Guest Post: What My Korean Ex Taught Me About Spending Holidays Abroad / Korean Culture and Information Service (Photographer name) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons / Korean Culture and Information Service (Photographer name) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
One of the greatest gifts of being in a cross-cultural or international relationship is how it changes your perspective on the world. That’s what happened to American book blogger Svetlana, who once dated a Korean guy — and at first, couldn’t understand his reluctance to celebrate the Korean Lunar New Year in America.

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“How are you going to celebrate Lunar New Years?” I asked him over the phone, holding my cell phone close to my ear.

He chuckled as if I made a joke instead of asking a serious question. “Back in Korea, there is already a holiday atmosphere, something that’s not here,” he told me. “It’s hard to get excited over Korean holidays.”

As much as I could relate to that, a part of me didn’t entirely understand. My family also came over to America and yet we celebrated Russian and Jewish holidays. So why was it hard for him to celebrate Korean holidays?

The only holidays he and I ever celebrated together were birthdays. We would talk about holidays, and I learned more about Korean culture and where he came from. But despite my wishes, we never celebrated any Asian holidays. Only a few times did we celebrate Valentine’s Day, mostly by giving each other small gifts. But other than that, nothing.

Only after he went back to South Korea did I finally understand why he didn’t celebrate Korean holidays with me.

Creating a community on your own is difficult, and holidays often mean intimate moments between family members instead of passing acquaintances or co-workers. Since I have my parents and my sister with me in America, it’s much easier to enjoy that sense of community. He was also surrounded by a Korean community, but how many of these people were his friends or family members? How many of them were able to understand and support him? I also realized it probably wasn’t easy for him to help me, an outsider, understand what to do and not to do for the holidays.

Sometimes when I met international students from China, it seemed as if they were living in survival mode. I doubted they celebrated Chinese holidays on their own. After all, when they have to worry about things like finances and even jobs, how can they have time to kick back and relax?

What if I had been an international student like him, dating a guy in that country? Would I have forsaken my own holidays, or would I have asked him to celebrate with me? Chances are, if I had worried about things like finances, I would have done the same as him.

It’s a shame I never had the chance to celebrate Seollal, the Korean Lunar New Year, with my past Korean boyfriend. Still, thanks to him, now I understand more how difficult it is to be here alone in America, especially during holiday gatherings, as well as the importance of establishing a community to help you celebrate holidays. All along, I took it for granted that I was surrounded by supportive family members to celebrate the holidays with me.

Svetlana is a book review blogger. She enjoys reading unique books set in Asian cultures, from classics to contemporaries, and introducing her followers to AM/WF books that aren’t so well known. Her blog has something for everyone. She is still single.
Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

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7 thoughts on “Guest Post: What My Korean Ex Taught Me About Spending Holidays Abroad

  • December 12, 2014 at 9:22 am

    Although there are many great points as to why you can enjoy the holidays abroad, personally I tend to disagree. I believe the holidays are what you make them – like I said in this post –

    Yes, you may not be surrounded by the people you have known for all your life, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting into the festive swing of things. I have spent many holidays, particularly Christmas, in Taiwan and I have had an amazing time!! Yes, it is different but in some ways it is a little better as it doesn’t surround gift giving and presents, but rather get-togethers, joy, and happiness!

  • December 12, 2014 at 10:34 am

    Family makes all the difference – especially for holidays that would be celebrated with family at home, not friends. That being said, having someone special spend a family holiday with you is also a nice gesture if you’re living abroad on your own. It doesn’t really matter if the person understands your holiday or not. I still remember Christmas in Shenzhen 2 years ago. My company went to sing Karaoke for Christmas eve. I felt a bit strange, celebrating Christmas like this, but at the same time it was also fun (who gets to go to a Karaoke bar with drunk co-workers at Christmas?). I appreciated my then-boyfriend now-husband’s gesture of spending a quiet evening together at home the next day.

  • December 12, 2014 at 10:50 am

    I can relate to the Korean boyfriend. I don’t feel like celebrating non-Chinese holidays here in China. Holidays abroad are for me now more something like a personal reminder to take time to be grateful for what I have, and to reflect on things. And after living abroad for a long time my family and I cherish our moments together and we don’t need holidays to remind us how good it is to see each other again.
    Maybe things will change with a kid in the house though… it would be sad to withhold all the joy these celebrations gave me when I was a kid myself.

  • December 12, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    I guess when it comes to holidays, it’s more special when you celebrate with family and close close friends.

    I have never invited any friends home for Christmas due to the fact that it’s really a close family get together holiday. Thanksgiving on the other hand, completely different story.

    And from understanding, Christmas is the same for Lunar New Year. It’s completely different when you’re celebrating it with family and by yourself.

    Usually I just wish my friends “Happy New Year” and give them some tangerines. 😀

  • December 13, 2014 at 2:49 am

    I like the empathy from the author toward her ex. Be honest. Holiday in another country is not the same thing unless you can’t tell the difference. I find it easier to embrace new traditions. Be part of it rather than losing interests in all holidays. It makes life much more enjoyable. You need to be flexible when living in anther country unless you want to grief over losses all the time.

  • December 16, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    I really think what it boils down to is… there are people who think holidays are important and there are those that don’t. Maybe her ex only celebrated in Korea because his friends and family did and it was easy for him to just participate. But, outside of Korea – where he would have to be the one to make an effort – it wasn’t that important to him.

    I moved away from the USA and now live in China. I still celebrate my holidays even though there is no one else (aside from my Chinese husband who is supportive) to celebrate them with me. Even if I was totally alone I would still celebrate – because I don’t need to have a big party or get-together to still decorate and enjoy my holidays! It’s a time for me to be thankful, remember times when I did have family around, and to treat myself to a special day! I also celebrate the Chinese holidays now (my husband jokes that I am “more Chinese” than he is) and I will continue to celebrate them even if I am not in China. They are part of who I am and are important to me – so no matter what I will celebrate. Financial worries or any other pressures wouldn’t change that.

    So, while I think it’s nice that the author accepted her ex-boyfriend’s lack of interest in holidays – I don’t think it has anything to do with living abroad or being away from family. He had a willing girlfriend to celebrate Korean holidays with and he passed on it anyway. One person, for me (my hubby), is more than enough to make me want to celebrate! He is willing to celebrate both Chinese and American holidays with me and we have a wonderful time.

  • December 19, 2014 at 8:41 am

    It is true, being in another country without family, it is very difficult to celebrate special holidays. Until now I have not manage to create the same atmosphere, or enjoy it as much as I would with my whole family there. I am happy that my husband is by my site, but if it comes to my holidays, like Christmas, he is not very encouraging, or willing to participate. Still, I am not losing hope that one day we manage to enjoy holidays together no matter where we are 🙂


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