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Favorite thing was visiting their orphanages where the official stance is 'no visits'
My daughters both said their favorite thing was visiting their towns and orphanages. I agree, especially since one of the orphanages was in an area where the official stance is "no visits." Both of these visits were truly special and in different ways, more than we had hoped for. For myself and my husband, seeing our children fall in love with China was the best part of all.
- Kathy S.

Tips for a Homeland Orphanage Visit

By Iris Culp,Homeland Heritage Tour Program Director,Lotus Travel, Inc

When paying someone a visit in China, it is proper to take and gift and never just “two bundles of bananas” (the symbolic meaning of empty hands – picture each of your hands as a bundle of bananas).  A few examples of an appropriate gift would be a box of Almond Roca, or a basket of fruit.  (See Amy Eldridge’s article for an in-depth discussion of appropriate SWI gift ideas.)

Families also often want to know what is appropriate to bring children who remain at the orphanage.  You can always make a specific inquiry ahead of your trip during the planning stages, or in the few days prior to your arrival in order to allow for shopping in China to accommodate specific items that may be identified.  If you’re not made aware of any special items needed by the SWI, some good general guidelines include:  school supplies for school age kids, backpacks, books, or small candy treats.   Know that as you offer any gift, it is customary for a Chinese born person to decline that gift at first offering.  It may appear greedy or insensitive to accept a gift at first offering.  They may not open the gift in front of the giver, as that is not customary. So, do not be surprised if your gift is initially declined.  Sometimes a gift may is offered two to three times, and then it is typically gratefully and graciously received.

Chinese place high value on social properness and are not much concerned about appearance and dress, as are Westerners.  We at Lotus Travel are often asked about proper attire for an SWI visit, whether for an adoption trip or a homeland trip.  A good guideline to follow would be to dress “business casual” for the visit.  Keep in mind that the Chinese society is a more modestly dressed society than most of the West, so it is best to avoid short shorts, short skirts or anything that is even marginally revealing.

Depending on the size of the SWI and how often visitors return, a visit could can be a highly anticipated event by the staff, or a routine, minor inconvenience to the day-to-day running of the institution. You will want to discuss this aspect of reality with your child and prepare her or him for what it might be like, based on what you know.  It is good to talk to your child about what to expect and then what to do if things turn out differently than you expect. It is important to develop an attitude of flexibility and focus on enjoying the experience rather than to get set on things going a certain way, since things don’t always go exactly as planned on any trip or daily life experience.   A small gift is always appropriate for the effort expended by the director and or staff to accommodate the visiting family. 

An important, but not always anticipated aspect for an SWI visit is to be aware that most of the orphanage children remaining often have a variety of special needs. It is best to have these discussions sometime before travel and relate this to a child with a physical or mental disability that your child may already know.  This can help put the special needs population at the orphanage into a useful context during any SWI visit.

If your family is interested or inclined to invite the orphanage director to lunch, it is proper to invite others in the meeting as well.   This would usually be one or two of the directors’ assistants.  If you want to invite the caregiver or nanny(s), then you should extend that invitation through the director to show the proper respect that the position merits.  Your guide will handle this for you, but inviting the staff through the director follows proper etiquette for the situation. 

Last of all, Chinese values modesty and gentleness, no matter your position. Chinese born individuals may go to great lengths to not “lose face” or have you “lose face”.  Keeping this in mind can help guide you in a variety of situations you will encounter during your SWI visit and throughout your homeland trip. 
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