9 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Began My International Adoption Search

Some essentials to help navigate you across international waters.

Stephan Petryczka March 09, 2018

After I decided to look for my Ukrainian birth parents, I was completely confused about where to begin my search. I sat there with a thin folder of original and translated documents. I knew that I was born in Ukraine on my birthday, to a woman whose name was on a few documents, and that was about all I knew.

Beginning your search for biological family  abroad can be one of the most frustrating, complicated, and surreal experiences in your lifetime.  It can also be one of the most revealing and relieving. No matter what your search may result in, searching internationally can be overwhelming at the start.  Often, adoptees and their families aren’t sure where to begin. Is it appropriate to go with the highest-priced, most professional search agency or should I trust the stranger on the internet who just told me he knows who my parents are?

Beyond the logistical challenges, there is the added stress of wondering about how the search might impact your sense of worth and your relationships with your family members.  I’m not going to sugarcoat it: it can be rough going for a while.

The good news is that I feel much more in touch with who I am supposed to be as I grow into my adult self.  And although it’s not easy, I believe this was a really huge and pivotal moment in discovering my identity.

Here are a few tips and tidbits to help you or your loved one get through their own international search:

You can begin your search for cheap.
1. You can begin your search for cheap.

An assortment of online options exist: First try plugging in different combinations of identifying information in social media (Facebook, Instagram, perhaps their own national versions of similar sites). You can also complete a relatively inexpensive DNA test to look for DNA matches.

There are locals fishing for American adoptees with big lump-sums to pay for searches.
2. There are locals fishing for American adoptees with big lump-sums to pay for searches.

Without some sort of accreditation (perhaps reviews from someone you know or trust), please steer clear of sending large lump-sum payments to foreigners who have contacted you on the internet. I was connected with one American woman who had begun conducting searches for adoptees from post-Soviet bloc countries, and was able to ask several people for reviews of her work before giving her a deposit.

There is a whole world of people involved in, advocating for, and writing about adoption.
3. There is a whole world of people involved in, advocating for, and writing about adoption.

I wouldn’t be contributing content for Adoption.com right now had I not sought out information on this website. There are also attorneys, public agencies, private agencies, advocacy organizations, and bloggers dedicated to facilitating and working through adoption issues.

Language barriers suck.
4. Language barriers suck.

Google Translate is a lifesaver, with an offline mobile app option available to take around with you. It works without wifi and I highly recommend using it if you travel abroad. You can also download offline maps on Google Maps for 30-day periods to help navigate around foreign cities and towns.

Knowing the local alphabet and basic phrases can advantageous.
5. Knowing the local alphabet and basic phrases can advantageous.

Even if it sounds like a daunting task, try a few introductory lessons on the free Duolingo or Memrise mobile apps. They’re award-winning game-oriented apps that can really teach you the basics. You’d be surprised how helpful it can be to be able to pronounce street names while traveling abroad.

Keep your adoptive family in the loop.
6. Keep your adoptive family in the loop.

Not only should this help form a support network for the hard days to come, but it will alleviate any feelings of rejection that your adoptive family may perceive when you begin your search.

It’s hard to keep your expectations in check.
7. It’s hard to keep your expectations in check.

While I didn’t know what my expectations were, I was still unprepared for what I found. In some ways, I still feel this way. The important thing is to know that your search does not define you. If you aren’t happy about what you find, make sure you talk about it with your support network and consult professionals if need be.

Feelings arise that you never would have anticipated.
9. Feelings arise that you never would have anticipated.

Try group therapy or at least learning about others’ stories in the 'Adoptees On' podcast. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to stay grounded during your search process and ensure that you communicate with others about how you’re feeling. It is going to be overwhelming at some point, but you shouldn’t go about it alone.

It made my family feel vulnerable, especially my sister.
10. It made my family feel vulnerable, especially my sister.

My adoptive sister has yet to find her parents. While this was a difficult obstacle for her to overcome, it’s brought us closer. In fact, I’ve made an effort to introduce my sister to my biological siblings so she feels included in my discovery.

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Stephan Petryczka

Stephan was born in Ukraine, adopted by an American family, and raised outside of New York City. After meeting with his biological family last summer, he has taken steps toward becoming involved in the greater adoptee and orphan service communities. Stephan recently began coordinating programs for the FRUA young adult group. He is currently studying for his Master's of Urban Planning at New York University.


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