Traveling with Children to Vietnam
By Laurie Kroll
* Suggestions for traveling with children to Vietnam.
We brought our then seven year old twin daughters along on our trip last fall to adopt our two baby boys. It was the trip of a lifetime, and even though we couldn't afford it (and are still paying for it!) it was the best decision ever for our family. We felt that since the girls had only shared us with each other for many years, that it would be a huge adjustment for them to absorb two little attention getters at once! We wanted them to feel as much a part of the process as possible, and they did. I believe it was a critical part of us becoming a family together -- sharing the hotel rooms, experiencing the culture, eating the foods. Plus their brothers will be able to hear in the future, what Vietnam was like from a child's perspective.
In the usual situation, you will attend the G&R (Greeting and Receiving) ceremony, then the remaining paperwork can be completed by one parent. (Our daughters say when WE adopted the boys, rather than when YOU adopted the boys, since they were there.) In our situation, I stayed at the hotel with the kids while my husband did the running to the immigration office to file for the passport, etc. They never went along to that part. We all went along for the visa interview, and the ODP (Orderly Departure Program) staff was very nice to both of the girls -- gave them gum, etc. I think they did their best to get us out of there quickly because they knew it was challenging for us with four kids in tow.
Both of the girls loved the cyclo rides, the people (who were fascinated by them), the restaurants--all of it. In fact, one of my daughters states boldly at age eight that she is honeymooning in Vietnam no matter what her future husband says! (Her previous choice was Hawaii). We hired a nanny for the last couple of days of our trip so that we could go out into the provinces comfortably with the girls and explore -- usually we stayed close to Hanoi, or took short side trips. Vietnamese young adults that spent special time with them gave them each a Vietnamese name, which they are both very proud of to this day. They wear their ao dai's to church and anywhere else that I will let them.
* Things we did to prepare the girls:
We let them know that people would touch and pat them--especially the older folks. This was not intimidating to them at all, but could be to a shyer child. My heart skipped a beat in Thailand when a man suddenly grabbed one of them and pulled her into his family picture, but she didn't mind. I didn't either, once I understood what was happening, but it was a bit of a scare.
We worked on them not putting their fingers in their mouths for months ahead -- one of my daughters bites her nails, and I was afraid she would get sick. We gave them each their own waterless hand cleaner to carry.
We set a standard for best manners -- so that we could just say that and they would know what was expected as we were going through customs, or meeting with officials, or sitting in the ODP office in Bangkok. We also let them know that we expected them NEVER to wander away from us, especially in airports.
* They had to be willing to get the shots.
We brought things for them to give away to other children. My sister helped us collect beanie babies donated by friends and neighbors, and we brought 100 to give away. This ended up with the added benefit that they could play with them in the hotel room until they were all gone! We wanted them to appreciate what they had at home, and also feel like they could make a difference to another child.
We let them know that we would all have to sacrifice some for them to go -- we were making financial choices that would limit our ability to spend a lot on extras when we got back.
We brought books to read, and schoolwork to do. They love to read, so they read the books, and they e-mailed home to their classmates. The schoolwork didn't get done once we got the babies, as mom and dad (literally!) had their hands full. Older kids perhaps could do this more independently.
We brought along instant oatmeal and other instant type comfort foods.
We shared books, pictures and videos of Vietnam during the summer before we traveled. I had visited Vietnam once before, and could tell them some of what it was like.
Our girls are flexible, and love to try new foods, so this was a factor in our decision making. They love people, and had always traveled well. My husband and I are fairly adventurous, and don't need things to be just like home. Practically, they were often a very real help to us! For some families, this might not be the best situation, especially if the older kids have any resentments about the adoption, but for us, it was wonderful, and took all the stress out of it for me not missing the kids at home. Also, had there been delays, I would have felt very torn with kids back home missing us--as it was, we all left together, sad that our time in Vietnam was ending. The girls still talk once a week or so about when they can go back.... My own thought is that especially if your children are preschoolers, the presence of your older children may make a real difference to THEM.