For some, the concept of international adoption may as well be outer space adoption – it’s so far away, the culture is different, communication is difficult, they use herbs and spices you’ve never heard of, and you’ve read it can be a dangerous place to live. For others, the thought of international adoption is a welcomed one – a chance to reach out to a child somewhere across the globe, experience a different way of life, learn a new language, taste new foods, and experience life outside of your comfort zone.

Aside from the obvious fact that you are traveling to be united with your soon-to-be child, here are some of the best things about international adoption.

The People

One of the things I remember most vividly about our travels is the people we met along the way, from our assigned driver and translator to the caregivers at the orphanage to the staff in our residence to the complete strangers who would stop us with a kind word or knowing glance as we made our way around town trying our best not to stick out.

We also loved the local children who would run up to our new family and want to play.

Additionally, having the opportunity to meet with those who cared for our children before we were able to be part of their lives afforded us the chance to show our appreciation and gave us peace of mind – and the ability to share memories made to help our kids to one day fill in the blanks of their own life stories.

We met other adoptive families as well and formed bonds that those who have not experienced international adoption will never understand. Some of the personalities we encountered along the way were flamboyant and unforgettable while others were quietly supportive and welcoming, and all of those we met enriched our stay and grew our appreciation for our children’s countrymen.

The Places

Landing in a different country loaded up with all the regular luggage of an extended stay, as well as an empty baby carrier, baby supplies, and care packages is for sure a sight to see. I still recall in detail our first drive from the airport to our residence – taking in the scenery as it quickly passed by on that warm November night – blurry to tired eyes, but clear – shadows of mountains in the background, well worn, yet time-tested architecture in the foreground, and so much green space all around, Even in the dark, I could see how very different it was from what I was used to, and I drank it all in because it was my daughter’s place, my daughter’s view – her homeland.

We explored as much as we possibly could–taking in both cityscapes and countryside. We visited historical places in the old city as well as trendier spots where construction was in process. We hiked along a mountainside and met with an indigenous tribe, and we shopped with the locals at the mall in stores similar to those back in the states. Each day, we walked the surrounding area to visit a new park or playground and lay low – just a typical family out for a stroll. We were able to spend the weeks leading up to Christmas during one trip, and experienced the holiday from a different perspective, far away from the more commercialized version we were used to. During our second trip, we took in a run-of-the-mill soccer game with opening ceremony excitement and crowd participation throughout the game puts the Super Bowl to shame.

The Food

From freshly roasted chicken right off the pit (packed onto the backs of motor bikes and driven to waiting stores and customers) to fine dining on dishes we’d never heard of (presented with a proud flair we’d never quite experienced), we tried it all, including ants. Yes, ants.

Our guide was good about taking us off the beaten path not just to try the local flavor, but to sample amazing coffee, fresh pastry, or a simple lunch where a typical local might venture on any given day – nothing fancy, just everyday real. Places we might go if we lived there. The staff at our residence was there to help with breakfasts and dinners. And with small children, rather than head out for the evening, we’d often gather around the table and eat homestyle meals. My husband (the chef in our home) was careful to ask about ingredients and copied down recipes of dishes we especially enjoyed. He has incorporated these foods into our regular family meal plan and introduces our extended family to our  favorites at family gatherings, including the girls’ birthday celebrations. One of our favorite meals took place on an evening when my husband turned the tables and, instead of being served as usual, made dinner for the staff. Dinner was great, but the conversation and taking the time to learn about the people who were working so hard to make our transition into a family just a little bit easier was what we remember most.

The Culture

We were lucky enough to be surrounded by people who knew all about the city and surrounding towns and fortunate enough to have the ability to tour much of the area – learn the history, experience churches and museums, listen to live music, meet with artists, walk open markets, and take in the nightlife. For two tired new parents, sitting at a corner cafe, sipping coffee and people-watching was a great way to glimpse our daughter’s home town. We spent a day at a coffee plantation and another at a nature preserve taking in and learning about the flora and fauna. We purchased and helped plant an orchid on a low-rolling hill. We visited a beautiful lake and learned about a well-known legend involving buried treasure. We visited an expansive salt mine-turned-cathedral. We took a cable car to the highest peak in the city to take in an unforgettable view. We spent a day at an amusement park like no other, complete with a zoo that rivaled many back home. Just walking the block to the local grocery store was a chance to reach out and speak to the locals who sometimes seemed amused with our broken language, but were always helpful. Day trips through small towns – the images of the men and women and children walking to shops, to schools, playing in  parks – became our mental souvenirs.

Home Away from Home

While we enjoyed taking in our children’s first home – to learn about and enjoy as well as document for them – it wasn’t all fun and roses. The adoption process itself is no easy thing, and maneuvering through the system in another country is an added complexity, despite the myth that somehow it’s easier than domestic adoption. Not to mention the fact that you’re most likely living among strangers while attempting to bond with a child who may not have ever experienced a dynamic quite like yours. Despite the difficult moments, it’s really the good ones we remember (maybe it’s a defense mechanism). And regardless, it was the experience of a lifetime and one that was not only important for us, but more so for our children, and has enabled us to be better parents to them. Their first home has become our second home – one we hope to return to someday, not to revisit fond memories, but so that they can experience for themselves this special land that we now share together as the place we became a family.