Some of my colleagues from smaller countries are always getting invitations to various functions put on by their respective embassies and in some ways seem to be tighter knit group. Maybe there is strength in less numbers. On the other hand, those colleagues of mine from larger countries with a substantial presence in Korea like Canada have a chance to participate in some festivities as a group like their annual Thanksgiving bash.Living and working overseas for the most part (and for most expatriates) is a great adventure (to say the least), not to mention a worthwhile experience, but when some special holiday in your native country rolls around and you are far from home, you might feel a little sad and homesick. Of course, some holidays like Buddha’s Birthday can be enjoyed by Buddhists from around the world here as well as Christmas, which in recent years has become quite the holiday with all the commercial trimmings.
Notwithstanding, if you are an American living and working in Korea, it can be somewhat of a bummer when some holiday or other special event rolls around. Don’t get me wrong folks, I am not a crybaby or anything, but if you are an American in Korea and you are not connected with the military, you are pretty much on your own if you want to celebrate any holidays or special events.
Maybe some people think that there is too much of America in Korea, so we shouldn’t whine because our Canadian friends are having a ball at their Thanksgiving bash, or our New Zealand colleagues get special invitations to some embassy-related function. Fair enough for all us Starbucks, Dominoes, and Mickey D’s junkies, but it would be nice for a little something special now and then.
If there were one holiday that can be a drag to miss if you are an American living and working in 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.
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. 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 here which 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. For the past couple of years some of my colleagues from Yonsei and myself have made our annual holiday pilgrimage to the USO in Camp Kim for our turkey dinner and all the trimmings. It’s 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 does 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 have been in Korea I have 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.
I have a lot to be thankful for living and working in Korea. I have been blessed with a good job and great colleagues and for what it is worth; the time that I have spent here in Korea has been truly a worthwhile and rewarding experience. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change anything. Well, maybe a few things, but I am still thankful for having this opportunity to do what I do.
Tomorrow, when I am sitting down to my plate of turkey, dressing, and yams, I can be thankful for a lot of things. I might not be with my loved ones again this year, but the spirit of the holiday shines brightly in my heart and soul.