Note: I attended The Fifth International Conference for Adoption Research in Auckland, New Zealand this winter break. It. Was. Incredible. I am a research assistant for Ellen Pinderhughes, a child study and human development professor here who is just absolutely wonderful and supportive and opened up this new opportunity for me. She invited me to the conference, and I had some scholarship money from Tufts to spend on it so I went! Here is a little thing I wrote while I was actually there, right after my first day. Although it happened a few weeks ago, it was such an amazing experience that I wanted to share with you guys how exactly I felt while there.
The conference was brilliant!!! I didn’t have time to write throughout the day because I was at the conference all day and didn’t have a lot of time to myself, so I’ll be writing all about it now. It is currently the morning after, and I am missing the morning welcome session (and the Haka performed by AUT students !:() because I am so exhausted from last night. So I’m in bed currently.
So the welcome ceremony started off with a Maori man speaking in Maori. He then interpreted himself into English and turns out, he was talking about where he’s from, his Maori heritage, and background things like that. I was super amazed by how respectful the conference and New Zealand in general seems to be respectful of the indigenous culture here – similar kinds of colonial takeover happened in the United States, and the native culture there is kind of buried underground and pushed to the side and never seen or talked about at all. But in NZ I hear Maori spoken all the time, and this man, remarkably, started off his speech in Maori! That gesture, to me, felt good in a way that I haven’t really felt in the US because this man did it knowing that most delegates in the conference do not speak Maori. Therefore, it set the precedence that his presentation of Maori culture is not in fact about the consumption of it for the benefit of English-speaking listeners. It has value on its own, and deserves to be spoken, regardless of whether English-speaking listeners can understand it or not. The point is, they will understand its significance and importance in this country. The program informs me that his name is Wiremu Tipuna, the Maori cultural liaison for students in AUT.
After a very entertaining introduction to our program organizer, in which she explained the items in our conference goody bags —sunscreen, granola bar, AUT water bottle, Starbucks coupon, and brochures— we were back with Wiremu. And then – we started singing. Wiremu had a guitar and everything, and taught us three ‘waiatas’ in Maori. These songs are in Maori, and he explained that instead of applauding our speakers, we will sing to them and maybe with some of them to show our connection to them and our appreciation for them. How interesting! I was really honored to be taught these waiatas, clearly a significant aspect of Maori collective culture. Here is my favorite:
Tutira mai nga iwi
Tatou tatou e
Tutira mai nga iwi
Tatou tatou e
Whai-a te maramatange
Me te aroha – e nga iwi!
Kia kotahi ra.
Tatou tatou e.
Tatou tatou e!
Hi aue hai!
This one is a song that most people from NZ know, and may come in handy when I’m traveling and meet some Kiwis! All in all, I was just really struck by the emphasis on Maori culture and NZ’s appreciation towards it, coming from the US, where the opposite is done. I’ve been to Canada now and NZ, both with native cultures that have been colonized, and they have been 1000x better at paying respect to the native culture than the US has been in my experience.
After this welcome, we had our first keynote speaker, Michael Sweeney, who presented a compelling argument for why adoption is a better system of care than foster care, drawing from a developmental rationale. Some data was presented about how many children who are sent back to their birth families from foster care end up having to return to care by the government because of not only maladaptive parenting behaviors by the birth parents, but also the children’s harmed mental health due to the impermanence of care- and love-givers. Something I found really interesting was that Michael had actually studied the decline of children’s mental health in relation to the number of foster placements that took place. So, with each foster family placement, the length of time the child stayed with one family decreased, meaning that there were difficulties in the placement.
This kind of impermanence inherent in foster care is also harmful to the mental health of foster parents themselves from the perspective of attachment. Michael talked about “adoptive parents in disguise”, which was one of the things that social workers were apparently told to watch out for in foster parents. This is when foster parents become attached to the child and want to adopt them out of the foster system, which you would think is a good thing, right? For both the child and the parents. But this is apparently bad because these foster parents start asking questions about the child’s next placement and become anxious about them moving on, when in fact that is the ‘natural course of things’ in foster care. Of course, impermanent caregiving leads to disorganized attachment, and foster parents actually start to put up walls against foster children for the parents’ own emotional protection. Sometimes, they even put forth a no-hug policy for their foster children in fear of getting too emotionally attached!
The rest of the conference consisted of me standing around awkwardly waiting for Ellen and Jess to introduce me to people which didn’t always happen, and Ellen did even mention that I’m learning a lot – one of which is how to function in cocktail situations. Unstructured social time is a big thing here, I’m noticing, so that people can mingle and network. For me, it’s pretty difficult. I feel like I have nothing to offer to these people, who are so distinguished in their field. I keep reassuring myself with the thought that I am young, up-and-coming, fresh, with new thoughts and perspectives to this field. People are usually surprised to see me here and don’t expect that much from an undergrad, so the low starting point actually really helps.
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