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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Painting our World in Color...

This post is all about COLOR!

I want to begin with the fact that, for many of us, this is a sensitive subject and one we were raised to tread lightly with.  Please note we tried to make this an open and honest discussion, and I truly apologize if it offends anyone (if it does, please let me know via messages/texts/e-mails as Ron and I are trying to find ways to discuss this topic in an open, non-offensive way).

Ron and I were raised that skin color does not define a person, their character does.  Our life experiences have proven that this is 100% true.  And although color doesn't affect how one should be perceived or judged, it can't be ignored.  As much as we want to say skin color doesn't matter, it does.  We live in a world full of COLOR, and as we once were told, "Not seeing color means you're not really seeing a person."  During our adoption journey, Ron and I learned so much about COLOR and its role on our adoption.  

One of the many realizations we have found is that just because you see and acknowledge COLOR doesn't make you racist, mean or closed minded.  It just means that you're aware differences exist.  Looking around in our daily lives, we recognize male and female all the time.  Is there a difference in what the two groups can accomplish or who they are?  Not really.  But there is maybe a difference in how different sexes think and feel, their life experiences, the way they see the world and the way the world sees them.  COLOR is by no means  the same as gender, but I hope you can see that the reflections are similar.  Having different colors of skin represents that we're the same, but different.

Ron and I are white.  That doesn't make us better or worse than anyone else.  We're just simply white.  Every time we look in the mirror, we see this.  We see the world through white glasses.  We are used to being the majority race in the United States.  Although we can try our hardest to wear glasses of other colors, we will never truly know what it's like to see the world through them.  We can only try understand.

We are adopting two children.  Both will be from ethnic minority groups, which will pose different life experiences, triumphs and challenges for them, as well as for Ron and I.

Our son will be from Ethiopia.  He will be black.  It's crazy because I have been raised not to say that (Black), but Ron and I have been told over and over again that we need to see and become accustomed to that.  If we can see and maturely address differences, than how will our children learn how to do so?  Ron and I wouldn't be adopting a child from Ethiopia if we weren't eager for a multiracial family.  In our discussions prior to adoption, Ron and I talked about raising a child of a different race.  We realized that in doing so, we will never be able to "hide" our adoption.  From day 1, everyone will know our son is not ours by birth.  Our son will know he's different than us from a very early age, and he will be reminded of his adoption daily just by the colors of our skin.  Our son will need to face challenges of having white parents.  After discussing this, it was evident that this was something Ron and I knew we could handle and address as best we could.  But it does present its own challenges.

Our daughter will be from Thailand.  She will be Asian.  Again, she will face many of the same challenges as our son.  She will come into our family with a black brother and white parents.  She will know she is adopted and is different than her parents and brother.  She will realize and face this daily.


During our meetings with Thea and our adoption classes, we have learned even more about COLOR.  For example, we have been told to "COLOR our world."  We were asked to put ourselves in our future children's shoes.  They will be a different COLOR than their parents.  Their natural role models (Ron and I as their parents) won't look like them and they will always feel different.  We will have different skin, hair and eyes.  However, our job is then to find environments for our children where they won't feel that way.  We have been asked (actually, pretty much told) that we MUST find ways to involve our children in as many multiracial environments as possible.  These include: the pediatrician, grocery store, schools, our neighborhood, after school activities, the playground, etc.


The reason - our children must feel a sense of belonging and see others like them to help them feel like they truly belong.  We have to COLOR our world so our children fit in.


We have also been asked to ensure that our children are exposed to and personally know adults of different colors for role models.  As much as Ron and I will be their role models, we cannot completely be their "this is what I'm going to look like when I grow up" model for them.  As such, we need to provide our children with that security through other adults.

Another thing we were told to consider is children's books and movies, as well as pictures around our home.  We were told to purchase children's books that display a diversity of people, and movies as well.  Ron and I made several trips to the good-will to purchase children's books.  We were able to choose a variety of books that included diverse characters.  We found books with animal characters to be the most helpful!  But this task wasn't as easy as it seemed.  It really emphasized that we live in a white-dominated society, which is interesting at the recent Census' shows that this has been changing and shifting.  We hope that with this continual shift, it will become easier to help our children feel a sense of belonging and to embrace their skin colors.


We also discussed being open to discussions of COLOR.  As stated before, Ron and I live in a world viewed through white glasses.  Our children may have different experiences in school, with friends and in sports/other activities than we did.  We have to try our best to imagine their world through their glasses so that we can try to understand, sympathize and be fully open to their lives.  Not doing so means we're not fully addressing our children's needs and being the best parents that we can be.

If someone says something to our daughter on the playground (which we pray won't happen), we can never fully understand what she feels.  We will have to do our very best to ensure that she knows she is loved and that she can be comforted by us.  We will let her know that we try to understand and to give her life tools to cope.  The same is will be true if someone says something to our son.


We have been told to ask questions.  This is a heads up to all of our friends reading this that are not white.  :)  We want to understand what makes the world different for you.  How do you feel?  What are your experiences?  The more we hear and realize, the more we can help our children.  And when/if we ask, we're not trying to sound ignorant or racist.  We are asking with open hearts and minds in an attempt to fully understand.


We have been told to touch.  African hair is much different than Caucasian or Asian hair.  We actually took an hour-long course on African hair care.  Why?  Because we just didn't have a clue about it!  But we're trying to learn.  We're trying to learn how to help our son have strong self-esteem growing up, learn how to care for his own hair, and help him fit into American society with African roots.  In Thailand, we will learn all we can about Thai hair and skin care.  We want our daughter to be raised knowing how to style her hair best and apply makeup that is complementary to her, not me.  It is our goal for our daughter to be proud of her Asian roots, flourish in an American society, and have strong self-esteem about who she is and where she comes from. 


As our son will be black, he will be faced with various stereotypes.  It is our job to try to learn what these are so we can help him along the way.  Our daughter will be Asian, and may be faced with completely different (or even the same) stereotypes.  Again, it is our responsibility to help her as much as we can, and always be understanding.


Although Ron and I have much to learn on this topic, we feel lucky.  Living in Asia for 4 years where I was the minority has really helped open my eyes to seeing life through other glasses.  I know what it's like to feel different, that you belong but you don't, and that you can become very aware of COLOR very quickly.  Attending international schools has expanded my view even further with the large diversity.  I have learned that being the minority isn't a bad thing at all and that many positive experiences easily can result.  In serving in the Army, Ron has worked with every race imaginable.  He is very accustomed to working with a vast variety of people.  We feel that our minds are broad and we're not naive.  We feel that we have a good head start, but that there's still much to learn.  Although we will always only be able to truly see the world through white glasses, we have learned that our lives have given our glasses very strong tints of other colors!


At first, Ron and I really wished that we wouldn't have to be discussing COLOR.  We wish that our children can be raised in world where COLOR isn't an issue, and that we could guarantee that they would be treated as everyone else.  We wish that the world would see someone for who they are, not for their skin.  However, after leaning more, we realize that COLOR is a beautiful thing- it's part of who someone is and where they came from.  We live in a gloriously colorful world and it should be something to embrace and celebrate, not close our eyes to.


Writing this post is one of first of many efforts to COLOR our world, for us and for our children!  Let's see how vibrant and rich our COLORFUL world can become!!!!!!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Home Study Reflection...

This past Tuesday, Ron and I had our final HomeStudy meeting, which was our first major accomplishment thus far!  The HomeStudy is required by all adoption agencies to allow a social worker to discuss adoption with perspective parents (the good, the bad and the ugly), allow the parents to ask the social worker questions, and assess the parents' ability to adopt/parent a child.  At first, Ron and I thought this would be just another check in the box, but it proved to be immensely valuable and helpful!

To put yourself in our shoes, trying answering of these questions:

1.  Why do you want to be a parent?  What kind of parent will you be?
2.  What fears do you have about parenting?  Be honest
3.  What are you most excited about?
4.  Describe your childhood?  Your life now?  Your relationship?  Your family?  Your friends?
5.  Who would you ask to write letters of recommendation for you (4-5 people)?

If you've watched, What to Expect When You're Expecting, I'm sure you're familiar with the scene when the social worker comes to the house one time (not realistic) and the adoptive parents are nervous and hide anything that is embarrassing or not cookie-cutter clean for a straight-jacket parent to have around.  Ron and I were kind of similar!  Before every meeting, we woke up early to clean the house (vacuum, dust, mop), make our bed, make fresh lemonade, have snacks out for Thea, and dress nicely (including having my hair and make-up done).  The house was immaculate.  We also hid our wine and margarita mix.  I will be honest and say that the dogs were even sedated for 3 of the meetings to keep them calm and quiet in the garage!  Yes, we were a mess running around before these meetings but we wanted to be PERFECT!

Ron and I chose a private social worker who works under an adoption agency here in Washington.  Thea and her husband adopted a little girl from China 7 years ago, so they understand the adoption process, adoptive parents, adopted children, and the ups and downs.  She has her Master's in Social Work and teaches part time at a local university.  We chose Thea because "she's been there" and would be the best we felt to help us out.

On our first meeting with Thea, we knew we made the right decision.  She was warm, honest and friendly.  She made us laugh and was comforting to talk to.  Most importantly, she loves adoption and was extremely excited for Ron and I.

At first, Ron and I thought we would meet with Thea 2-3 times.  We were wrong.  We actually met with her 6 times, each meeting lasting 2.5- 4 hours!  So although our adoption timeline has been pushed back because of this, we feel that we'll be better parents and more prepared with our meetings.

The entire point of the HomeStudy is to have a through written report of the adoptive parents, their lives, jobs, families, friends, house and lifestyle.  At the end, the social worker makes a recommendation for the parents to be able to adopt.  It is our packet advocating us to be parents.  The US Immigration Service (USCIS) reviews our final HomeStudy and determines our final eligibility.  Although this is quite a process, it prevents child trafficking agents and sexual offenders from adopting children.  It also shows other nations that the US values their children that will be adopted and wants the best for them.  In the end, Ron and I are extremely happy this is a requirement.

I know this would be impossible, but it would kind of be nice if they required something small but similar for people wanting children.  I think every future parent should have a good answer for why they want to be a parent and what kind of parent they'll be.  I think everyone should get a letter of recommendation to parent.

On a side note, I strongly recommend any women who is pregnant or trying to become pregnant to ask their mom for a letter of recommendation.  First of all, this request is humbling- you're asking your mom to assess you to be a mother.  Secondly, it's amazing at what your mother will write.  And lastly, it will strengthen your mother-daughter bond!

During our meetings, Ron and I had open discussions with Thea.  She asked us questions, we gave her honest answers.  We submitted countless amounts of paperwork, waivers, contracts and forms.  And she gave us information.

We talked about our want to adopt children vs. having our own.  We talked about having a multiracial/cultural family, its benefits, potential complications, and ways to help our future children (a future post will explain).  We talked about significant life experiences and how they have helped shape up and the parents we will become.  We talked about the grief our future children will experience (again, another post) and ways we can help them cope.  We discussed maintaining our children's birth cultures in our daily lives.  We talked about our support system, adoption resources and ways to handle difficult situations.  We talked about how Ron and I will find time for each other and were given creative ideas to help.  We pretty much talked about every and any aspect of parenting a child at every age.

Thea was also responsible for ensuring that Ron and I would make safe parents.  Our home was inspected to verify that we have proper fire extinguishers, fire alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and evacuation plans posted.  We had numerous background checks- state patrol, FBI finger printing and child abuse/neglect clearances from every state we've lived in.  We also had to make sworn statements about our background and each other.  I'm proud to say we've passed this portion with flying colors :)

We had the dogs inside for one of the meetings for Thea to meet them since they needed to be included in the HomeStudy.  They were overall well-behaved, but very excited about a visitor.  Thea has a large dog at home as well, so she was understanding that they were overly excited and normally didn't behave that way.  Due to her allergies, the dogs only needed to be inside for one meeting (after this meeting, we kept the dogs mildly sedated in the garage with extra bones/peanut butter to keep them quiet)!

After our last meeting this past Tuesday, Thea we confident we would make great adoptive parents and kept saying how excited and honored she was to be able to write our final report.  Our final report should be written within the next week.  Then, Ron and I will have to review this before it is sent to an adoption committee for final review.  Once it's finalized, we will mail it to USCIS for its ultimate test!

The HomeStudy is one of adoption's most daunting aspects.  But Ron and I can now proudly say it actually is fun, educational and extremely worthwhile!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Some Lessons Learned...

Even though we're at the beginning of this adoption journey, Ron and I have learned countless life and adoption lessons thus far.  I wanted to share some with you...

1.  Adoption makes you believe and have faith.  Prior to adoption, I was a Christian, but I didn't pray often or go to church.  Although Ron and I realize adopting is a very Christian thing to do, we are not necessiarly doing this because the Bible says to care for the orphans or love your neighbor as yourself.  However, we have both become more strong in our faith through this process.  It requires so much faith that our son and daughter are out there somewhere (if they're even born) and that everything will fall into place.  It requires faith that our social worker, agency, US immigration and Ethiopian and Thai governments will all pull through and approve us in a timely matter.  We have faith that Ethiopia and Thailand won't close their adoption doors tomorrow.  This entire process is 1,000% out of our control, which for both of us, is unchartered terrority.  But after meeting so many people who have adopted and hearing their stories, we can't but help it to have faith.  I find it ironic that a very Christian act is actually making Ron and I stronger Christians in the process!

2.  Patience didn't exist until now.  Although Ron and I have both have lived very busy lives, full of events that require patience and waiting, I don't think these past events compare to this.  Ron's deployments were all about waiting.  Our move to Thailand is all about waiting.  Graduating from vet school was all about waiting.  The adoption process is all about waiting.  But unlike the other events, the adoption process is out of our control, with no end point in sight.  We have no idea when we'll be matched with our son or daughter.  And that hard part is, there's not much we can do about it.  All we can do is wait...and so our patience grows!  As does our faith.


3.  Our want to adopt has increased.  Before beginning this process, it was evident that Ron and I really wanted to adopt.  But now we REALLY, REALLY want to adopt.  It's one of those things that the more you learn, the more you find appealing.  The more people we meet, the more eager we are.  And the further along in the process we get, the more excited we are.

4.  Some people will never understand.  Others can change their minds.  During this process, we have encountered several people who are wary of our journey or have stated that they disagree with our process.  We have heard, "Why don't you just have your own kids?" or "Why not adopt from the US?"  The fact is, we're not going to please everyone, and we don't want to.  We're adopting for us and our family.  We have learned that through watching Ron and I, and seeing our perserverence, many people have changed their minds.  Many that were naysayers are now huge supporters.  Not all, but some.  People can change once they realized what we're doing is actually ok, well, more than ok- wonderful!  We just had to be patient for them to come around!



5.  It's not easy.  I know I'm not pregnant with a fetus growing in my uterus.  I know I don't have body changes and hormone fluxes on a daily/hourly/minute basis.  I know I won't be giving birth to my child or going through the nursing process.  I know.  Ron and I- we know.  Even though I'm not doing a lot, Ron and I are still going through a lot.  There have been triumph days when we have felt the world was on our side and we were getting things accomplished.  There have been awful days, where nothing was going well and we were taking giant steps backwards on our timeline with things out of our control.  There are days we're so excited it's unreal.  There are also days that we're incredibly nervous and scared.  On the first day, our social worker called me "Paper pregnant."  Although I don't have a growing belly, our stack of signed/notarized/official paperwork is growing by the day!  There are definitely ups and downs, twists and turns with the process.  It's not always easy or as simple as just "signing up."  But it's worth it...we know it is!  That's what our faith is for :)


6.  There are people EVERYWHERE who have been adopted or who have adopted.  This is crazy but it literally seems that since Ron and I submitted our application to adopt, a magic door has opened and there are adoptive families EVERYWHERE!  We go to the grocery store and there is a family.  We go to the thrift store and there's a family.  We get our fingerprints done and there is a parent.  We go the the Olmsted Orientation and there is a scholar.  Even at work, I have met several families who are owners of pets going through the adoptive process.  There's always this instant connection and sense of understanding.  This has given Ron and I an enormous support system (even if just mentally) and reassurance that we will be ok, and our future children will be ok, no matter what they experience in life prior to us.


7.  It's not all picture perfect, and it may not be.  We have heard our social worker tell us time and time again, "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best."  Adopting isn't getting a perfect, 100% healthy child that you "paid" for.  It's not "build a kid" where you can request every specific quality.  It's hope and faith.  There's a large chance our children may have developmental, mental, emotional and medical special needs, even if the are deemed "healthy" on their paperwork and on first exam.  They may experience a huge feeling of grief and loss about their birth families and native countries.  They may even reject Ron and I as parents.  There are so many unknowns!  Ron and I are trying to be prepared for everything that we can be.  Even after the adoption process, we will be discussing and working with adoption every single day for the rest of our lives, learning along the way.  We just have faith that we're going to be the best parents we can be and show our children love, compassion, respect and understanding.  It may not be picture perfect, but we have faith that it will be perfect for us however it plays out!



8.  It's worth it :)  I know, we're not at the end of the tunnel yet.  But we can tell you that this process is completely worth every tear, penny, second and drop of sweat we will put into it.

Although Ron and I respect and value the call to "create" and "give" life, were are drawn more to saving lives.
The world has 7 billion people.

There are 157 million orphaned children in the world.
There are 53 million orphans in Africa.
There are 5 million orphans in Ethiopia.
There are 58.9 million orphans in Asia.

There are 1.4 million orphans in Thailand.

Rather than giving a life to a natural birth child, we're saving two (at least 2 for now :) ) children that are already here on Earth.  In our minds, it is evident that we, as the human race, have failed in many aspects.  If we didn't, there wouldn't be the numbers stated above regarding orphans.  At the same time, we also see that we, as a human race, have the amazing ability to make change and a difference.  No matter how small.  I would do ANYTHING to bring those millions of orphans down to thousands, hundreds, or ZERO.  But I can't.  Ron and I can't.  But we are bringing that number down by 2.  And that's a start.  2 is better than 1 which is better than none.  Knowing that alone makes this process worth it, let alone the fullfilment and joy we will receive by being parents and having a family.  But just knowing that's we're making a very, itty bitty dent already is a great gift!

So I'll end with this...

Adoption so far has been a wonderful, bumpy, beautiful, crazy, emotional ride.  But it's amazing.   Absolutely amazing.  And if you're at all looking into being a parent, adding to your family, or opening your hearts to someone in need, adoption is an equally viable option to do so.  It doesn't need to be Plan B, C or D.   It doesn't need to cause a sense of shame or failure or guilt.  It can be Plan A.  And I can promise you the ride has got to be as equally rewarding and thrilling as having a natural born child!  I challenge you all to at least humor the idea of adoption for a full 5 minutes and see what happens :)




Saturday, June 23, 2012

What to do, What to do....


As soon as Ron was granted the Olmsted Scholarship, we began reading "Scholar Reports,"- yearly reports/essays that other Thai scholars wrote about their experiences in Thailand.  They covered where to live, where to study, how to buy a car, etc.  There were 2 Olmsted scholars that have been to Thailand before us and their reports were extremely helpful.  However, there was little mention of spouse language training or work in Thailand.

Although Ron and I always planned that I would learn Thai, I was never planning on attending DLI.  My plan was to be tutored in Thai once we were in Thailand (the Olmsted Foundation would grant me a $2,000 stipend for this).  We never really thought of many other options.  We thought I would work in some capacity- as a clinician, teacher or volunteer, as my primary role.  Learning Thai would be second.  I'm not sure if I thought I didn't need Thai or if I was still stuck in the idea that I would still work, be a vet and get paid while in Thailand.  Ron was encouraging me to try to find a job as well as he felt "guilty" about moving overseas for 3 years and sacrificing my career (although we had many talks about this and I kept saying it was more than fine and I couldn't be more excited)!

This was our thinking until the Olmsted Scholar Orientation weekend.  This was a 3-day weekend dedicated to the Olmsted Scholar Class of 2013.  During the weekend, we were able to meet the other scholars and their spouses, form great friendships, and learn more about the journey we would all be undertaking for the next 3 years.  Although I learned many things during this weekend, I wasn't prepared for my biggest lesson.

The group of scholars this year is awesome, but I have to say, I was more impressed with the spouses (men and women)!  All of the spouses I met were incredibly outgoing, friendly and enthusiastic about moving to a far off country for 2-3 years.  All were proud of their spouses and were supportive of the Olmsted program.  Above all, all of the spouses had an eager spirit and go with the flow attitudes!  In talking to the spouses, I was incredibly surprised to learn that almost all had made arrangements for language training for the next year.  Many had already quit their jobs to move to DC or Monterrey.  Although several were given their own tutors or official "slots" in the DLI classes, many were choosing to attend class on their own, without a formal slot.  Talk about dedication!  They were choosing this because they embraced the Olmsted Scholarship and its mission to Educate Broadly.

After having many conversations with the spouses over the first two days, I had a heart to heart with Ron the second night.  I told Ron that I felt my thinking over the past few months was skewed.  All along, I had been thinking about ways to still work and maintain my professional status.  In thinking this, I had missed the fact that in doing so, I would loose a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn Thai fluently, embrace the Thai culture, and just live/experience life.  The spouses during this weekend taught me that I have the rest of my life to be a veterinarian and chase my career.  However, I only have 3 years in Thailand.

That night, my realization was re-enforced when I met an Olmsted Scholar Class of 2012 spouse who is also a veterinarian.  Her and her husband are moving to Poland this August for 2 years.  Over the past year, she learned Polish 5-days a week in DC on her own with her own tutor.  She then spent weekends studying and doing relief work at a local emergency clinic.  This was the reassurance I needed- I wasn't the only vet putting my career on hold in order to fully embrace the Olmsted Scholarship!

When the orientation weekend ended, Ron and I began looking into Thai language classes in Thailand for me.  Last week, I applied for AUA- a state of the art language school in Chiang Mai.  I signed up for 3 hours of Thai language a day in group classes of 3-5 other students.  My classes will be from 1-4 everyday, Monday-Friday, for the next 5-6 months (or more).  In the evenings, I will focus on my Master's degree classes.  In the mornings, I will spend my time volunteering at the vet school, an elephant sanctuary or an orphanage.  I may even volunteer to teach English to preschool children- who knows!  And if our luck plays out, I may even be playing Mom to a gorgeous little boy from Ethiopia this next year as well, too!  Regardless of how I spend my mornings, my job will be learning the Thai language and culture, and embracing/living live. 

It took awhile, but I'm now 1,000% ok with not receiving a paycheck and trying to maintain my career 5,000 miles across the world.  I know that as long as I am productive, I will continue to gain life experiences that will aid my career when we do return home.  In the meantime, I'll just be taking a deep breath and diving right in!

Where to Move, When

Where to Move, When...

As many of you know, Ron and I are moving to Chiang Mai on August 12 of this year.  Although moving this summer now feels like the best decision, looking back, it was quite the process!

When we first found out about the Olmsted Scholarship, we were told that the Army would determine where Ron would receive a year of language training- either in Monterrey or Washington, DC.  In the back of our minds, we always knew that we could move to Thailand a year early for in country language training for a 3rd option- an idea we never fully considered :)...

Going into the Olmsted Scholarship, Ron and I were determined that I would work during his language training year.  We felt that since I worked so hard for my degree over the past 8 years, it was only "fair" that I could work one more year before moving.  As such, we never really toyed with the idea of me taking language courses at DLI (Defense Language Institute) with Ron.  When I started looking into jobs, I knew I didn't want to work in California- it takes forever to get a vet's license and I would have to take the CA State Board Exam- not an easy test!  Virginia and Maryland, however, made it easy to become licensed and there were many more job openings in the DC area.  Of course, Ron was assigned DLI in Monterrey.

Ron would have started Thai training in Monterrey in September.  However, it would be a beginning Thai class, and since Ron already knows some Thai from his training, it wasn't ideal.  Additionally, Ron would have to leave the class 5 months early so we could move to Thailand in April for his classes at the university to begin May.  In our minds, DLI in Monterrey was out...

When we asked about DC, we were told, "No."  We begged, pleaded, petitioned...and finally we were able to submit an appeal.  However, we wouldn't know the results until end of June...only to have to move July 1.  This wasn't going to work!  We petitioned again, and Ron was told he could have 5 months of Thai training in DC.  This sounded great, except it meant we would have to move across the country for 5 months, that I wouldn't be working in DC, and that we would still move to Thailand early.

Admist all of this, I began the epic search of finding work/something to do in Chiang Mai.  After researching countless vet clinics, making phone calls with Skype, and sending e-mails, I decided to expand my search.  I found 3 international schools in Chiang Mai that were all hiring certified teachers.  I thought, "If I can't work as a vet for 2 years, then I'll teach, expand my resume and get experience that will help with my vet career when we return."  I applied for the jobs and was told I couldn't teach because I wasn't certified to teach.  Have 2 undergraduate degrees and my doctorate made me eligible to teach college, but somehow I wasn't eligible to teach high school science, go figure.

So I began researching ways of obtaining my teaching certification.  The best solution was to obtain my Master's in Education with a teaching certificate (45 hours total).  I found several schools that offered such programs online, but almost all of them laughed at my plan- to complete all 45 hours in the next 52 weeks and complete my student teaching so that I could teach high school starting the Fall, 2013.  Finally, I found Drexel University in Pennsylvania.  At first, the admissions counselors weren't humored by my request.  But after my persistence, I finally was able to talk to the Dean of Admissions.  Applications were due 2 weeks ago, classes started in 4 days.  BUT if I got everything in, I could begin classes.  I could complete my classes by January, 2013 and student teach for 3 months.  I could have my Master's by August, 2013...But I had 4 days...Ready, set, GO!

So for a week, I worked like crazy getting all of my transcripts, applications, letters of recommendation, essays, etc. turned in and I was accepted.  Ron transferred his Post 9/11 GI Bill to me, which enables me to take 36 months of college classes valued at $17,500.00/year for free.  My plan is to use the first 12 months of his GI Bill for the Master's in Education.  Then, I'll use the remaining 24 months for my Master's in Public Health.  I figured I'll use every penny and every month available to get the most out of it.  At the very least, I'll come home from Thailand in 3 years with 2 Master's degrees...not too bad! :)

During all of this, one of the international schools in Chiang Mai e-mailed me and said they were having a hard time finding a science teacher and wanted to interview me.  I eagerly accepted and did really well.  However, I was told that although they loved me, if a certified teacher applies, legally they have to offer the position to them.  I understood.

But this got Ron and I thinking....

Rather than trying to make things work here in the US with my work and Master's degree, as well as finding the best program for Ron to learn Thai, let's just do it...let's move to Thailand a year early.

So we really got thinking...how do we do that?  When will we move?  What will I do?  Where will Ron study?  Soon, all of the pieces began coming together and it was evident that this was the right move for us.

Within 2 days of toying with this idea, Ron e-mailed DLI and the Olmsted Foundation and informed them of our new plan.  Within a week, Ron was working on our country clearances.  Once those were completed, our orders were written...

Ron e-mailed me the orders and I read...Report on or before August 13, 2012.  It was REAL!  We were moving to Thailand in 4 months!

Then reality set in...

I had to tell work I was moving (not an easy thing to do).  We had to put our NEW house that we bought and moved into 3 months prior up for rent.  We had to find ways to get the dogs to Thailand.  We had to schedule moving our household goods.  We had to begin the house hunt...

Ron and I initially were planning on moving on August 13, a Monday.  But after much thought, we thought a Sunday would be easier as friends could help us at the airport.  Also, the 12th is my birthday, and besides our 2 adopted kiddos that will be our birthday/Christmas presents for years to come, I couldn't think of any other better birthday present than to move to Thailand!

So on August 12, we'll be boarding a plane headed to Bangkok, Thailand!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Moving to Thailand

In addition to documenting our adoption, Ron and I have been asked to document our adventure moving to Thailand and our 3 years there!  Rather than making 2 separate blogs, I decided to combine them as when we're in Thailand, we'll be working on adopting a little girl.  So theoretically, our time in Thailand will also be part of the adoption abroad adventure!

On Ron's and I's third date, he gave me an article to read in the Special Operations Magazine that talked about this "Olmsted Scholarship."  The article discussed a scholarship that was available to Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine officers every year.  The scholarship entailed a year of intense language training, and then moving abroad to a designated country and pursuing a Master's degree there.  At the time, I told Ron that the scholarship sounded awesome and he should definitely apply!  Little did I know that 3 years later, here we are...ready to move to Thailand for the Olmsted Scholarship!

Last spring, Ron decided to go ahead and apply for the scholarship.  He went back and forth for which year was the best year to apply, but after being deployed, he decided he wanted more stability and a move good for his career.  I was 100% supportive, but tried not to be too hopeful as the scholarship is one of the military's most competitive.  Ron then went through the entire application process- contacting people, getting transcripts, writing essays, taking the GRE, etc.  Soon, his packet was done and submitted for review.

The Army first selected their top 15 candidates who would be finalists.  In October of last year, Ron was informed he was an Army finalist and his application was being sent to the Olmsted Board!  He would then "compete" with 15 people from each service (60 people total)  for the coveted 18 positions!  During that time, Ron was told we had to work on our country list- where we would be willing to go/live if he was chosen as a scholar.

The Olmsted Foundation had a list of approved countries and schools where scholars had gone previously.  The countries ranged from Brazil to China to Germany to Senegal.  There were 30 in total.  We were told that at least 5 of our countries needed to be from that list and the other 5 could be our choice!  Boy, was I excited!

Ron had wanted to move to Europe for the scholarship initially and I fought kicking and screaming!  In my mind, I thought, "If this scholarship keeps me from having a dream job for 3 years, and maybe even not working for 3 years, then I want to make it worth it."  Also, this scholarship entails that Ron has 9 more years in the Army, which means he'll retire with the Army.  I thought that the country we move to better be worth at LEAST 12 more years in the Army.  So, I went with the vet school saying, "Go BIG or go home."  Go big we went!

Ron and I both researched countless countries, cities and schools.  We finally had a list of about 30 places and had an entire Excel spreadsheet summarizing the schools, countries, languages, crime rates, etc.  We also looked to make sure the dogs could get into all the countries we considered.  No dogs, no Garbersons!  Finally, Ron and I sat down individually and ranked our list, 1-30.  We then added up the numbers and settled on our combined top 10!

Our final list included Spain, Argentina, China, Jordan, Saudi Arabia (yes, I would move there and wear a burka everyday- go BIG or go home remember), Thailand, Brazil, Chile and Japan.  

Once the Olmsted Board reviewed all of the 60 finalist applications, they called for interviews.  Ron had an hour-long interview with retired Generals and Admirals who questioned his want for the scholarship, my personal goals, how we would work as a family, and Ron's long-term goals, amongst many other topics.  Then, we were told to revise our list!  Jordan and Saudi Arabia were out!

So Ron and I went back to the drawing board.  We decided on United Arab Emirates, Qatar, China, Spain, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Thailand and Japan.  And then we waited...and waited...and waited!

Finally, on March 13, the Board met and debated/argued/discussed the 60 finalists.  They voted on the final 18, and then got to work assigning countries.  On the night of March 13, I received an e-mail saying the Board had finished, but we were waiting on the results (Ron was in Cambodia at the time and so he made me his point of contact).  On March 14- nothing.  I was such a mess just waiting to hear what our future entailed!  Ron was 1/2 a world away and was equally anxious!

Finally, on the morning of March 15, as I was getting ready for work, I opened my e-mail and there was a message from the Army with the results.  When I opened and began reading, Ron's name was 1 of 5 names listed as a scholarship recipient!  Next to his name was Chiang Mai, Thailand- 7th on our list.  I screamed and couldn't contain my excitement.  Luckily, I was able to text Ron the news and he quickly called.  All I could say was, "We're moving to Thailand, BABY!"  

And that we are!  In 6 weeks, we'll be boarding a plane, dogs and all, to make the trip of a lifetime across the Pacific for 3 amazing, cultural-filled years in Thailand!

I was SO incredibly proud of Ron for being selected.  I knew how competitive the scholarship was and how hard he had worked to become a finalist- the permissions, signatures, letters of recommendation (including one from General Petraes), the essays, and the amazing work over the past 8 years.  Ron said this scholarship was the most significant achievements in his life thus far (besides winning my hand in marriage :) )!  I continue to be incredibly proud of Ron and thankful for the opportunities his hard work and the Army are granting us!

Adopting from Ethiopia

Ron and I are about 1/4 of the way through the adoption process for Ethiopia and are swimming in paperwork!  Although there is a lot of work, it has been fun and very educational for us.  Everyday, we know we are one step closer to being matched with our little boy!

I thought I would share the program for adopting from Ethiopia.

1.  Decide on a country.  DONE
2.  Find an adoption agency.  DONE
3.  Begin working on a homestudy with a social worker.  DONE
4.  Have social worker complete HomeStudy.  This takes 2-3 months to do as there is so much paperwork and clearances required!  By far, this has been our favorite part of the journey though!  Almost done.
To complete the HomeStudy, here is a taste of what is required:
      - 2-6, 2-3 hour long meetings with a social worker to discuss adoption, our lives, and our parenting
      -Written autobiographies
      -Background checks from every state we have lived in...EVER
      -Fingerprint clearances
      -Financial letters, employment letters, bank letters
      -Contracts
      -Letters of Recommendation
      -Marriage/birth certificates
      -Home inspection
      -10 hours of adoption classes
      -AND MUCH MORE....

Once our HomeStudy is finalized, these are our next steps:
1.  Send in I-600A (adopting an unidentified child immigration form) to USCIS (US immigration)
             Original marriage certificate, birth certificates and cover letter
2.  Send in completed HomeStudy report to USCIS
3.  Have I-600A form processed and submitted for fingerprint requests
4.  Complete FBI fingerprints for background check
5.  Have I-600A form finalized once HomeStudy approved and fingerprints cleared!

All this will take another 1- 2 months!

Meanwhile, we're working on our Dossier, the packet of letters/documents that will be sent to the Ethiopian government.  These include
-Marriage Certificate              -Cover Letter                            -Letter to the orphanage
-Birth Certificates                   -Financial statements                 -Letter from bank
-Family photos                       -Copies of deeds of houses       -Letters of recommendation
-Completed HomeStudy         -USCIS approval form             -Family questionaire
-Power of Attorney                -Release statements                  -Travel documents
AND MUCH, MUCH MORE!

ALL of these need to be notarized and we need 2-3 original copies of each!  Have I mentioned we've been busy?!?!?  To be honest, even though this feels like a part-time job for both of us, we have learned so much about adopting and each other!  It has been wonderful and everyday, even though there is always more to do, we are more excited and even more prepared to be adoptive parents!

Once our Dossier is complete, it is translated to Amharic, the national language in Ethiopia.  This takes about 3-4 weeks.  From there, we write a very large check to our adoption agency and have our Dossier sent to Ethiopia.  The Ethiopian government then will analyze our Dossier and hopefully approve our request for a 0-1 year old boy!  This also takes about 3-4 weeks.  One our Dossier is accepted, we are placed on "The List" and we wait...

We wait until the adoption agency and Ethiopian government find a little boy eligible to be adopted!  Hopefully this is done between 1-8 weeks!  Once he is found, we are matched with his picture and whatever information is available!  We then write another check and accept our referral.

Once we are matched, we will wait for a court date to be established in Ethiopia.  This is about 2-8 weeks from our referral.  When we receive our court date, we will make plans to travel to Ethiopia to meet our son for the first time and petition his adoption in court.  We then leave Ethiopia and wait...

Once we're cleared in court, our case goes to the US Embassy in Adidas Abba.  They review our packet, court case and our son's history.  Once they clear him as an orphan and accept the court case, they process a US immigration visa for him.  This takes about 2-8 weeks.  We then are allowed to travel back to Ethiopia and pick our little guy up for good!  However, we'll be anxious to return to Ethiopia with our family when he's older to show him his heritage and the amazing country he was born in!

What a ride it has been so far and we're only getting started!!!!!!

The good news- as daunting as this is, IT IS DOABLE, FUN and EASY with such an amazing support system, adoption agency and social worker!!!!