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 or

©Cha Jones, The Nomadic Chick