One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” –Henry Miller

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Korean Take on an American Tradition

 Korean take on American Thanksgiving right here before you: muffins, apples, melon, chocolates, chicken Caesar salad, grapes, shrimp salad, sweet potato casserole, bananas, and, yes, even pumpkin pie
I know its 14 hours premature for my friends and family back home, but here I am in Korea,  celebrating Thanksgiving with my fellow teachers. I thought Thanksgiving might feel a little hollow this year with me being away from home and enveloped by a completely different culture; and yet, paradoxically, I feel so full.  Maybe not full from festive dishes like turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce (oh, how I lament not having these dishes!), but none the less full of warm, fuzzy, oozy emotions... and Caesar salad, muffins, and sweet potato casserole.  Not your traditional Thanksgiving.  One look at our spread and I'm flashed to something from the Peanuts Gang. Well, it was quite a leap from a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. I don't think Snoopy brought shrimp salad and chocolate truffles.

I'm compelled by tradition to say how thankful I am this year.  I'm thankful for my friends and my family, and (ironically) I'm thankful for a job that has also pulled me away from them. For me, there is nothing like being away from home to make me miss it and appreciate it down to my very core.  I wish that weren't the case. I wish it didn't take a holiday or being halfway across the world to remind myself of these things.  I'm guilty.

It's funny, people have asked me if I feel different about the U.S after living abroad.  I suppose they wonder if I've turned into an ex-patriot wanna-be and find myself more bitter, cynical, and critical as the days go by. Yet, nothing could be farther from the truth. Nothing makes me miss my home more; nothing makes me more grateful; and if I come back with criticisms, they are only with the hope that a country that I love will improve itself.

I am also thankful for my fellow teachers. They are wonderful women.  I find that, time and time again, they will go to great lengths to help one another.  I've been drawn into this community, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that I'm the newest and youngest teacher at the school. I'm asked "how are you" quite frequently and I get the distinct impression that they are not asking out of courtesy but out of genuine concern.

Last week Mrs. Kim asked me a similar question and I told her that I was great, but maybe a little homesick with the holidays around the corner. I explained Thanksgiving and told her that it was a big holiday in the U.S.  She said a few words in Korean to some of the other teachers and the subject was dropped, but not for long.  On Tuesday Mrs. Kim told me that they wanted to have a "Korean Thanksgiving" on Thursday.  They asked me what Americans usually eat. I rattled off a list.

"Stu--ffing??"  "Yes, Stuffing," as I pointed to a picture I'd pulled up online. They laughed. I didn't understand their words, but their expressions were saying "NO!"  I couldn't sell them on "stu--ffing," but I think I won some advocates in the sweet potato casserole category. This dish was my contribution to the potluck today.  Someone else was good enough to buy pumpkin pie at Costco (a little piece of the U.S. right there for our non-turkey Turkey Day convenience). We may not have had turkey and we may not have had cranberry sauce, but oh man did we have pie!


  1. Ok, I'll admit. I haven't read your post (yet). But is it wrong that the first thing I thought when I saw the picture was, "WAIT! Are those COSTCO MUFFINS???"

    PS-Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. well I am glad that you had a piece of thanksgiving with you there! and btw since i am just catching should know that i am thankful to have you in my life and be one of my oldest and closet friends!

  3. Me too me too! I'm thankful for you, Jessie :-) Love and miss you!

  4. I am of course thankful for you too Jen. I think it goes without saying. =)