An American couple Learning to Love Korea

Madera Jose
U.S. Army Retired Officer

My wife, Kelley Jeter is a Major in the United States Air Force, I am a retired military officer. We moved to the Republic of Korea a few months ago, due to Kelley’s posting to work in the Command’s Public Affairs Office.  In those few months, we have fallen in love with how beautiful and interesting the Peninsula is, and how much we enjoy living in Seoul.  We came here because duty called. Kelley came here to serve as part of her career in the US Air Force.  I came because as her husband and a former Soldier, I understood how important coming here was for us.

Living in Seoul challenged our expectations and made us rethink all the preconceptions we had about what living in one of the world’s megacities would be like.  We love how the traditional, the modern, and the postmodern all collide and produce a unique way of life.  We enjoy the amazing food, not only the traditional cooking – we are both huge fans of kimchi now – but how Korean chefs make foods from around the world that are as good or better than where they originally came from.

We enjoy how every person we have met in Seoul, Korean nationals or expatriates, has an interesting story to share about why they live here.  We appreciate how welcoming our Korean friends are and how patient they have been as we become accustomed to some of the unique and interesting ways their culture differs from ours. Our Korean friends and Kelley’s coworkers are some of the kindest, most thoughtful, and giving people we’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.  And, although we honestly can’t say we love the city’s traffic, (we don’t think anyone in Seoul does, right?) we have become accustomed to it, and love the incredibly efficient and far-reaching public transportation system.

Part of what we love about living in Seoul is the ability to enjoy a number of interesting activities and events.  Despite Kelley’s busy work schedule, we enjoy our free time here by participating in activities that expand our understanding of our environment, and we take advantage of the exciting experiences Korea offers. Since our arrival this summer, we have had several opportunities to visit different parts of Korea, meet and interact with new acquaintances, make new friends, and learn more about our home city of Seoul. The variety of experience and simple enjoyment we derive from these never ceases to amaze us.

More recently, we enjoyed yet another special example of how our new home never stops amazing us.  During our time here, we have become acquainted with a dynamic and talented Korean chef named Crystal Kim.  Besides sharing our interest in Korean food, she is also a wonderful teacher. In early November, we experienced one of her excellent classes and learned how to use traditional Korean ingredients and methods to cook.  Then, in mid-December, she kindly invited us to another class. During the class, we learned how to make traditional dishes typical of the winter Solstice (Dongji).

Crystal shared delicious recipes, stories, and explained some of the family traditions and beliefs that surround this special date. Yet, this was not the most remarkable part of the event – halfway through her class, we had a visit by the Prime Minister. Kelley and I were definitely impressed by this, and enjoyed a remarkable moment where, one minute we were learning how to make a dish using buckwheat noodles, and the next minute we were shaking hands with a distinguished member of the highest levels of the Korean executive branch. Back home, this would typically not happen. Not only did we have an opportunity to learn about Korea’s culture, traditions, and delicious food but we saw a high government official interacting with foreigners and members of the press.  Besides being an impressive and noteworthy moment, this experience increased our appreciation and interest in our new home.

In early December, as part of Kelley’s work, we had the great opportunity to participate in the Korea America Friendship Night Year End Party.  The event took place at the Millennium Hilton, near our home.  This evening was memorable, not just by the caliber of the many important guests from the Korean and US government who attended, but also by the care and attention to detail with which the event was organized and how well it was presented.

The party included a wide cross-section of the local military, diplomatic, and business communities.  One thing that made this night special was being able to experience first-hand the appreciation of our hosts for the friendship and mutual respect that defines the relationship between our two countries.  We enjoyed the opportunity to make new friends, share an outstanding meal with them, and listen to a wonderful children’s choir singing Christmas classics.

As a current and a former member of the US military, we both understand how our Korean friends may worry about the threat North Korea presents here in Seoul.  Our own families and friends back home are nervous about the apparently growing threat of conflict and are concerned for peace and stability in our current home. If there was one thing we would like to tell our hosts who fear this threat, it would be this: they can count on our country to do its part.

The people of the United States do not want war, but we will do our part to defend our mutual strategic interests, maintain the alliance, and deter the threat from the North.  If the moment comes, we will fight alongside our Korean brothers and sisters. Historically, Americans do not want war, but when their true friends are threatened, they do not shy away from a fight.  Over six decades ago, my own grandfather fought against those who attacked South Korea. I believe our nations have forged what, during the banquet, we heard described as a “bond sealed with blood” between our peoples.

 I am proud of my wife, who continues to serve and, together with her Korean brothers and sisters, continues to protect this nation.  Duty brought us here but a growing love of the country of Korea and our “borrowed” city of Seoul have made us enjoy our stay. “We go together!”

Brief Bio

José Madera is a retired Civil Affairs officer, whose work as a Soldier included combat, stability, and security cooperation operations in a number of countries including Colombia, Iraq, and Pakistan.  He holds graduate degrees in Philosophy, Policy, and Strategy.  His military professional writing has been published by the Joint Special Operations University and the U.S. Army War College. Like his grandfather, father, and father-in-law, he served in the U.S. Army. His son is currently serving in the U.S. Air Force.  His grandfather, LTC (Ret.) Miguel Angel Fernandez, served with distinction as an Infantry officer with the 1st Battalion, 65th Infantry Regiment (Borinqueneers) during the Korean conflict.  José lives with his wife Kelley and their cat Bucky in Seoul — there he enjoys writing, brewing danyangju, learning about Korean cuisine, and drinking espresso while learning more about his new favorite city.


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