Celebrating Chuseok as a Foreigner

Authored by:
Kyleah P.

Kyleah P.

This year, when I was booking my flight ticket with my program’s travel agency, I was ecstatic to see that I would be arriving in South Korea just in time for the holidays. Chuseok, now, is a holiday in Korea that I have had the pleasure of celebrating twice. Both experiences were very different from each other, but I am thankful for both opportunities since they taught me a lot about Korean culture. 

For background information, Chuseok is essentially the Korean Thanksgiving. The holiday is just 1-2 days, but festivities precede and follow into the day before and after the actual day. This year, I was able to have a four day weekend due to the holiday. Chuseok is quite similar to the American Thanksgiving with a cultural twist. 

In 2019, I had the opportunity to travel with my Korean friend to her hometown and celebrate Chuseok with her family in rural Daegu. The whole family traveled to her grandmother’s house in a more traditional village. When we arrived everyone, including myself, greeted the grandmother with a bow. Immediately after, the children of the family (university age and younger) were ushered into the kitchen to eat food prepared by the women of the household. Food is an important part of this holiday as it is with American Thanksgiving. 

Once we all tried everything prepared at least once, the females of the family were taken to a bedroom where a table of fresh fruit was set up for us to enjoy. While we sat around and chatted quietly, the males of the family were in the living room. My friend’s younger brother had come of age and it would be his first Chuseok bowing and showing respect to their ancestors. Once the males finished showing their respect, dinner was brought out. We all were able to enjoy delicious traditional food, octopus, and soju for the rest of the day. Chuseok is a good time to go out an experience traditional aspects of Korean culture like hanbok, hanok villages (traditional Korean homes), and many others. 

Now this year, I had arrived in South Korea quite close to the holiday (about a week and a half before) so I did not have much time to prepare plans for how to celebrate. I threw my weekend together within a day so it is not much, but I had a great time and hopefully this can give you some ideas in case you get in a similar situation. 

One thing to be aware of, is that since it is a traditional holiday most places are bound to be closed so plan accordingly if you are not joining others at their home. I learned this the hard way since my friends and I did not plan accordingly. 

So, I had a few friends (English teachers) arrive before I did so I reached out to see what their Chuseok looked like and they were free as well. From Friday to Saturday I was able to travel around Daejeon, which is the fifth largest city in Korea. My friend and I mostly walked around since everywhere she wanted to take me had been closed, but the city was beautiful (despite the blazing sun burning us alive). Later that evening we had Korean barbeque (which everyone on the planet must try at least 5 times in their life) and met some elderly gentlemen.  They ended up paying for our meal and gave us both 50,000 won each since in Korea it is tradition for the older generation to give money to the younger generation. I really appreciated them, including foreign strangers in their traditions as it helped me feel welcomed. To pass the rest of the night my friend and I went to karaoke because karaoke rooms are always open no matter what. 

The next day, my friend and I traveled to my city, Ulsan. Here I took her to the Ulsan Observatory, which was closed, but the view from the top of the mountain was still amazing. This is a free acxtivity so if you are on a budget in Ulsan I recommend it. I also took her to Ilsan beach for seafood and to enjoy the festivities. We were able to watch people busking, mostly singing traditional songs. We also got to watch people setting off fireworks on the beach as well as a light show of the bridge. 

Finally, on the last day I traveled to Daegu to visit another foreign friend. We went shopping downtown at some of the western stores. We ate jjimdak for lunch and walked it off at Suseong lake. This lake is a great place to visit because you can ride self-peddled swan boats, which we did not partake in because my friend said they looked terrifying. 

They looked really fun and relaxing though so if you are in the Daegu area, I recommend trying them out! Then let me know how it was!

Although I did not do much, I hope these help you all come up with your own plan to explore and celebrate Korean holidays as a foreigner. For more information about Chuseok specifically, you can check out this article I found https://asiasociety.org/korea/chuseok-korean-thanksgiving-day

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