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Expat Denial and Living my Kids’ Heritage, an Adoptee Perspective

by Laura on November 19th, 2012


Experiencing life in Serbia. Caveat: this terrace is of an uncommonly large size for apartment-living

Why (the hell) did you move to Serbia?

It’s a question I’m often asked—with and without the epithet, depending upon the asker’s point-of-view. Even before we moved, the conversation went like this:

“Have you visited Belgrade before?” Balkan friends living in Los Angeles would ask. “Are you sure you know what you’re getting yourself into?”

“Oh yes, I was there in 2003 for a week. Of course it’ll be different, but we want to simplify our life, and spend time with my husband’s family,” I would say.

Nodding reassuringly, more than one person tried to soften the blow, “Laura, it’s very different from LA, you do realize that, right? I was born there, and even I have a hard time readjusting to the differences when I go back to visit. And, you’re planning to live there.”

Aaaaaand so, my rationalizations began:

  • Living a developing country that’s still recovering economically from the devastating effects of war? No big deal. There’s no one bombing right now.
  • Seasons? Sure, I remember seasons, I did grow up on the East Coast after all. I can wear my fabulous winter clothes from my time in Ann Arbor!
  • No Target? No Ralph’s grocery delivery? I can handle it (eye roll).

Denial and her sister, The Overly Positive Attitude, were great traveling companions! (Insert sarcastic voice.)


Really, what are you doing here?

Friends, acquaintances, even vendors at the piaca (farmer’s market) want to know: Why are you here? Are your parents Serbian? Were you born here?

The quickest answer (so I can get on with my day), and the easiest (as in, the one I’m able to explain in my broken Serbian) is: My husband was born in Belgrade, and now we have little kids.

This response seems to present me in a positive light, i.e. the amenable wife—returning to her husband’s homeland. It reinforces the Balkan/good/compliant-wife old-school stereotype, right? (Ha! As if I’m that gal! I don’t even make soup from scratch for my husband every day!)


So, okay, but what’s the real reason?

There were a lot of factors that influenced our move. But the most compelling one is something I didn’t realize at first.

I knew it would be great for my kids to learn Serbian, I mean, who can argue with the benefits of raising bilingual kids? How posh. Turns out, there was more to it than that. By living in Serbia, I’ve connected to my husband’s past, and therefore my kids’ heritage and ethnic identity.

Growing up, I always kind of knew that my biological family was from New Jersey, and I spent my first seven years there before moving to Maryland. I knew my birth family was Irish Catholic, and I was raised Catholic, with Irish ancestry 4-5 generations back. So, it was all supposed to be “the same,” as if I fit in.

But that’s as far as it went. The adoption agency provided a couple of sentences about my heritage and considered that sufficient. (Let’s not even get started on the mysterious “family medical history” that was non-existent for closed adoptees.)

Now that I’ve married someone from a different culture than mine, I want my kids to know their biological background. By being here, Danica and Maksim live their heritage. We do plan to move back to the US at some point, but I want them to be able to travel to the homeland of her father, to speak the language as if they’re native.

Believe it or not, I want them to have the option to go to college in Serbia if they want. That’s important to me. My kids may have an American passports, but they are half-Serbian.


Any plans to return to the US?

As we contemplate our future plans, my eyes are wide open. I know the moment we’re back and immersed in American culture, their Serbian language skills will suffer big time. Don’t even get me started on car culture, excessive toys, expensive schools, and general materialism.

I’m also aware of what I’ll be giving up for what I may be getting. I’m reluctant to leave my kids’ preschool, my walking lifestyle, my time to write. Yes, I miss American conveniences and I can’t wait to relax at Target (yes I said, relax). I want to be closer to my family and friends, of course. But now, I’m asking myself:

Laura, are you sure you know what you’re getting yourself into?

Life in Serbia is the only one my kids really know. We’ve found friends who celebrate Halloween, but my kids don’t even know what trick-or-treating is, and that’s okay for now.


From → Adoption, Expat Mommy

  1. I really liked this post. I grew up in NJ to American-born parents (and grandparents), but have lately been fascinated by my Polish/German roots. I eat at the restaurants, I listen to the music. I would love to go one day, but I don't know the language, and I wish I did. Danica and Maksim are going to have a great advantage.
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    • Laura permalink

      I hope my kids will have an advantage, but I can just see how their Serbian language will fall away when we move back. As it is, my Serbian isn't good enough to speak to them–I make too many grammatical errors, and it frustrates my four-year old! I'm glad you're looking at your roots. It's great that we have so much diversity in the US, but in some ways we lose that connection to our heritage, don't we?

  2. I love your attitude and can relate to what you said about life in LA.I think you have several other books to write, as you know.
    Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Li recently posted..“My Gutsy Story” by Susan WeidenerMy Profile
    Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Li recently posted..“My Gutsy Story” by Susan WeidenerMy Profile

    • Laura permalink

      Sonia! You are so funny … I may have more books to write, but my time in Serbia is very "close to home" right now :) I've been thinking a lot about your perspective and reasons for moving to Belize, especially as they relate to my children. My kids are still so small, but they're already caught up in brand names and consumption. I love that after your year in South America, you felt that your kids had a better appreciation for material things. It's something I'm really thinking about as we plan our move back to Los Angeles. — Laura

  3. This is a really heartfelt written post and I can see, given your background, why you're keen for your kids to understand theirs. It's sucha healthy attitude to adopt – allowing your children (and yourself) the chance to look beyond all that is American…to see there are other places and cultures in the world. Bravo to you!

    Q: You allude to your birth family – have you ever met them?

    • Laura permalink

      Bex, Thanks for writing! Don't get me wrong … it was hard at first to let go of some of my American perceptions, especially when it comes to the safety of my kids (un-gated access to deep water at the seaside was one of my first heart attacks). Yes! Thanks for asking … I have met my maternal birth family, and it was amazing … in fact, that experience was the impetus to write my memoir, Adopted Reality, which is about my adoption reunion. –Laura

  4. I envy that you're giving your kids such a connection to their heritage and culture and an extra language.

    The terrace looks lovely.
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    Lori Lavender Luz recently posted..2012 Adoption Blogger Interview ProjectMy Profile

    • Laura permalink

      Yes! We get a lot of use out of our terrace, in that typical East Coast way, I've taken to saying: Hey! You want to do gymnastics? No jumping on the furniture, get your butts outside! … Actually, when we go back to Los Angeles, that type of "lawn" or terrace is also pretty difficult to find.

  5. Ah, I can so relate to this – and it is hard. Exciting though. Intercultural relationships can be a pain, but the advantages they bring are so worthy. Your bilingual children will be very grateful to you one day – no doubt here – once they pass puberty of course. :-) As for Serbians asking you about the reason of moving there, try telling them that Belgrade attracted you and you couldn't resist all that it offers. Maybe they'll stop looking outwards and ways to escape, and view the inward. :-)
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    • Laura permalink

      Sophie, This is a good idea … Well, I do get a mix of people, including ones who never left who still can't understand why I would come to live here. I think it's hard, because right now the economy is so bad, so if you want more from your life you need to leave to get a good job, etc. But, quality of life can be really great–people actually have time to socialize, develop friendships, hang out … They're not always rushing from one job to another. Laura

  6. Now the people are moving to serbia for the cold and snowfall which is cause of entertainment and enjoyment for the individuals. The approval of the new things has been done and ensured for the smooth conditions for the enjoyment of the people.

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