I have many friends coming to teach English in Korea this upcoming year. Whether it is to visit or to teach a year in Korea, I have made a list of essential things for them to bring:
Bedsheets: This applies more to those who want to teach or stay long term in Korea. Now, you CAN find bedsheets of all sizes in Korea, but you have to know that they are rather expensive and the fabric is rough. If you're lucky, you can find sheets on sale at HomePlus (Korean version of Wal-Mart). The down-side is that they will have tacky designs on them or easily pick up lint after one wash. I found that the Arrival Store is expensive, too. Some schools might provide your apartment with a bedsheet, but it wouldn't hurt to have an extra one. Since dryers are not common here, it could take days for them to dry. I know without a doubt you can make a trip to Target, Wal-Mart, or even TJ Maxx in America and buy good quality bedsheets for under $20. Oh, and if you're wondering about the size, most apartments come with single size beds.
Medicine: There are pharmacies everywhere you go in Korea. However, I also noticed that Korean pharmacies love to prescribe Tylenol and antibiotics for anything you can think of. It's a good idea to bring essential medicine like:
- Pepto Bismol: Food in Korea is delicious, but it takes some getting used to. It's common that many people do not see solid poop for at least a month after they arrive here.
- Ibuprofin: Don't expect to find containers of Aleve or Tylenol here. Tylenol has to be prescribed and the meds in Korea are a bit stronger than America.
- Allergy meds: If you have allergies, you might want to bring a bottle of Zyrtec or any of that sort. Although my allergies haven't flared up as bad here, it's better to have some than suffer in the spring time.
- Vitamins: If you're a vitamin person, bring some with you. They're overly expensive here.
Don't worry about birth control, since you can buy it over the counter here. Just make sure to get your doctor to find an equivalent of yours that is available in Korea. He/She should have a list.
Makeup: Ok, so this does not apply to those with fair skin. But for those of us on the darker side, it's pretty much impossible to find foundation/powder. Korean girls love to look as white as they can. Depending on how much you use, buy a good amount before you arrive. You can find anything for your skin here, EXCEPT for darker makeup.
- Toothpaste: One thing I have noticed about Korean toothpaste is that it does not contain fluoride. It leaves your teeth with a not-clean feeling. The mint in the toothpaste is also very dull. What I'm saying is, get American toothpaste.
- Deodorant: Good quality deodorant comes from a country that sweats= America.
- Towels: This one is not a huge deal, but do bring at least ONE towel from home. Korean towels are thin and are soaked before you're even dry.
Clothing: You can find cute and cheap clothes everywhere in Korea IF you're skinny. Most Korean girls are tiny, so when the lady at the store tells you "One size fits all," she means, anywhere from XS to M. If you're on the bigger size, just know that you will be very limited.
- Pants: Like I said, if you're a girl and under size 7 you should have no problem. However, for those who are on the healthier side, stock up on those jeans. If you're a guy and have big thighs, I would also suggest you buy your pants before you arrive. You tend to sit on the floor a lot in Korea, so the chances of your crotch ripping or wearing out are high.
- Suits: Most schools don't require you to dress up, but you cannot show up to class looking like one of your students. Make sure to bring some slacks and blazers to seem more presentable.
- Shoes: If you're a girl and over size 9 or a guy over size 10, it's pretty much impossible to find cute/cool shoes. However, this doesn't mean splurge on shoes before you arrive. Because you walk everywhere in Korea, your shoes will get ruined pretty fast. From experience, I ruined a pretty expensive pair of leather boots in 2 months.
Gum: That's right, chewing gum. Korean gum is meant to last all of ten minutes. After that, the flavor is gone and the texture of the gum turns into something so unpleasant that you want to spit it out instantly. I'm a gum chewer and I want my gum to last. It's possible to find American gum here, but I find it to be a hassle and would rather have my Costco supply of gum ready in my house.
Cell Phone: Don't hold me to this, but there is a rumor that Korean SIM cards will work on unlocked American cell phones beginning May 2012. However, it might not be this simple. I know for sure Korean phones are more compatible with companies that use CDMA phones, such as Verizon or Sprint. Plus, this is one of the most wired countries in the world, so you can have Wifi without a data plan pretty much anywhere you go.
I'm sure there are a hundred and some things people would want to bring from back home. These are just some items that I found to be pretty convenient in Korea. There are ways to get these items here, but at a higher price or through a friend in the military.
I hope this list will help future teachers or their friends when they arrive in Korea.
Aeri Park has had a multicultural history taking her from Seoul to Buenos Aires to Atlanta and back again. She graduated Emory University in 2008 and wanted to experience the culture of the place she was born. Aeri arrived in Suwon in 2010 and is now enjoying her second year teaching for Chungdahm in Pyeongchon. So far she has most enjoyed the food, fashion, and never ending list of places to explore. Follow Aeri to see where she goes!