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How to Celebrate Thanksgiving Abroad (Thai Style)

With the holiday season upon us (as crazy as that may seem), I know we are all excited to spend time with family and enjoy our favorite traditions. However, in our industry, we know that not everybody will be able to indulge in homethanksgiving in thailand country festivities. Many people are preparing to spend the holiday season abroad. The expat holiday experience is a unique one and with Thanksgiving just a week away, I wanted to revisit a story from my first year at XONEX, the same year that a good friend of mine spent her first Thanksgiving in Thailand as an expat.

The year is 2012 and Kayla, a friend of mine, is currently an expat living in Thailand. When she moved there in October, she was excited about the opportunity, but also a little bummed about missing her favorite American holidays, including the upcoming Thanksgiving. The question comes around here every year, how will the expats celebrate the holidays abroad?

As if she could read my mind, I received an email from Kayla this morning asking for simple slow cooker recipes for traditional Thanksgiving goodies. In the middle of my response, my email pinged again with a message telling me to forget the recipes, she had it figured out. That sparked my curiosity so I asked for more information.

Kayla told me that she had found a restaurant in Chon Buri (the city where she is living) that was serving a traditional American Thanksgiving feast. All she had to do was call the day before, and place the specific order for her group of fellow expats and they would be greeted with a family style table and all the traditional favorites! That’s great for them but, then I wondered, is everybody so lucky? What are the options if a restaurant doesn’t offer such a generous celebration?

After doing some research, I learned that many restaurants, especially in the more touristy areas of Thailand, import between 25 and 30 turkeys for the holiday specifically for American tourists and expats. It wasn’t hard for me to find a website listing different Thai restaurants making this offer and it is a good idea to provide your transferee with a similar resource. But there’s something to be said about embracing the culture in which you are immersed.

I can’t speak from experience, but I also found a site that offers replacements for the standard Thanksgiving dinner components in Thailand. Some of the substitutes sound very similar to what we may be used to, including the “gravy,” called Nam Daeng, and the “pumpkin pie,” or Fuktong Sangkaya. Others are quite different. For example, unless imported, turkey isn’t available, so the site suggests a certain stuffed fish, Pla Chon Pao. Is it different than what we’re used to? Yes. But that’s the point in embracing the culture.

Certainly, celebrating the holidays, especially American holidays, abroad can be very difficult. It’s easy for transferees to feel especially homesick this time of year. But with enough research and effort, you can help them feel more comfortable no matter where they are. That’s the goal isn’t it? To make their transition as seamless as possible?

If you aren’t doing something already, next year be sure to talk to your relocation provider about ways to make the holidays easier for assignees. For example, you can create an information packet where you can list the places they can go to for an American meal, but  also supply them with a guide to possible replacements as well.

Kayla was lucky enough to find a Thai restaurant offering a traditional American meal, and it is very possible that other expats have the same luck. But don’t leave it up to chance. Give your transferees the resources they will need ahead of time so they don’t experience any added stress around the already stressful holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our friends at home and abroad!

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