Holidays overseas require a decent amount of improvisational skills

Sorry Anglophiles, this post is not about vacationing in a different country, but how to celebrate your cultural traditions while abroad.  This year has brought about a lot of changes in my life, and has given me a lot of firsts. This is my first time in Asia, my first time having an apartment, and my first time living in a country whose language I don’t speak.  To be bombarded with such drastic lifestyle changes at the tender age of 22 can be intimidating, and sometimes a very isolating experience.  I am fairly certain I’m the only apartment on my floor that has Christmas decorations around their walls, and it is a bit weird to go to work as per usual while loved ones in the US are all sitting down to their holiday dinner.

I haven’t been able to join my family for Thanksgiving since 2007, but have instead spent the past three years celebrating with a beautiful mishmash of different cultures.   In 2008, I was in Peru, where all of the Peruvian host families came together to throw an impressive Thanksgiving party for the Americans staying with them.  Potatoes were washed down with Inca Kola, and turkey was served alongside lomo saltado, my favorite Peruvian dish.  Last year, Thanksgiving was spent with my friend Oliver and his family, where we enjoyed good wine, good food, and, most happily, a good foreign-to-American ratio (meaning that we get to share stories about travel, life overseas and football hooliganism in the UK, instead of being subjected to the Patriots game).

I am happy to say that 2010 followed the same formula as all the Thanksgivings I can remember: good food + good people = successful holiday.  That being said, I have a theory about Thanksgivings overseas… they are always special.  When people are removed from their country, any typical cultural celebration becomes a much bigger event.  Depressed at the thought of living in a country that doesn’t really celebrate Christmas, I went to the store and bought Christmas lights, a small tree and Christmas candles to decorate my apartment- something I would undoubtedly be too cheap to do in the US.  In Korea, however, I’ll willing to put forth the extra effort and money to make sure that this holiday season is as normal for me as possible.  The same thing happens with Thanksgiving.

Both my Thanksgiving in Peru and my Thanksgiving in Korea stand out as one of my favorite memories in the country, and for good reason.  The holiday raises people’s spirits, brings them together as a community, and generally involves going out to clubs afterward (a tradition which I think should be brought back to the States).  In both Peru and Korea, this was the first truly American food I had had in months, as I’ve been informed that defrosting a pork chop in my toaster is not considered ‘cooking American food.’  But perhaps most importantly, both holidays have involved people eager to connect with one another, eager to share and contribute to the group, and eager to put forth the effort necessary to make Thanksgiving a success.  When you live in a country where turkey is not readily available and no one has heard of gravy or cranberry sauce, throwing together a holiday soiree is trickier than it may seem.  Throw in a language barrier and no ovens in apartment buildings, and you have a real challenge.  The fact that there even was a Thanksgiving dinner to enjoy this year shows that a group of people put in a tremendous amount of work, planning, and worrying to ensure that everyone had a good time.  An instant recipe for success.  Add to the mix the joy of sharing your traditions with people from different cultures, and you have the makings of a pretty memorable day.

So the next time you find yourself away from home for a holiday, don’t despair.  Grab some bottles of the local brew, recruit a small army of party goers, and feed everyone.  Positive vibes and happy people will make you feel at home in your new country.