Christmas is my favorite season, but it honestly doesn’t feel like the Christmas season until you go through Thanksgiving. I hadn’t realized how much I depend on Thanksgiving to transition to Christmas until now. Thanksgiving with my family is a very traditional one. My entire family (extended and all) gathers at one home for turkey and pie. Our family gatherings are always so fun and never entail family drama. Though we are close, we have never been the ones to go around the table and say what we were thankful for. We may not vocally say what we are thankful for, but we spend the whole day catching up on each other’s lives. Since I wasn’t able to celebrate with my family, I was lucky enough to spend the day with new friends. Each of our parents couldn’t resist sending pictures of the delicious dinner, and the delicious homemade pumpkin pie. After receiving too many of these pictures from home, we knew we had to find a place to celebrate. With some luck, we found a café called “The Pie Hole” that sells pumpkin pie. (Side note: that pumpkin pie was DELICIOUS). Turkey is not eaten here, but we did our best to find delicious western style food. Though the holiday blues did make their way into many American international students, it didn’t stop the true meaning of Thanksgiving to enter my mind. What was I thankful for?
What am I thankful for in Korea? The answer to this question could possibly be miles long, but I’ve narrowed it down to a couple of things. The first, and definitely the greatest, are the friends I’ve made. I’m not gonna lie: making friends with other international students was not on the top of my list of what I expected to get out of the program. Though most of my friends are American, they are all from different parts of the country. I’ve not only learned about Korean culture, but the difference in cultures between other Americans. I love to joke that I’ve experienced more culture shock from other Americans than Koreans. The program I arrived with is named TEAN, which consisted of 25 students from around America. I’ve been lucky that all of us get along and support one another. I don’t tend to join them when they go out late at night clubbing, but I’ve made other friends that are as laid back as me. I can honestly say the few close friends I’ve made here have made this experience worth it. I didn’t expect to find someone from Texas and Pennsylvania with similar personalities as me. We spend most days just chilling at cafés, eating cake and sipping on coffee talking about nothing. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m positive I’ll be keeping in contact with them when we get back home.
The second thing I’m grateful for is the opportunity to be exposed to a different culture. One of the top things I was looking forward to was to experience a culture that has been shaped over thousands of years, but is only recently a democracy. As a new democracy, many of my professors have spoken about what it was like before. In my Theory of Political Institutions class, my professor loves to remind his students that just thirty years ago, there was fear of being arrested for speaking out against the government. It’s hard to put into words, but it is pretty evident Korea is a New Democratic state. A mix of collective and individualistic culture is the best way I can define the current culture among students.
Similar to the US, many avoid discussing politics. In my business ethics class, we discuss globalization, where I’m exposed to the most political opinions. Though I’ve only been here for a few months, it is pretty clear how pro democratic the youth is. The students are very aware of the different changes Korea has made, and still needs to make to progress. Though I do participate in class, I love to listen to the ideas of the Korean youth. The students I sit in class with are most likely the ones we deal with in US-Korea issues. It’s not hard to sense the passion they have for the future of their country, and can’t wait to see Korea’s progression through the years.
I can’t write a Thanksgiving post without explaining what I’m thankful for in America. I’m grateful for my friends and family back home. As I was sitting in church recently, my mind started to wander; It hit me how far away I was from home. I’m so thankful my parents supported my decision to study here. Thousands of miles away from America, and so close to North Korea, they had multiple arguments available to say no. They never hesitate to support my aspirations, even if they aren’t similar to theirs. I wanna make it known I’m especially thankful for my little sister, she reminds me not to take life too seriously. The fact that she FaceTimes me without a specific reason, to talk about random stuff makes me happy. My little sister keeps me grounded, and makes me feel most at home. I hope my decision to study abroad, will show how one can truly do what they set their mind on. I’m grateful for my closest friend back home, Leanne. She has put up with plenty of FaceTime requests and texts way too early in the morning for her. We have been best friends since birth, and she has proved that thousands of miles away and a sixteen hour time difference can’t get between our solid relationship.
Lastly, I’m grateful for America’s diversity. I love experiencing the Korean culture, but it has made me appreciate how diverse America is even more. Korea is a homogeneous country, so they are not exposed to many cultures. I love the melting pot I was born in, and I’m so thankful for our country’s celebration of different foods, cultures, dress, etc from around the world. I hadn’t realized how diverse we were until now. Growing up in America, I feel so many admire the countries with that long lasting culture, one that has lasted since the beginning of time. Though I too find beauty in that, I cannot help say that our culture is more beautiful. America is not perfect by any means, I’m not saying that, but I can honestly say I’m proud of our diversity. We truly are a melting pot.