Dreaming of a white christmas in korea


Matthew Palencia

On Jan. 9, 2015, Michelle Kam, 12, describes her trip to Korea over winter break. “Korea is really convenient because many things are walking distance away,” Kam said. “Also, the public transportation system is more than amazing.”

Sophie Prettyman, Staff Writer

Downey High students rushed off of campus on the last day of school before winter vacation, excited to have a break from their hectic schedules and some free time with friends and family for the holidays. For senior Michelle Kam, winter break was especially exciting because she flew to South Korea to see her family, including her parents and siblings.

Kam moved to America with her grandparents in 2008 because it would be easier for her to get into universities and find better career opportunities here, but the rest of her family decided to stay behind in Korea. Kam visits her family in Korea for winter break every year. Since she hadn’t seen them since she went to visit in the summertime, she said it was nice to spend time with them again.

“I love being with my brothers, even though they might not [love spending time with me]!” Kam said.

According to Kam, Koreans do not celebrate Christmas as extravagantly and flashy as Americans do. Korean students receive a day off from school for Christmas and then begin winter break at the end of December. There are academies in Korea where students can study or receive tutoring after school, so Korean students often learn their lessons ahead of time and learn more difficult material in school.

During her most recent trip to her home country, she saw some snow, spent time with her family at home, went shopping at the outdoor malls which are similar to the Citadel shopping outlet here in Los Angeles, ate at buffets, watched a movie in a theater with her younger twin brothers where moviegoers must reserve their seats before going, and visited a dog cafe called Puppy Spoon. At Puppy Spoon, people can sit down for coffee and pastries while petting and giving treats to playful dogs who can do tricks.

“I think in Korea, everything’s a lot prettier and more fun than in Southern California,” Kam said. “At LAX, everything is gray and depressing, but at the Korean airport, everything is shiny and new right away.”

Although Kam says that there are some similarities between Korea’s urban environment in the capital where her family lives and major American cities like Los Angeles, she also mentioned some things that would not be so familiar to Downey residents. There are many more apartment buildings and businesses close together in Korea, so people can walk anywhere in the city with relative ease. If they do not want to walk, the public transportation system is easily accessible; bus, cab, and subway fees can be paid with the swipe of a T-card, which is like a debit card for public transportation.


“You can take the bus and subways anywhere in the capital city; everything is really close in Korea since it is such a small country,” Kam said. “Not a lot of people have cars there, but they get along fine without them. It’s very urban and similar to New York City.”

Aside from enjoying refreshments at dog cafes and buffet meals, in Korea people can also order 24-hour McDonald’s delivery service. If they are looking for a healthier alternative, there are markets with fresh goods for sale that visit different apartment buildings on different days of the week and take orders.

Since Kam cannot drive, she got around the city on foot and on the subway. Since the city holds interesting opportunities for young people, and unique places for them to go to, she thinks it is convenient that they can get around so quickly and efficiently.

“I think Korea is a nice place for teenagers like us to hang out in, especially where my family lives,” Kam said. “I love it there. When I’m over there, I wish my friends were there because they could see how things are there and think, ‘Wow, that’s really cool!’”

Kam’s friends, who live in Downey, missed spending time with her when she was gone, but were glad she could spend the holidays with her family since they are so far away.

“I saw the difference it made in Michelle’s demeanor. When she came back, she seemed refreshed and vibrant again,” senior Aron Ramirez said of his friend. “I’m a huge proponent of students traveling because I think it’s crucial to get experience traveling to get experience for the real world.”

Some of her friends, including her boyfriend and Downey High Class of 2014 graduate, Gabriel Devicente, hear stories about her trips to Korea and want to go with her to visit one day.

“Winter breaks and summer vacations are the only opportunities Michelle has to spend time with her family,” Devicente said. “Since she doesn’t live with her parents, I think it’s great that she gets to visit them during her breaks.”

In the summer, Kam will return to Korea to spend more time with her family. Until then, she is practicing with the Downey High School Wind Ensemble and focusing on her studies while anticipating college acceptance letters and graduation on the nearby horizon.