2021 Fall Academics Korea Rebekah Harding Temple Exchange

Celebrating Chuseok during level four COVID-19 distancing measures

If you’ve ever stayed on campus during fall break, you’re probably more than familiar with the term “friendsgiving.” This past week was Chuseok, which is often described as the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving. During the three-day-long celebration, most schools and businesses are closed to allow everyone to travel back to their hometowns. The only thing stronger than my excitement for nearly a week off from classes was the sense of feeling a little bit left out. 

Even after beating the initial wave of homesickness weeks prior, seeing families traveling to celebrate the Chuseok holiday together without the distraction of all day long classes made me feel like I was taking steps backward in my adjustment to life in Korea. So, my friends and I made a plan. 

Unfortunately, because of level-four social distancing guidelines, staying out overnight is still a no-go for exchange students. Instead of hitting up the same neighborhoods in Seoul, we decided to take a two-hour bus ride just south of Seoul to Yongin to visit a Buddhist Temple and the Korean folk village to learn more about Korean traditions on the first day of the holiday. 

At the Korean folk village, we got to learn about traditional crafts and watch a pansori performance. We even got to eat traditional Korean dishes at the outdoor food court— easily the best seafood pancakes I’ve ever had. Taking the time to get out of Seoul and experience a different aspect of Korean culture was extremely impactful and gave us a chance to reframe some preconceived notions we held about Korean culture. For instance, some expats on popular sites like TikTok reinforce the idea that people from outside of Seoul can be cold to foreigners or discourage outsiders participating in traditional activities, but that couldn’t have been further from our experience. Everyone at the folk village was so welcoming and their enthusiasm made us just as excited to be invited into such a special space.  

At the Buddhist Temple, we filled out a prayer leaflet together and hung it alongside all of the other prayers and wishes from visitors before us. We selected good health and success in school as our two greatest wishes and signed our names on the back. This kind of practice is extremely commonplace at Buddhist Temples and everyone is invited to participate regardless of religion. 

Exploring the Wawoojeongsa Temple in Yongin, South Korea

The next day, on the main day of Chuseok, we made plans for a “friendsgiving” feast at our friend’s apartment in Incheon, just an hour away from Seoul. Since most stores remain closed through the whole holiday, we each made plans to bring our own dishes to share. In a modge podge of random snacks and ingredients, we ended up with Dunkin Donuts, soju, ranch, pasta, potato chips, and a few pieces of triangle kimbap— not the most traditional Chuseok spread.

Adjusting to cultural differences alone in your host country can be difficult, but having a few friends in the same boat helps turn those growing pains into memories you’ll never forget. Even if it’s having Dunkin Donuts and pasta on the floor of your friend’s apartment to prevent the holiday blues. 

Learn more about adapting to culture shock during your study abroad experience.

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