Vietnam to Tuscany

Sheila Corwin describes her 15-year-old son’s journey from southern Vietnam to a town near Florence

Helen Farrell
February 18, 2020 - 16:57

Between 2004 and 2018, the number of children adopted from abroad in Italy decreased. According to data, the number of adopted children peaked in 2010 with 4,130 adoptions, and fell from that year onwards. In 2018, 1,394 children were adopted in Italy. For more information about international adoption in Italy, see www.commissioneadozioni.it/for-an-adoptive-family/the-path-of-adoption/the-adoption-procedure.

 

Adopting is a selfless act, even more so if you’re a Tuscan transplant from California who decides to adopt internationally. Sheila Corwin describes her 15-year-old son’s journey from southern Vietnam to a town near Florence. 

 

 

 

 

 

HF: Why did you choose to adopt from Vietnam?

SC: Originally, my husband wanted to adopt a little boy from Africa because he went to Burkina Faso for many years doing volunteer missions. In our case, the country we ended up adopting from chose us. Every country has its own rules. We didn’t adopt a child from Africa because you need to be married for five years. When we started our adoption process, it was after two years. We thought we were going to get a child from Brazil; we went to Lisbon to learn Portuguese, and while we were in Lisbon we received an email from the adoption agency in Florence telling us they had a little boy for us and asking if we were interested. They showed us a picture and we had to make a quick decision. 

 

 

HF: How did you both feel on seeing a picture of that boy, your future son, for the first time?

SC: He was adorable, absolutely adorable. Every country is known for what information they provide and unfortunately Vietnam doesn’t tell you much about the children. We knew very little about our son; we knew that he liked Coke, traditional Vietnamese soup and that he was a “big joker”. Other countries, like Colombia, tell you a lot more and they’re also better at preparing children for being adopted. If you’re planning to adopt a child from Russia or China, there are certain criteria: they don’t want the adoptive parents to be overweight or they want to see a picture of your car. 

 

 

HF: What were your first steps when you were considering international adoption?

SC: The first step was to declare suitability to become adoptive parents through the “Tribunale dei Minori” in Florence. This required several tests and sessions with psychologists. This initial bureaucratic step was very time consuming: it lasted a year. The second step was to find an adoption agency, so we just looked them up online and went to visit them. A lot of them have open meetings for couples who are interested in adopting. Every adoption agency works with different countries; ours worked with Poland, Lithuania, Colombia, Brazil and Vietnam. First of all, we attended many meetings to learn about adoption. We chose our agency on the basis that it was local, small and we felt it would be more family-oriented. The larger Amici dei Bambini agency had training sessions, so we went to some of them in order to become aware of the possible traumas children up for adoption might have experienced. These sessions were useful in learning how to deal with the potential challenges. After a certain number of meetings, we had to sign a contract with our chosen agency and then we went to pick up our son. 

 

 

HF: How did that go?

SC: Every country requires that you stay for a certain amount of time, so we had to remain for a month in Vietnam. Our son knew he was going to be adopted. In fact, he was actually going to be adopted by another Italian couple, but they changed their minds. 

 

 

HF: That must have been devastating for him.

SC: It was. He went back to the orphanage; the agency didn’t tell us the details about that in advance. They weren’t as open as they should have been. My first impression when we walked into the orphanage was the sheer number of kids; 200 or so children running around. Our adoption agency in Florence had people on-site, who met with us, advised us and translated for us, which was very important because our son spoke no Italian, apart from mamma, babbo, and ti voglio bene. That’s all he knew. We brought him home and it was difficult. He was speaking in Vietnamese and we couldn’t understand him.

 

 

HF: It feels uncomfortable to raise the subject of money when it comes to adoption, but I imagine it’s an expensive process.

SC: International adoption’s not cheap. I don’t remember how much we spent, but there are expenses in the child’s birth country and expenses from the local adoption agency in Italy. We paid installments directly to the agency. It probably cost 30,000 euro and it doesn’t end. You have to factor in that older children in particular have special needs. They may not have been to school and they may have been neglected. We continued with a psychologist after the adoption, which wasn’t included by our agency, so that was something that we paid for. 

 

 

HF: Why did you decide to adopt internationally instead of nationally?

SC: You can adopt nationally which has lower costs, but Italy’s goal is to return any child to their own family of origin. International adoption is more final and, once you have joined “the queue” your turn will come (sooner or later!), whereas fostering a child may be destined to end at a certain point by possibly returning the fostered child to their “blood” family. 

 

 

HF: Now that your son’s 15, how well has he integrated into life in Italy?

SC: Our son plays soccer, which means he’s made a lot of friends. He’s not that big on school and on doing homework, like most kids! The other day, we were out for dinner with our son from Vietnam, his friend from Cameroon, me from California, and my husband from Florence, which means we had four continents represented at one table. I’ve always been very open in terms of food choices for him, which has helped since he’s already had to make the shift from Asian to Italian food. He still eats with chopsticks and loves spicy food and instant noodles; he’ll make them for himself sometimes.

 

 

ADOPTION AGENCIES

If you’re considering international adoption, here’s one Florence-based agency.

Located in via del Ponte alle Mosse, Ai.Bi. Associazione Amici dei Bambini (www.aibi.it) is one of the largest adoption organizations in Italy with 25 regional headquarters and operating in 33 countries worldwide. The agency provides initial information about adoption and training courses, while supporting families before and after adoption.

Countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Kenya, Ghana, Morocco, Cambodia, China, Mongolia, Nepal, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Albania, Bulgaria, Russia, Kosovo, Moldava, Romania + Ukraine

 

 

For a complete list of adoption agencies authorized by the Italian government, see the Commissione Adozioni Internazionali website: 

www.commissioneadozioni.it/gli-attori-istituzionali/gli-enti-autorizzati

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