NCFA member agency Hopscotch Adoptions submitted this guest post on behalf of a family who recently traveled to complete the adoption of their daughter Sofija from Serbia. As one of the first families invited to travel to complete an intercountry adoption from Europe, there are a number of helpful insights, tips, and lessons learned that will be helpful for families who are still waiting for their invitation to travel and finally bring their children home.
We were ready. We had completed all of the paperwork and it was time bring home our daughter-to-be, Sofija! The countdown was on and we were leaving to adopt her in seven days! Then came the news that President Trump closed the borders to travelers from Europe. Fearing the worst we immediately began communicating with our agency, Hopscotch Adoptions. Serbia was still open and the decision was ours. Travel or wait and see? We had a quick meeting with our family and the decision was unanimous - pick up Sofija now! But then on March 15, our plans came to a screeching halt when Serbia’s President Aleksander Vucic declared a state of emergency and nearly every flight in the world was cancelled due to Covid-19. We were in limbo as we watched the news and prayed.
Nearly two months later in mid-May, we opened our emails to amazing news! We had been invited to come to Serbia and begin the final stages of our adoption process in-country on June 1... if we were willing to follow certain requirements. Booking flights turned out to be more challenging than we expected, so much so that this mama emailed the White House about 15 times begging for a ride. Finally we got some help from Adoption Airfare who found us a route to Belgrade!
The requirements to travel were strict and ever changing. We needed a negative Covid test which had to be administered less than 72 hours before landing and our best flight options had us flying and in airports for about 40 of those hours. We ended up getting the test while driving across our state to the airport. Talk about cutting it close. To enter Serbia, we had to have a special permit, so there were several calls to the Serbian Embassy in Washington, DC to obtain it.
We bought 200 paper masks because masks were required for flights, in airports, and by everyone we were going to see in Serbia. I also packed plenty of hand sanitizer and we started religiously taking our vitamins.
On May 30, OKC airport looked like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie: nearly deserted and with very few flights coming and going. Dallas was more lively and we were able to eat lunch at a restaurant before boarding our long flight to London. The trans-atlantic flight was half empty and the only business open at the London airport was a convenience store where cold sandwiches and chips comprised the menu. The last leg of the journey into Belgrade surprised us - every seat on the plane was full! It was actually kind of refreshing for things to seem more normal for a minute - except for the masks.
Our time in Serbia was amazing, but different than pre-Covid adoption trips. While we visited Sofija at her orphanage for bonding, we had a strict routine every time we came and left. Wearing masks upon arrival, our shoes were bleached at entry and we washed up and donned lab coats to cover our clothes. Then we were taken to a room that had been set aside and isolated for us for a week to visit with our daughter. In that room, we changed into clothing that we kept at the orphanage before Sofija came in to spend time with us. When we left each day, we changed back into our original clothes, donned the lab coats, and exited. We wore masks for all official appointments which at this point felt like a part of our wardrobe. Aside from these precautions, things were pretty normal most of our time in-country.
Everyone in Serbia worked so hard to make our process there smooth and comfortable. People seemed to have been anticipating the day they were once again allowed to do their part and jumped at the chance to make our adoption happen. U.S. Ambassador Godfrey was at the US Embassy the day we went for Sofija’s visa and took a moment to meet us and even gave Sofija his US/Serbian flag lapel pin as a memento.
On our trip home, Sofija did great with the precautions. We were fortunate that our seven year old daughter is like a brilliant adult in so many ways. In one airport the assist person who brought her wheelchair told Sofija she was allowed to remove her mask, and Sofija replied, “No thank you. I don’t want to catch the Coronavirus.” We used the sanitizing wipes that we had saved to wipe down armrests and tray tables for our kiddo and a lot of sanitizer. The flight attendants were very attentive and kind to our family and Sofija elicited many a smile with her sunny disposition and excitement for America.
Coming home was the best. Sofija’s 10 brothers and sisters, grandparents, extended family and family friends decorated the house, prepared a huge meal, and showered Sofija with gifts and love! Everyone was ecstatic to be living the day we had all waited for for so long! The pandemic has had many of us feeling hopeless in being separated from our children for months, but if there is a silver lining it’s to see God’s love through so many people in different countries and walks of life. Everyone is working together for one family at a time and for that we are so grateful.
Travel tips in the conditions right now:
-Use disposable paper masks and bring enough to change them out every few hours. You will be much more comfortable if you have a fresh mask during the long hours in them.
-Hand sanitizer is your friend.
-Pack snacks - everything may be closed at the airport.
-Most of all, just realize the entire world is figuring this out as we go and give grace and love to everyone you come across. No matter how inconvenient or ridiculous things may feel, it is a privilege to bring our children home. We felt honored to have an agency and in country team, family, friends, and travel agency that all made it a priority to safely get our daughter home as quickly as possible.