When we adopted Noah we had to go to Russia twice. First to meet him and start the court process, and then two months later we we went to finalize the paperwork, go to court, do more paperwork, and then bring him home.
Being in Russia, especially the first time, was more out of my "comfort zone" than I have ever been. Despite months of preparation and reading, having a fair understanding of how to read the Cyrillic alphabet, and knowing some basic phrases, I felt like I had landed on the moon.
It wasn't that I had never traveled before. I was incredibly lucky to have my grandmother take me to Europe on a tour when I was 16. Because of that experience I saved every penny I could so I could spend a semester abroad in college. After attending school in Scotland I was able to backpack through Great Britain and Europe for two months. So while traveling to Russia was new, being in a new country where I didn't know the language wasn't. I thought I was adventurous.
Part of my fear, discomfort, etc. was knowing my husband and I were doing the biggest, most serious thing, we had ever done in our lives. Bigger even then marrying each other. We were landing in a foreign country with the plan of changing our lives forever. We were finding our child.
There we were in the Moscow airport feeling overwhelmed. Trying to find our driver and hoping we could trust someone that we could barely communicate with. Once we were at our hotel we were exhausted and found something as simple as finding the dining room and ordering dinner was overwhelming. I chuckle now, because of course we had Chicken Kiev as that was the only thing we could understand on the menu.
While the reason we were there was huge, and life changing, and we were completely overwhelmed, we actually were very well taken care of. We had a driver that was there any time we needed. We had an adorable 16 year old that spoke English and took us site-seeing and overall took care of us. And our adoption coordinators there guided us through the entire process.
And that is the closest I can come to understanding what it must be like for someone to immigrate to the United States, knowing almost no one and very little about the language or culture. Add into that having to work in a sweat shop and live in a condemned apartment with no heat, but plenty of rats and cockroaches. That part? That part about living? I can't even begin to understand the reality of living like that.
So reading a book like Girl in Translation* by Jean Kwok is fascinating in a very uncomfortable way. Because while the story itself has a happy ending, the journey it describes is so far beyond the reality of my arguably spoiled life, it is almost embarrassing how lucky I am.
The book itself was a wonderful read. Inspiring and moving. And a look into the reality of the life of many immigrants who come to the US for a "better" life.
This post was inspired by Girl in Translation, the latest book in the Silicon Valley Mom's Blog book club.