American Thanksgiving at the USO – Seoul, South Korea
If there were one holiday that can be a drag to miss if you are an American living and working in South Korea it would have to be Thanksgiving.
Aside from missing the great feasts that our mothers and grandmothers put on for our families, it’s one time of the year that you just might find yourself missing being back home a lot more than other times. I have been living away from home for most of my life and I can handle missing any number of celebrations, but come the fourth Thursday in November, I get a real bad case of those Thanksgiving Day blues.
Over the years, I have often been asked by my students and Korean friends if I ever feel homesick being in Korea for as long as I have (which is now 18 years). Sure, there are a lot of things that I might miss from time to time, but there are just a many things that I enjoy about living and working overseas that helps balance what I miss and what I don’t miss. Nonetheless, when we do have to miss out on some holiday or other special event it can be a bit of a bummer.
Fortunately for all of us Americans who live and work in Seoul, Thanksgiving does not have to be a bummer and we can still enjoy a great feast with our friends and colleagues. When I was working in Seoul, some of my colleagues and myself made our annual holiday pilgrimage to the USO (United Service Organizations) in Camp Kim (located near the War Memorial Museum) for our turkey dinner and all the trimmings. It was the next best thing to being home when you are halfway around the world.
The manager of the USO Canteen Mike Maddox, who also is a long-term expat in Korea did a superb job every year bringing a small part of home, in this case home cooking for those of us who could do with a bit of home while we are living and working in Korea. For as long as I lived in Seoul I only missed a few Thanksgiving feasts at the USO. Even in the aftermath of 9/11 the canteen was open and still had their holiday dinner.
I’ve tried some of the holiday spreads at a couple of the major hotels in Korea around Thanksgiving, but they pale in comparison to the USO. Maybe it’s just seeing Mike’s friendly face behind the counter greeting everyone as they come in, or being part of this shared experience with other expats that makes it all worthwhile. It might not seem very much to some people, but that plate of food and the chance to just enjoy being with our friends and colleagues is in the spirit of the season and something for us to be thankful for. Although we might be far from our homes and loved ones, Thanksgiving is also a time for us to give thanks for making it through another year.
Unfortunately, like last year I won’t be able to make it up to Seoul for Thanksgiving Dinner (it only takes an hour from Daejeon to Seoul by KTX—Korea’s high-speed train, but I teach on Thursday mornings). It’s going to make this holiday a little rough again I suppose.