp in creating a strong, resilient spirit? Could a one-month summer program really make a difference?
I think I can finally answer those questions. The month Kira spent at culture camp was a lived experience. Like the millions of moments she spends with me, like her day-in-day-out experiences at Chinese school, and the numerous FCC events we go to each year with recollections accruing over years, culture camp is the stuff of childhood memories and the building blocks you get as a child to create your identity, hopefully an identity that includes sky-high self-esteem and strong life satisfaction.
To see a list of summer culture camps, please visit the FCC website at http://fccncalif.org. In the Members Only section, click on “Chinese Language Schools” then scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Wendy Frey is an author. She works for Half the Sky Foundation and is on the Board of Directors for Families with Children from China – Northern California.
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 Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, Beyond Culture Camp: Promoting Healthy Identity Formation in Adoption, November 2009, page 8.