Friday, May 1, 2009

What to pack for a year in Korea...

Here's the question:

I know I still have a few months before my intended departure but i was just wondering what kinds of things I should start getting together to bring. I already know to bring enough deodorant lol so that is covered but like what other things are there that one might not think to bring and then wish they had? And what is the typical dress for woman both in the work place and around town. I am a tank top and jeans kinda girl and know this would not be acceptable to wear to the school but what is? And if I dressed as I do in Canada around town would I be looked at funny? Just trying to get some ideas here as what would be important to bring clothes wise and for other things too. Like how cold does it get in the winter? How heavy a jacket would i need? I know people there have smaller feet and shoes but i also dont want to weight myself down bringing lots of shoes so as a size 7/8 how hard would it be to get like a pair of runners or something there if i need them? Is it easy enough to find a converter over there or should i buy one here and bring it with me? Any help you can give would be be very useful. THANKS :D

This is actually a really great question and I want to break it down a bit more. First, let's take a look at a basic list for things you might have not thought about.
I pulled this from Jason Cresswell's recruiting website.

When packing for Korea, you will want to make sure that you have all of the essentials. Before going to Korea, a person should be armed with the knowledge of what to bring. Although it is most comfortable to travel light, there are some things that you will want to be sure you have.

Deodorant: Koreans don’t sweat the way Westerners do, so bring a year’s supply of your favorite deodorant. It is now starting to show up on some shelves, and you can find it in black markets if essential, but it will cost you over $10 apiece.

Big towels: Korean towels are generally small and it can be difficult toweling off with what we would consider a hand towel. Again, you can sometimes find them, but you will be happy to have brought one or two bath towels.

Fitted sheets: If you are a fan of fitted sheets, bring your own. Single size is best. Korean sheets are more like a thin blanket thrown over the bed. Those who enjoy their fitted sheets will find it hard to get a hold of them here.

Dental floss: You can get it at the pharmacy, but it is also over-priced because it is not well used.

Condoms: Condoms are available, but are sometimes more expensive. Some foreigners have also complained of a lack of larger sizes and poor lubrication. Plus, you can usually get them for free at your local health unit, so might as well stock up if you are planning on using them. Also, if you are using birth control pills, you should be sure to get a year’s supply before going.

Tampons: Korean women usually wear pads. Tampons are becoming available, but are less common than pads. If you have a tampon that you are comfortable using, you may want to stock up before going.

Shoes and clothes: If you are a larger or taller person, you may have a hard time finding your size. Clothes for larger people are available, but you have to spend some time searching.

Money for your first month: In Korea, you get paid by the month, not every 2 weeks. So, when you arrive, you will have to budget for your first month. Some schools give advances on pay, but you should check with your school. If you have a credit card available, that would also be helpful.

International driver’s license: You may want to drive in Korea, and it is easy to get your international driver’s license by going to your local CAA, AAA, or by contacting your department of transportation. All it takes is a photo and a form, no test required. Note that they are valid for one year.

Passport: Without one, you are not going. If you don’t already have a passport, make it your first priority. You can request a rush order, but there will be a surcharge for this.

Copies of your birth certificate and passport: In the unlikely event that you lose them, copies can speed up the process to get new ones in a foreign country.

Family pictures: Pictures will remind you of home, and may help you deal with loneliness and homesickness.

Books: The flight is long, and having books to read will help you pass the time. Also, you may want to bring a few of the books you have wanted to read with you. English books are available, but not all titles. However, there are websites that have a great selection, and deliver to Korea.

Vehicle care: You should make sure that your vehicle has the appropriate insurance if you plan to keep it. You should also decide where you are going to store it.

Razor blades and shaving cream: Korean people do not have nearly as much facial or body hair as Westerners. Therefore, razor blades and shaving cream are somewhat more expensive than in North America.

Visit family and friends: Although you will be very busy before going, take some time to enjoy being close with people whom you won’t see for a while. You won’t regret having taken time out to do so.

Spices: If you enjoy cooking and have particular spices that you like to use, consider bringing them. There are not a large variety of spices for home cooking in Korea. Koreans mainly use red pepper in most dishes.

Cigarettes: If you are a smoker and enjoy a certain brand, you may want to bring some of this brand along with you. However, it should be noted that Korean cigarettes are far cheaper than those sold in North America.

A gift for your director: Although it is not necessary, a gift for you director would get you off to a great start. Appropriate gifts would be a small bottle of whiskey for a male director, or perfume for a female director. Of course, you can be as creative as you like. This small gesture could go a long way in ensuring a good year.

Money or other items from your country: Many of the students you will teach will never have been outside of Korea. It can be fun for them to see money from another country, or pictures of you and your family. This can also help break the ice with your first class.

This section has mainly concentrated on the things that you should consider bringing that you might not have thought of on your own. There are obviously many more things that you will need to bring. We suggest making your own checklist and packing well in advance. The more prepared you are, the less stress you will feel.

That's a huge list and one that I think is a pretty good start.

And what is the typical dress for woman both in the work place and around town. I am a tank top and jeans kinda girl and know this would not be acceptable to wear to the school but what is? And if I dressed as I do in Canada around town would I be looked at funny?

Great question. You're right that wearing a tank top in school would not be appropriate, but it would be totally okay on the streets. Korean girl fashion depends on age, locale, and about a hundred other things that don't need to be extrapolated upon. Even though Korean girls are showing more and more skin these days and it is totally okay for Western women to do the same, expect to get extended glances (especially at your chest) if you choose to dress "liberally". Gusts of Popular Feeling has talked in length about the average Korean's perception of Western women.

I usually like to tell people not to over-think when packing. Most items can be found here and the ones that can't be found are only a package from home away. If you're worried about luggage weight, call your airline, tell them you're going to be staying abroad for a year or more and they will usually increase your weight allowance. Don't let packing stress you out. You're not going to camp, you're moving to another country.

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment


Anonymous said...

As a woman who has been living in Korea for a year, I wanted to add an observation. Korean women tend to show their legs more than their chest. Make sure you have shirts that don't show cleavage. I don't think it's wrong to show cleavage, but you'll get more looks if you do, and some men might get the wrong idea. Shorts and short skirts seem to be acceptable however.

At work, it's been a range of clothing. I was surprised to find that my co-teachers will wear jeans (I work at a public elementary school) but usually this is paired with a nice top, and the jeans are not torn. As long as your clothes are neat and clean, and you're not showing too much skin, you should be fine. Also in Korea, we take off our shoes and wear sandals inside, so buy a nice pair of flat sandals to keep as your indoor shoes (I say flat because the floors are kind of slippery.)

Anonymous said...

wtf, a year? Why did I type that? I've been here for 3.5 months.

Grace said...

Make sure you bring your size of spare clothes since Korean size is rather smaller than the same size of Americans,
If you are oversized person, you need to go to a particular area to purchase your size clothes. That is I-Tae-Won in Seoul, and the cost of those oversize clothes are not cheap.
Shoes as well.
Have a fun in Korea where you certainly will enjoy if you know how and find a trustworthy and resourceful Korean speaking English.

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