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Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Nurture versus Nurture
We cannot definitely say what part of us is biological and what part is a product of our environment is, but for some adoptee friends coming back to Vietnam has resolved some of these issues and helped us figure out ourselves. Being able to look at your biological family might answer a lot of questions for who you are, but take this away and then you can only go back to the environment you originally came from.
When asking Kai what part of him is Vietnamese, he confidently says that he can relate to how people here share, especially in the family. For Kai, there’s no doubt that he’s willing to share and take care of those around him which is obvious by his generous and friendly nature.
What brought Kai back to Vietnam was a gradual process of learning Vietnamese culture, first back in Munich and continues in the present now living in Ho Chi Minh City. Unlike my experience in the US, Kai did not have the same early opportunities to attend adoptee reunions to learn about Vietnam and meet others adoptees. Being adopted was rather a fact, remaining for a long time undefined, and something that Kai had to process by himself.
From the day Kai arrived into his mother’s care, Kai was a part of his German family and undeniably accepted as German from that point on. To discover what it is like to be a Vietnamese adoptee came later in Kai’s teenage years as what he explained as a personal self-exploration to understand who he is. It was later in Kai’s early adult years that he started to connect with other adoptees and had a Vietnamese girlfriend. From dating a Vietnamese girl Kai said he learned so much about Vietnamese culture and the importance of Vietnamese family such as dependency and his role to take care of girlfriend which extended to her family.
There have been many studies on how much environment affects one’s behavior and for many adoptees the ratio between nature versus nurture can never be fully answered. One thing we can undeniably state is that we are the sum of our experiences. For Kai, he laughs when he says many things about him are typically German. For example, he says like other Germans he complains a lot, that he’s not flexible and that he’s very decisive. Kai is eager to learn Vietnamese and embraces the culture, however he knows that characteristics about him are Western and it also important that others understand that about him as well. Kai states that “as adoptees we are lucky since we can go back and forth between being western and being Vietnamese, we are both. This is to our advantage.”
Being adaptable is a common trait amongst Vietnamese adoptees. Having grown up in western culture, mostly in white families and neighborhoods, we accepted our difference and adapted to fit in. Coming back to live in Vietnam is also challenging being confronted by language barriers and learning the nuances of the culture, but again we can adapt and continue to grow.
To live with a Vietnamese family is probably the best way to know Vietnamese culture and for Kai this was something he had sought and found with his fiancées family. Something so little as sharing a meal with a family is considerably an ordinary activity; however as adoptees we take to such actions with both pride and humility. We know that others who do not know our backgrounds usually expect us to have gone through these motions our entire lives. And so we can only identify with this and feel a sense of fulfillment as it is something comforting, almost familiar as it makes up who we are.
--------------------------------------------------------------- Kai Kleiber
Hometown: Munich. Germany Birth date and Birthplace: April 18, 1974 Occupation: Regional Sales Director for Medical Devices Duration of stay in VN to date: Been coming to Vietnam to visit and for work since October, 2004. Living in Saigon since September 2008