This is Korean Culture Kamp Week, otherwise known as “Stuff your face with Korean Food Week”. I have been attending this camp with my daughters for 11 years and each year come away with a different reflection on how important this experience is for them. As I was eating lunch today (spicy green beans, jap chae, roasted vegetables, rice and kimchi, crispy chicken wings and marinated cucumbers), I realized how important the food is to our memories of Kamp. The first time we walk into the building at the beginning of the week, we are greeted with the familiar scents of sesame oil, soy sauce and kimchi. The kids eagerly wait to hear the menu of the day, announced at 9 am family time. Many of the kids compete during lunch to see who can eat the most squid. Kimchi is eaten by the gallon containers. Mandu or dumplings, the crowning glory to the last meal of the week, requires all hands onboard for last-minute construction and frying.
They love this food, but more importantly, their fellow kampers love the food equally as much. There is no teasing about being Asian and eating rice, because everyone is too busy inhaling the food so that they can get back in line for seconds. This is not food they could easily share with their friends at home, without worrying about the response to a mouthful of kimchi.
Food is a powerful reminder of home, whether we are born in a different culture or are returning home after a long absence to a home cooked meal. It has been shown that the sense of smell is closely linked with memory and can invoke memories that have been previously forgotten. For any of you who have had the pleasure to smell sesame oil or kimchi, I think you will agree with me that Koreans have a fragrance advantage with their food.
Food is only one of the reasons why this week is relished by all of us. Both the girls and I can relate to others differently during the week. They are able to spend time with friends who “get it” regarding biculturism, and I am able to spend time with other parents who also “get it”. No other parent cares about my “adoption story” because they have repeated their story far too many times. If one of the Kampers has been struggling in school or emotionally, there is no judgment about adoption vs. birth child, just support and encouragement.
Food and companionship are such a part of Culture Kamp, that each year adoptees that have attended Kamp in the past, along with their parents, friends, spouses and children, return to eat lunch and reminisce. What better endorsement is there than people traveling hundreds of miles just to share a meal.