JULIE FREEMAN & JOHN LEE
Samantha Laffoon Photography
Julie and John Lee didn’t have just one perfect wedding—they had two: Their first at Langtree Plantation in Mooresville, the second in Seoul, South Korea.
Their love story started on a cold night in Michigan. Julie, a Weddington, N.C. native, was studying pediatric dentistry at the University of Michigan, and John, hailing from Seoul, was studying accounting at Michigan State University. They met through mutual friends. Their first date was at an Italian restaurant, where they bonded over dinner, cupcakes, cookies, and tea.
“My friends told me to wait a couple days, but I just wanted to ask her out again,” John says. So he did, that night. From there, Julie and John’s romance blossomed into something beautiful.
A few years later, John was sure he wanted to marry her. But first, he had to talk to his parents. John says that in Korean culture, you can’t tell your family you’re seeing someone unless you’re serious about marrying them. And John was serious about Julie. He told his mom while they were in the car. “She was so shocked she started making wrong turns and took the wrong exit,” he says, laughing.
Once he’d told both his parents, they picked out a wedding date for them. There was just one problem: He still hadn’t officially proposed. He wanted the proposal to be a surprise—a difficult proposition because he suspected Julie knew it was coming.
It was the holidays, and John and Julie had been visiting her parents at their house on Lake Norman. John’s plan: leave Julie with her parents, return to Michigan, and then drive back to North Carolina a week later to pop the question. He figured Julie wouldn’t expect a return visit so soon. She didn’t.
John made the trip to North Carolina with two of his best friends in tow. To keep up the ruse, they stopped at a Burger King and took a picture, which John’s friend Marco sent to Julie, pretending it was taken in Ann Arbor. All the while, John was texting Julie’s mother, making sure his future fiancée didn’t suspect anything.
And after that 11-hour drive straight from the mitten state, John greeted Julie on her parent’s dock, ring in hand. The next step: deciding to have two weddings. Because only a few of John’s family members could make it to the States for their American ceremony, the couple felt that they needed to celebrate in South Korea, too. “I really wanted the experience of his culture,” Julie says.
The American wedding, held at Langtree Plantation in Mooresville on September 17, 2016, was romantic with understated Southern touches. While the couple wanted to have two distinct ceremonies, they merged both cultures with the menu. In addition to salmon and chicken, the couple also served bulgolgi, kimchi, and japchae for the guests.
“The caterer was really excited about the two cultures coming together,” Julie says.
John’s family took part in some of the American wedding customs, most notably, the mother-son dance. When John told his mom they’d be doing a dance together, she took lessons for two months, and sent John a video of her new moves.
“I guess I didn’t explain to her what kind of dance they normally do,” John says, “so she learned the cha-cha from an instructor in Korea.”
After John explained that the American traditional dance is more of a waltz, she found a new instructor and perfected her part of the dance for the wedding. As Julie and John became united in their marriage, their families also came together on the dance floor and celebrated as one.
Two months later, they traveled to Seoul, for the second ceremony with John’s family and friends in Korea. John’s mom was a big help in helping them stick to Korean tradition; she organized most of the ceremony. When the couple arrived, they were fitted for their hanbok—or Korean formal wear.
Julie wore her hair in a simple low bun with minimal makeup. The ceremony began with Julie’s cousin Paul carrying two wooden ducks into the venue—a symbol of the lifelong bond of marriage because ducks and geese are known to mate for life. Then came Julie and John. In traditional Korean weddings, the bride would be carried into the venue on a carriage, the groom on a donkey. Their venue didn’t allow live animals, so John was carried in on a chair.
During the ceremony, Julie held a tapestry in front of her face so John couldn’t see her. Similar to the veil in American ceremonies, it’s supposed to cover the bride; as it’s pulled away, the groom sees his future bride for the first time. Per wedding tradition, Julie and John stood on opposite sides of the wedding table. Each of them bowed several times to each other—which represented the couple’s promise of commitment—and then bowed to the wedding guests.
Later that day, Julie and John took part in a more lighthearted tradition. It’s a Korean custom for the parents throw chestnuts and dates into a tapestry held between the bride and groom. However many they catch represents the number of kids they’ll have. Julie and John caught eight.
PHOTOGRAPHY Samantha Laffoon Photography // samanthalaffoon.com
(For wedding in Mooresville) WEDDING, RECEPTION VENUE: Langtree Plantation / WEDDING PLANNER AND DAY-OFF COORDINATOR: Kristeena Croom / CATERERS: Bouk Catering / CAKE: Karen’s Cakes / FLOWERS: Blumengärten / HAIRSTYLIST: Madison Dellinger from Signature Style Hair Studio / MAKEUP ARTIST: Madison Dellinger from Signature Style Hair Studio / GOWN, VEIL: New York Bride & Groom / GOWN DESIGNER: Allure Bridals / HEADPIECE: Etsy / HEADPIECE DESIGNER: Luxe Bridal Design / BRIDE’S SHOES: Badgley Mischka / BRIDESMAID DRESSES: Target / BRIDESMAID DRESS DESIGNER: Tevolio / TUXEDOS: Men’s Warehouse / INVITATIONS, STATIONARY: Designed by Amber Horn of Southern Belle Creative Designs / CINEMATOGRAPHY: Maggie Lodge / MUSIC, ENTERTAINMENT: Trio led by flutist Linda Dumizo (ceremony and cocktail hour); Philip and Rachel Hamrick (guitar and song during lighting of unity candle; Chris Penick of Let the Music Play DJ Service (reception) / RENTAL PROVIDERS: Cooke Rentals / ENGAGEMENT RING, WEDDING BANDS: Wheat Jewelers in Okemos, Mich. / CLERGY: Will Kranz, The Cove Church / REHEARSAL DINNER: North Harbor Club in Davidson