A little melancholy, I arrived at the subway station in suspense of the evening’s festivities. I had worked all day, and now it was time to walk, talk, and experience Christmas in South Korea. It would be my first Christmas in Korea away from all things familiar. As I exited the subway station I was greeted with the sound of Christmas music dancing in the air and huge Christmas trees with dangling lights that glimmered festively throughout the area.

To my amazement things in Seoul were beginning to look a lot like Christmas and put me in the mindset of New York City, but not so much. Swirling around from the subway station steps, I felt like I was in a movie, I heard the universal sound of laughter as bells were ringing and families were ice skating in a rink smack dab in the middle of the city. It wasn't far from the nostalgic Christmas I had grown to know as American.

As I stood awaiting my friend Nicole, I tried to take it all in, but I was a little taken aback. Even the horse drawn carriages were decorated in lights and Christmas ornaments. There was an excitement that was dancing in me, as home wasn't so distant anymore. Of course there is never anything the same as home, but in that moment, it was surely the next best thing.

Nicole finally arrived and together we allowed the sounds of Christmas to carry us away in delight. After catching up on life in Korea we continue to walk and talk our way to the skating rink were families were putting their small children in tiny little ice skating boots. Little ones were flopping all over as they awkwardly slide across the ice like a rocking chair. It was very amusing as we laughed, took pictures, and then began walking again. It was Nicole’s second Christmas in Korea, but for me, I was taking it all in like a child in a candy store with way too many options to preference only one.

My eyes were dancing in awe. This was Korea, right? The sometimes awkward and splendor scent of kimchi that lingered in the air had been replaced with the happiness of all things Christmas. As we admired some of the draping’s in the department store windows, I almost had forgotten that I was in Korea until I was bumped by a bunch of space intruding Korean teens. Back in reality, we decided to flee from the cold and get a bite to eat.

In grand Korean style we found a coffee house/restaurant that served Italian food and gelatos. Even there, it had begun to look and sound like Christmas as festive music played in the background and all the pastries marveled in red and green icing. Snuggled in our seats we were two African America women who had sailed away from the shores of American life in search of all things new and exciting. However, that evening for the first time in a long time, I missed being at home in America. 

We laughed and talked about our likes and dislikes just as we had done on any other occasion, but this time it was a little different. It was almost Christmas and as we enjoyed a little Italian food, a glass of wine, and Christmas in Korea, I remembered that home is the place where your heart knows content. I was at home in Korea with a friend who I now call family.

It was Christmas in Korea and even though I was a way from most things familiar, I was getting to know content. 

Cha Jones lived in South Korea for little over three years, but is back in the United States where she is an international speaker, storyteller and the founder and CEO of Expat Women of  Color. Cha is also the author of Every Girl Needs her Pearls and The New Urban International Migration. For more informaiton on Cha you can visit her at www.chajones.com or www.expatwomenofcolor.com

©Cha Jones, The Nomadic Chick 

 Although my family did not really celebrate commercial holidays, Thanksgiving has always been a time where we gathered, reminisced, and appreciated one another just because. As an expat the most challenging times can be the nostalgic moments that are normally spent with the people you love. Expat life often encompasses a myriad of highs and lows. However, the holiday season can either offer new and exciting experiences, or very depressing and dark withdraws.

When I was living in South Korea, my first Thanksgiving was very similar to Thanksgiving at home in America. A group of us met at someone’s home where all the tradition Thanksgiving fixings where laid out just as I had been accustom to at home. We had a huge turkey, sweet potatoes, greens, potato salad, broccoli, and all types of cakes. Gluttony at its finest. However, we also had the pressure of being connected to people with access to the U.S. military where those items were accessible. But what if you are living abroad and you don’t have the pleasure of connecting with a group of people or you can’t get American food?

Doing it differently…

Who said that Thanksgiving had to be the same way you remembered it year after year. You are on a new journey and it might be a fine time to create a new tradition where Thanksgiving doesn’t look anything like it used to. I am sure if you ate turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, and greens (the good Southern fixings), then nothing will ever compare to your mother or grandmothers traditional spread. However, there is no need to stick to tradition when you are globetrotting across the world in places that do not even celebrate the likes of Thanksgiving.

The commercialism in the holiday itself can quickly start a debate that could circle the globe a thousand times, but in looking at a day of Thanks, then the celebration of Thanksgiving is in no way reserved for America or tradition. In all honestly, we should find something to be thankful for everyday no matter where we are. Therefore, as an expat the time and day set aside in observation of Thanksgiving is not limited to any tradition. This is a great opportunity to gather new friends and people who have become extended family to create new a custom that reflects where you are currently in your life and where you are living.

Where is the turkey?

Let’s just say you are living in Japan, maybe your new tradition encompasses seafood served tempura style with many different types of sushi, Kobe steak, and sticky rice. Your new thanksgiving doesn’t need turkey and dressing invited to the party. As a matter of fact, I recall having friends who totally disregarded the traditional gathering all together. They used their time actually globetrotting and seeing what the world had to offer while visiting a smorgasbord of new exciting adventures hoping from one destination to the next. 

So, if you currently living abroad and becoming a little home sick, it is normal to remember Thanksgiving as it has been, associated with family gathers and home cooked meals. But, it doesn’t have to remain that way at all. Don’t let Thanksgiving or any of the holiday swallow you up with depression. You are on a new adventure. You can recreate what Thanksgiving looks like and what it means to you.

Happy Thanksgiving wherever you are!

Cha Jones lived in South Korea for little over three years, but is back in the United States where she is an international speaker, storyteller and the founder and CEO of Expat Women of  Color. Cha is also the author of Every Girl Needs her Pearls and The New Urban International Migration. For more informaiton on Cha you can visit her at www.chajones.com or www.expatwomenofcolor.com

©Cha Jones, The Nomadic Chick 

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”
 – Alexander Pope

 Assumptions & Expectations

Cha Jones, June 17, 2014
The best advice to be given as an expatriate is “don’t assume anything.” As you prepare to venture into this new experience as an expat or an international traveler, it is important to understand that everything you were accustomed to at home may or may not apply. So, make no assumptions about your new experience and try to embrace change with open eyes. The same goes for expectations. It is best to have little or no expectations, because when you remove your expectations, you create room for an experience to take place. Expectations limit you to the results you have anticipated.  When living and/or traveling abroad, all your experiences are so vast that to expect a certain result only hinders your opportunities.

Do not assume…

  • The food will be gross.  Eat it and if it happens to be gross, you never have to eat it again.
  • That all people do things like Americans.  Every country and culture has their own ways of doing things. Take this time to learn something about the country and customs of the people living there.
  • That the people of your host country understand your gestures. Remember that sign language in not universal and some gestures can get you into a world of trouble.
  • That everyone understands your requirement for personal space.  Most Americans are comfortable with an arm’s length distance when interfacing others, yet many other countries are communal and have no idea that space can be personal. Personal space is something you may just need to get over.

Coffee and cheesecake in South Korea. (different, but not that differ

Remove your expectations…

  • Do not expect time to mean the same as it does in America. There are low context cultures and high context cultures and in high context cultures, people are relational, collective in their thinking and actions, tend to share most things, and time is spacious and very relaxed. However, in most low context cultures like America, people are more independent, out spoken, reserved in their giving and time is of the essence.
  • Do not expect to have the same conveniences of life. In a few countries, you might be very shocked or surprised at how convenient life is. Some countries have greater technological advancements than that of America; but on the other hand, there many countries that are not as advanced or convenient. When in Rome do as the Romans!
  • Do not expect everyone to have the same manners. Yes, we know that you have been taught to say “thank you,” “please,” and “excuse me.” However, there is no such thing as “common courtesy.”  Courtesy is not always common in many countries, and that does not make the country or the people rude, just different.
What have you been assuming? What expectations have you had that you either carried with you, or that have prevented you from going places?

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