Adoptive Family Travel is now Adoptee Owned!

Exciting things are happening at The Ties Program. For 30 years, we have strived to take international adoptees and their families on extraordinary birth country experiences. We have loved every minute of it. The families we have served, our in-house and adjunct travel staff, and the in-country partners we have worked with have brought us joy beyond measure.

After a 3 year shutdown due to Covid, we are thrilled to have reopened Korean Ties and Guatemalan Ties in 2023. In 2024 programs in Kazakhstan, Paraguay, China, Vietnam, India, and maybe Cambodia will reopen!  

As 2024 approaches, LOTS has changed in the world of international adoption. One of the most exciting changes is that in big numbers, international adoptees are heading into and living their adult lives. MANY of them have achieved extraordinary goals.

Some of them have developed skill sets that make them ideal to be part of our Adoptive Family Travel Adjunct Travel Staff (and many of those are “Ties kids” who traveled with Ties when they were younger and are now back staffing with us.) At this point, about 70 percent of our adjunct travel staff are international adoptees! Wow, we love the sound of that!

And then there’s this


One truly exceptional Korean adoptee who has been part of the Ties adjunct travel staff for several years is Dr. Tanya Kaanta. Her program management skill set is top notch and she approaches life from her heart. She has an exceptional understanding of and compassion for the Ties mission, which she is excited to carry forward.

We are beyond blessed and proud to announce that Tanya will take the reins of The Ties Program effective August 2, 2023. Her husband Ben will be enthusiastically by her side. Becca and Bea will continue to be on the team as the Kaanta’s transition into their new roles. Our fabulous program managers Sarah Kurtzahn and Rebecca Blessing will continue on with Tanya and Ben making the transition especially smooth. 

A bit more about Tanya and Ben

Tanya is not new to our adoption world. Chances are many of you know her. She is an adult adoptee from South Korea, adopted in 1975. She has spoken at several adoption camps where her depth of knowledge and vibrant nature connect her easily with people. She has a PhD in Sociology with a focus on Intercountry Adoption, Identity, Emotion Work, and Advocacy.

An engineer by degree, Ben has been in several chief-level leadership positions throughout his 20+ year business career. He has certifications in project management and coaching. Tanya and Ben are avid travelers and the parents to two teenage children, Bode and Suvi. Adoption has been a very core element of their relationship and their family.

These are dedicated, knowledgeable, fun, down-to-earth people. We know you will love them and will be well served. 

As we collectively transition our roles, Tanya and Ben are committed to nourishing the culture and upholding the values and mission we have been so blessed to create, experience, and share with you throughout these past 30 years. Moreover, we are excited to work with Tanya and Ben in a creative role as we begin integrating new ideas to meet the changing demographic of our adoptive families.

Tanya has added a “Welcome Note” on our website. Check it out.

Our Summer 2024 programs will begin launching soon. Please watch your email, our website, and our social media for registration openings. 

Thank you for all the trust and support you have shown us over the years. We are excited about this transition and look forward to writing this next chapter of The Ties Program with Tanya and Ben and all of you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions

With gratitude,

Becca Piper and Bea Evans
Founder and Immediate Past Co-Directors

Contact Information: 

How to Talk with Adoptees about the Crisis in Ukraine

By Terry Mandeville

The following is information complied by Terry Mandeville, group admin for the FRUA Facebook Group.  (Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption Incl Neighboring Countries).

How do we talk with our kids about the crisis in Ukraine? You may not want to wait until the child asks a question, because some children worry, without being able to ask or talk about it. Depending upon the behavior you observe, you might be the one to raise the topic.

Your questions of them, and your answers, should be age appropriate. A six-year-old doesn’t need a long explanation about sovereign borders; they might only need to be reassured that America will not be invaded, or that organizations are trying to keep their birth family safe.

First, be aware and acknowledge your own emotions on the subject. Children of all ages pick up on this and may be responding accordingly. Whenever possible it seems to work best to listen to your child before talking to him/her. An open-ended question allows the child to take the lead and address the areas that worry her/him the most, such as “What do you think about what has been going on in Ukraine?”

There are also many children’s books that may be a good way to start off a conversation. Boris Gindis, Ph.D. suggests that our responses should depend upon the child’s age, his/her association with a country (Russia or Ukraine), and the degree of personal significance of this issue.

For younger children (up to the age of 7) Dr. Gindis suggests that “it could be explained as a ‘quarrel between two countries as it happens in a family sometimes’”. For pre-adolescents, he believes, “it depends on their degree of involvement; it could be a brief formal remark that it is all politics, and because of turmoil in Ukraine the Russian government took away some land from Ukraine. Try to convey that this was government, not people, who did this”.

And with the older children – adolescent and young adults, “You have to share your own views on this situation and sincerely express your feelings and ask them about theirs”.

Deborah D. Gray, MSW, Nurturing Attachments Therapist, and author of Attaching Through Love, Hugs and Play; Simple Strategies to Help Build Connections with Your Child, Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today’s Parents and Nurturing Adoptions: Creating Resilience After Neglect and Trauma, suggests a guided discussion with kids along these lines: “What do you do if you have two friends, from two different soccer teams, who are arguing? Suppose they are arguing over one of the fields. One of the teams is signed up, but the other team gets on the field and will not leave. Do you have to take sides? Suppose you and the rest of your friends used to play on one team or the other but are on a new team now. Should you split your team up, taking sides, depending on the team you used to play on? Or, would it be better to keep your team strong?

This is a little bit like the current problem between Russia and the Ukraine. Some of the kids from FRUA are from Ukraine, some from Russia. Do you have to take sides? Or, would it be better to enjoy being of the US/FRUA team and keep a good relationship with everybody?

There are many points of view over the Crimea Region. Maybe you would like to study the situation, forming an opinion. But no matter what opinion you form, you can still respect the culture of both countries and enjoy your friends in FRUA”

Depending upon the age of your child, many questions may enter her mind, which she/he may become anxious about, but may not voice. These unasked questions may relate to identity, to safety for her/himself and others he/she vaguely remembers or include the broad question of why people or countries fight.

Even though this conflict is very scary to hear about, reassure your child that they are safe. Start with the barebones basics. That may be all they need or want, or they may ask follow-up questions. Normalize and validate fears and emotion. Giving kids permission to feel a certain way is the first step to them expressing what’s going on.

Share information about the war. Some examples of things one might choose to say to our children about the crisis in Ukraine. Showing your child a world map and teaching them facts about Ukraine and Russia and their cultures can demystify the event. You can talk about the history of each country and a summary of the conflict. You might start by asking “Tell me what you know about ‘war’?” … and go from there. If they ask questions that you do not know the answers to, you can look up it up together.

“There are some soldiers who are going into Ukraine without permission and a lot of people around the world are upset about it. This is happening far away, so we are safe here, but that doesn’t stop us from worrying.” “The representatives of many countries are talking with one another and trying to find a peaceful way to settle these issues. We do not yet know what will happen.” “We do not always have the answers. I understand that not knowing what might happen can be scary. Whatever happens, I am always here for you. You can always come to me and ask questions, which I will do my best to answer honestly. You can always tell me if you are sad or scared and we will talk about it.”

“Feelings of confusion, anger and sadness are emotions that we all experience from time to time. It might be helpful for you to share these feelings with me.” “This may be a good time to learn more about geography. Ask to see an Atlas. This is where you can learn about maps & about why the borders of countries change. See if you can see why some countries are invaded, which have natural protections, which countries have started wars, which have been conquered time after time, & why this might be so.

Geography is closely related to the world’s history.” Ukraine shares a long and complicated history with Russia. Explaining this can be convoluted and confusing. Facts to cover might include:

  • The Crimea & Eastern Ukraine have a long history that is intertwined with Russia’s.
  • Western Ukraine’s culture & history is more aligned with the other countries of Eastern Europe.
  • The territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia remains very complicated. Which portions of Ukraine may become part of Russia is unknown.

Adoptees may wonder if they will ever be able to visit their homelands. Although the present time might not be a good time to go to the area, we can reassure our children that we hope this will change soon. If in the USA, your family should check the U.S. State Department websites for alerts related to adoption and travel, the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues and the Department of Immigration, as they are in the best position to determine these answers.

Children who were adopted from neighboring countries may wonder if this affects their homelands and/or birth family. At this time there is no indication of any difficulties with other countries related to this problem between the Russian and Ukrainian governments. Again, your family should always check the State Department website for alerts related to adoption and travel.

Children who were adopted from Ukraine or Russia may wonder if they will be drafted into the military to fight. A young man or woman having citizenship and residing permanently in one country cannot be drafted into the military by another country, even if they have dual citizenship The latest information that we have gathered is that young men who were adopted from Ukraine or Russia and live in another country cannot serve in the Ukrainian army because they became permanent residents of another country as minors.

The rule in Russia has heretofore been that Russian citizens who are residents of another country are not “entitled” to serve in the Russian military either. However, it is important to keep abreast of the news; during times of war the rules can change suddenly.

Examples of statements to help our children who were adopted from Russia deal with being teased about being Russian?

  • “Your ethnic heritage, and your birth country, are a part of you, but it does not make you who you are.
  • People of any specific heritage are never “bad” because of their ancestry or heritage.
  • The decisions that any country’s government makes, good or bad, do not in any way reflect the character of the people who claim heritage from that country.”
  • “You are an American citizen who happens to have been born in Russia. Like hundreds of thousands of Americans, who were born somewhere else, what you make of yourself is up to you.”
  • “The people who call themselves United States citizens, and you are one, have come from every country of the world over the course of over 230 years of existence, and before that as well. Every American’s family history came from somewhere else too, even the Native Americans. You are just a more recent immigrant.”
  • “You may wish to ask your parents or your teacher for help.” “You could turn the question around and ask your classmates if they know from what countries their families originally came. In fact, this could be a good class assignment, to help students understand the diversity that has made our country what it is.”
  • “Your ethnic heritage, and your birth country are a part of you, but it does not account for all of who you are. History tells us that the names and the borders of countries change greatly over decades, or centuries, or over hundreds of years. Our current era is no exception, and the fact that you are an American citizen is a direct result of the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.”
  • “Many adoptees have questions and confusion related to their own identity, especially as it relates to their birth heritage. This situation between Russia and Ukraine can stir up these feelings. It may be helpful to discuss these issues with your family therapist, spiritual advisor, or school counselor. Being able to talk freely about how you feel can help you to work through the issues, see things clearly and grow. It is important for you to feel understood and supported,”

Examples of statements to help our children deal with fears and concern for birth family in Ukraine and/or Russia.

Whether or not your child ever knew her birth family, and depending upon the age of your child, he/she may worry for the safety of people he/she has only heard about as a part of her life story.

  • “Not knowing can be very scary. This is a difficult time for the people in Ukraine and Russia. War is not good for children, or for anyone else for that matter. Many families are moving to areas far away from the conflict to stay safe. For the people who cannot leave there are several organizations and charities that are in the area helping to keep them safe.”

Examples of statements to help our children deal with fears and concern for the “orphanages” in Ukraine.

  • “It has been difficult to get specific information about what is happening in each “orphanage” but several organizations are involved in keeping the children safe. They are finding spaces for the children away from the conflict.”
  • Find ways to take action Parents can find ways for kids to be helpers during a crisis by donating to humanitarian or child-serving causes that help those who are impacted. This can give kids a sense of control and contribution and can lessen anxiety.
  • Manage news and media Kids are sponges. Many times they cannot differentiate between fact and opinion as they are blasted from all sides by social media, TV, radio. Turn off the devices, or limit time. When your children are exposed the news, listen with them – encourage questions and talk about their feelings.

What signs should I look for that this is bothering my child?

  • Look for behavior that is outside of your child’s normal range. A child may exhibit greater than normal signs of anxiety, an inability to settle down to sleep, or to lessons, or suddenly not be able to play calmly with friends.
  • The child’s eating habits might change, she/he might become more withdrawn, or a normally calm child may suddenly become more agitated, pick fights with others, or exhibit self-harming behavior.
  • Be on the look-out for signs that a child might be being teased or bullied by other students about their ethnicity or being either Russian or Ukrainian. These can come up even if your child is from another country, like Bulgaria! A child might not even realize that he/she should tell someone about this.
  • Older children are going to be exposed to information about the conflict between Ukraine and Russia on the Internet or television. Developmental specialists suggest that adults sit down and watch the news with these children so that they can then discuss what is happening and what it means.


How to Talk to Kids and Teens About the Crisis in Ukraine

Student Discussion Guide: Crisis in Ukraine

How to Talk to Your Kids About the Crisis Unfolding in Ukraine

How you can talk to your kids about the crisis in Ukraine

Ukraine conflict: How to help yourself, your kids, and others

Adoptive Family Travel Heritage Journeys

Here’s Why They Work for Adoptees and Their Families


Maybe you’ve dreamed about a heritage journey for years, or perhaps have recently begun thinking about it. We are available to answer your questions, discuss your dream, and provide information for you to consider as the dream takes shape.


Adoptive Family Travel works with adoptees and their families to design trips that visit the sites, and provide opportunities for unique, authentic experiences. Families often connect with people and places important to them like orphanages, birth hospitals, places of finding, foster homes, caregivers & birth family.


Adoptees and their families often tell us they feel like the trip was planned “just for their family” even when traveling with one of our Flagship Ties or Ties Lite groups. That is our goal for each and every traveler on this journey of identity.


You can relax and focus on the amazing experiences and emotions this trip brings. You can trust us to be on top of all the details! Plus, we’ll build in free time as well as flexibility so you can do the things YOU want to do without worry.


Our full team of adoption specialists will be at your disposal including a logistical genius, our in-country team, and English-speaking local guides and translators. We offer optional Connect & Chat for adoptees and Talk Time for parents and spouses. Ties offers the most supportive way to experience your birth country.


It is impossible to overstate the importance of adoptees traveling with other adoptees,
or families traveling with other familie
s. It provides community, resources, friendships, and STRONG bonds through shared experience.


We’ve done adoptive family heritage journeys for almost 30 years now. Nearly every day, we hear from a Ties alumni adoptee or parent. Many of the adoptees traveled as pre-teens or teens and are now in their 30’s or 40’s or even 50’s. They continually talk about the profound impact of their Ties experience. We couldn’t feel more joy to hear their words.

by The Ties Program

Birth Country Connections and Their Impact — The Heart of the Journey

For more than 30 years, adoptees and their families have been setting off on global adventures with the goal of learning more about their birth countries, and ultimately themselves. At the heart of every journey, adoptees are making unique and important connections as they strive to answer, “Who am I?”

You might be inclined to think the only important connections involve meeting birth family. It is true that more international adoptees are meeting birth family than most of us ever imagined possible. However, the points of connection helping adoptees get comfortable in their skin are much more varied and vital to understanding the impact of a heritage journey.

The People We Travel With

There is really no way to overstate the importance of adoptees traveling with other adoptees and their families.

Bonnie MacAdam shared, “The healthiest outcome of the trip for my daughter is that going with a group normalized her situation and her adoption.”  A Kazakhstan Ties adoptee described the shift in thinking like this: “Seeing how happy, warm, fun and just normal all the families were was so important. The kids like me were Americans, but also Kazakh. White parents with Kazakh children. We’re a normal family. Whew!”

The connection among the adoptees traveling grows stronger day by day. “We arrived as strangers and left as family,” says Nicholos Brunson, 15. So, what’s the magic that makes this happen? First, for many of the adoptees, it is the first time in their lives where there is no need to explain their family makeup and who they “really” are.  The other adoptees simply get it.  Some participants have been to culture and/or adoption camp, giving them a leg up on this liberating phenomenon. Campers say this aha moment feels more like, “Oh yeah, back to this comfortable space again.” One of many great reasons for attending camp.

Creating a comfortable, safe space is key to helping adoptees engage and connect further. Together, adoptees visiting their birth country sightsee, learn about culture, explore adoption issues, and have oodles of fun. But many of the things they do come with a twist.

Picture this: adoptees in Korea learning how to make kimchee, or in Guatemala learning how to clap a tortilla into a round, flat patty.  Sounds fun, right? But here’s the thing—food (whether eating it or making it) is intricately reflective of cultural understanding. It takes a lot of courage for teens, tweens and young adults to show interest in something, especially something that communicates “I don’t know the basics of the culture I was born into, but I want to learn.” It would be like a teenager from the U.S. who had never eaten a hamburger, or learned how to make one. Think of the emotions around not knowing. Now, imagine the pride of understanding and mastery.

On Ties trips adoptees can choose to take part in Connect & Chat gatherings where they have an opportunity to further connections, have fun, and to the degree they are interested can begin to process their birth country experience in real time.  They also have lots of ongoing conversation.  “During the trip, I met other kids who were dealing with the same identity issues I was,” reflects Anisha Pitzenberger, who was 17 when she traveled.  “All of a sudden, I realized I was not alone. Talking with the kids I had so much in common with gave me a whole new insight into who I was.”

The People We Meet

The people adoptees encounter in their birth country create connection unlike any other component of the journey. When they can be located, adoptees’ first caregivers tend to be high impact connections. In India, caregivers are called massis. Many years ago, International Mission of Hope in Calcutta closed, and many of the massis relocated to Sabera’s school for girls. With Ian Forber-Pratt leading the India Ties group, Jackson Walker, 18, visited Sabera. The massis were all gathered when Ian began to share the Indian names of the adoptees present. As he said Jackson’s Indian name there was a stir among the women. A massi grabbed his arm, and said “You are mine, even mine, even after 18 years!” She pulled his cheeks (really she did), and Jackson thought, “I found the piece of India I came looking for. And it is mine.”   

Jennie Mullen, 14, met her foster father in China. He hugged her and burst into tears. Jennie cried too, feeling both overwhelmed and happy. Her foster father held her hand the entire time they were together.  “Are you typically a hand holder?” I was compelled to ask. “No, not at all,” she said. “But, I wanted him to keep holding my hand,” she added sweetly, as she recounted the significance of the connection.

Some people adoptees meet in their birth country have been part of their life story from the beginning.  Mrs. Thuy, the proprietor of the now-closed Claudia Hotel in Hanoi, is one such person. Parents frequently stayed at the Claudia when they adopted, and it’s safe to say all families who stayed with Mrs. Thuy would love their kids to meet her. When they do, Mrs. Thuy showers them with love. In doing so, the adoptee becomes actively involved in their own story, a powerful point of connection.

People of importance can be, and often are, somewhat more casually encountered.

Jennie Mullen thought back on a day when it rained so hard she and her parents were stuck along the side of a road for two hours while streets swelled with water. “People who lived in the area were walking around, still doing their errands, carrying baskets of food, some walking their bikes.” Jennie remembers it as a high impact day for her, feeling especially connected to the everyday people with whom she shares her heritage.

Eleanor Chin, 16, made an unexpected connection in China. While there, she interacted with lots of school kids, all wearing uniforms.  Eleanor didn’t resist the message her heart was giving her. “A desire to have my own uniform kindled inside me,” Eleanor remembers. So, the next day she and her dad went on a mission to purchase one. “You can only get those in schools” a store owner advised her.

To her surprise, the store owner went on to say, “My daughter graduated. You can have her uniform.” Even more surprisingly, the store owner offered to have it mailed to Eleanor’s next hotel!  Can you imagine the power of this stranger’s kindness? Long story short, Eleanor now has her very own Chinese school uniform. “My happiness in that moment was unsurpassed,” Eleanor told me.  “The experience contributed greatly to me as a Chinese girl –I’ve always known I was adopted from China but I feel more connected to those roots now.”

The Family We Meet

Birth family meetings of staggering importance are happening in many countries.

Luke Ferriby remembers always knowing he would have the opportunity to travel to Korea when he was 18. His parents, supportive of a search, sent letters and pictures to the social service agency every year on his birthday. When the year came for them to travel, word came back from Korea. His birth mother would not meet. Such hard news.

But then, something else came to light. His birth mother had never received the letters or pictures. What happened next is mind boggling. All 18 letters were translated and sent to Luke’s birthmother along with the pictures. All in one day, she poured through year after year of his life, and learned about the family he had grown up in.  What initially seemed impossible was going to happen. She agreed to meet Luke.

They met at the social service agency, went to lunch, then to Starbucks for green tea smoothies. It became apparent that their time together was coming to a close, no one knowing if they would ever have another opportunity. “I had stuff I had to say,” Luke told me. “At 13 or 14, I realized I had things I wanted to say to her.” And so, with the end nearing, Luke stood. This is what he said: “Please don’t think I am mad at you. I am healthy. I have a good family. Please don’t worry anymore.” Luke said what was on his heart, having made the connection he needed to make.

It is also important to recognize that meeting birth family is not the goal for all adoptees.

Jessica Lackner was 17 when she traveled to Vietnam. While meeting her birth mother had many made-for-Hollywood moments, and Jessica is glad to have met her, she was clear, “Meeting my birth family was not the biggest part of the trip.” She went on to explain. “I really wanted to see where I came from. When I arrived in CanTho, I felt closer to what I had come for than anywhere else.”  She saw the hotel where her mom and grandmother stayed when they traveled to bring her home. She saw how people in the area live out their lives surrounded by the waters of the Mekong Delta. She shopped in the shopping mall that sits on the site of what once was the hospital where she was born. Those were the connections she felt filled her. “If I had not met my birth mother, that would have been ok,” she told me.

Final Thoughts

Over time, I’ve come to appreciate that while meeting birth family is intensely important for many adoptees, it is not true for all.  What each adopted person needs to feel complete is as unique as the individual. At the heart of the journey there are countless possibilities for connection. We simply need to create safe spaces and honor the time necessary for making them.

Becca Piper is the founder and co-director of Adoptive Family Travel by The Ties Program.