Thursday, November 28, 2013

Survival Tip: Thanksgiving in Korea


Ok, so technically yesterday was the actual day of Thanksgiving and most people back in the sStates have already finished their Thanksgiving meals, but I felt that it was too momentous of a holiday for me to pass up commentary.

This will be my third (wait... what?!) Thanksgiving in Korea and, brothers and sisters, it is different and can become a bloodbath if you aren't careful, reasonable, and mindful of the real reason for the season. Celebrating holidays from your native land in a country where you can rarely even find the same groceries you used to enjoy can get pretty tricky. Here are some of my pointers for getting the most out of your...

American Thanksgiving in Korea-

The Atmosphere

The holidays in Korea can be... tough... like, crying into your gin and tonic in the corner of a loud ass club when all you wanted to do was dance the pain away tough (not saying that I've done that... shut up!). If you've ever been homesick for America, be prepared to have that x10,000 at the holidays. The think you need to do is make the most of it.

1) Don't try to make Korea America

Because it just isn't and never is going to be. Sure, you can go to "Little America" in Itaewon, you can eat food that tastes essentially the same, but it's never going to feel quite right. There's always going to be that missing feeling. I've seen many expats get distraught, angry, or resentful over the fact that they can't force Korea to be the same as home. It's time to give up the old traditions and make your own traditions.

2) Surround yourself with people you care about

It's really best to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with only the people you really love, who have been the core of your support group in your expat life. Don't hang out with those "friends" who you're only seeing because thy invited you to their potluck and you thought it'd be rude to say no. Say no! If you're with a group of people you don't care about, chances are you'll feel more alone than if you were ACTUALLY alone. Even if there are only two people you really care about in this country, two of quality is better than 10 of "meh,"

3) Potlucks

Now, I typically freaking hate potlucks in Korea. I hate having to bring food on the subway or carry it on the street, the sides of the container burning my hands and my carefully prepared food cold by the time anyone eats it. When a potluck rolls around I'm the first to volunteer to bring booze or disposable dishes. However, at the holidays, I really see their value. You'll be tickled to see how your friends have tried to recreate the holiday staples with whatever it was they could find in the grocery store. Sure, it might not taste as good as it would have in America, but at least you'll know you weren't the only one who couldn't find rosemary anywhere!

4) Include Non-Americans

They may not see the true spirit of the holiday but, as we get closer to Christmas, chances are they're missing home exactly as much as you are. Yeah, Canadians will laugh and say "my Thanksgiving was a month ago," UKers will giggle at your strange casseroles, Aussies and South Africans will comment on how they always go to the beach on Christmas, and Koreans will be just BAFFLED by the food you guys are eating, but, if you care about these people, just smile, nod, and let them have their moment. Too much of the expat life is spent in commentary about how our lives back home were different, expat joy comes from truly finding your new life and appreciating it for exactly what it is, not what you wished it was.

5) Eat and Drink!

Seriously, STUFF YOURSELF! And don't be upset that it doesn't taste exactly the same. This is freaking Korea and the people who made your food did their very best, some of whom have never had to cook their own Thanksgiving before. If you drink enough, you'll stop caring that the turkey is overdone or that the stuffing isn't made the way you like it. Sit your butt down on that warm ondol floor and laugh with your friends about something their student did this week. Spill wine and help clean it up. Pick every last bit of meat off that bird carcass and scrape the mashed potato bowl clean.

Thanksgiving is about just that, giving thanks. You may be most thankful for your friends and family back home, but be thankful for Korea. Be thankful for the opportunities, people, and experiences you've had here, good or bad, that you would have never been exposed to if you had just stayed home. Take a second to see the positive ways in which it has changed you. Sure, maybe your hagwon is trying to cheat you out of some money. Maybe your students are little brats. Maybe your boss is a dick. Maybe you hate Korean food (I am so sorry that we can't be friends). But all of those things have taught you something about yourself and have taught you how to survive.

Be thankful that you even have the opportunity to be angry about these things. You made a major life decision, you left your comfort zone completely in the dust, you've been braver than most people ever would be. Be thankful for your strength.

Be thankful for all of it. ^_^

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