Somehow more in line with my first few posts on this blog, this one contains some advice on what to pack for when you are coming to Korea.
There was a lot of stuff that I opted not to buy and take a risk on, and I’m mostly happy that I did. The stuff I’ve had trouble finding has mostly been small stuff that I could easily ask people back home to send me.
So, here’s a list of items I was told to bring with me to Korea, and how true I have found their inaccessibility to be.
1. Clothes/ shoes/ underwear
There’s an element of truth in this, but it’s not as bad as you think. I’m not exactly a small girl. Not at all really (UK 14, shoe size UK 6, bra size… large). And I’ve bought so much clothing in Korea that I don’t know how I’m going to get all of it home.
Now, it’s not always easy. If you’re not tiny, you will have to learn how to shop smart. It’s going to be harder to walk into stores and just pick up what you want. You need to think about it. Try things on. And don’t give up. If you are larger, finding stuff in the markets will be more difficult, but not entirely impossible.
But it’s probably good for me to note two things:
1. If I was any larger than I am, I think I’d be having a lot more trouble. I’ve gotten by thus far by picking the largest size of something, trying it on and hoping. I’ve had one major failure in that area with a pair of pants, but that’s about it.
2. I live in Incheon. There’s a large, nice (carpeted?!) mall ten minutes from me, where I spend ludicrous amounts of money at stores like H&M and Uniqlo (Oh. My. God. I love Uniqlo. How will I ever go home and live without it?). I’m also able to go to Seoul if I like, and go to places like Forever 21.
I wear a UK 6 in shoes. If you’re a girl with feet larger than that (look up a size chart. I’m not going to), I have very seldom seen shoes larger than that.
I just want to clear that up – before I came, I was completely unsure about whether or not I’d be able to get shoes here. People are not very clear about it: UK 6 and smaller – you’re fine. UK 7 and larger – you will have trouble.
1.3 Underwear (NB – bras)
My Homeplus has bras that says that they’re D cups, but I have been told, on good authority, that the bras here are different. In this case – better be safe than sorry. Bring bras.
As for other kinds of underwear (knickers, pants, panties or whatever else you want to call them), I’ve bought those here. From Uniqlo. But I do suggest bringing underwear with you anyway. Know that you can get if you need to, but don’t trust that.
I know that my location is to my advantage, but here’s what you don’t realise – you might not be able to go shopping at the drop of a hat in more rural areas, but going clothes shopping has been a major part of travelling around the country for some of my friends. Believe it or not, you will be willing to organise your time in the cities so that you get time to shop. I’m not kidding.
Watch this video for more information:
For a piece of advice of what to make sure you put in your suitcase:
1. A good coat. This is one thing you don’t want to risk, because it gets really cold here.
2. Jeans. I have bought jeans here, but they’re all ultra skinny.
3. Smart trousers. It’s always good to have two or three pairs of good, versatile trousers like this anyway.
4. Skirts. This is one thing I have no managed to buy here, though I have managed to buy dresses. While short skirts and dresses are fine for going out, they’re not fine for school.
5. Button up shirts. I tried to buy one here, and it fits, but I have to make sure I wear a scarf with it to make sure that it doesn’t like I’m… um… exploding out of it.
Lies. I’ve found so much honey here that I’ve been converted to putting it in my tea.
3. Tea (black tea and rooibos tea)
Black tea – found it. Pricey, but not unconscionably so.
Rooibos – found it. Very expensive. If you order it in coffee shops, they give you… something that’s not rooibos. It’s very nice, but it’s not rooibos.
(To any Saffas living in or coming to Incheon – my family sent me two huge boxes of Rooibos. I brought two huge boxes of Rooibos with me. I have more Rooibos than I could even use. Anyone who wants some – please come take it off my hands!)
This is one I do not get. I have seen duvets and duvet covers, comforters, sheets and pillows that are all perfectly ordinary to my eyes. I do wish my handler had let me buy a duvet instead of a comforter, but it’s nitpicking really.
Is bedding expensive? – yes, but it’s not more than I’d have expected to pay back home.
Are the mattresses hard? – well… yes. Harder than I was used to. But you get used to it. I know now I’ll have to buy a firmer mattress when I get back home, as I’ve learnt to prefer it. If you don’t like a firmer mattress, you can easily get a mattress pad to suit your needs.
One common piece of advice given to people coming to Korea is to bring fitted sheets. I disagree with this, because you don’t know what size your bed will be. Therefore, another Protip! If the teacher you’re replacing contacts you, find out what size your bed is and bring a set of sheets. Otherwise… don’t worry about it.
If you’re looking for epic bath sheet size towels, or super fluffy towels, then the stories are true, and you should bring one (or several) with you.
However, I got a very nice bath towel from EPIK, and have bought some extras from Homeplus. I’m perfectly happy with them.
Are they expensive? – yes, but not more than I would have expected to pay back home.
There are tampons here. However, I’ve only seen one brand, and only the applicator variety. I’ve bought them. I’ve used them. They’re… fine. But if you prefer a particular brand, then buy a year’s supply and bring them with you. I did, and I’m glad that I did.
I brought a year’s supply of deodorant with me to Korea, and I’m glad that I did. However, I have seen brands like Dove and Nivea in stores, and I have seen places where you can order it online.
HOWEVER! A can of the Nivea or Dove deodorant costs a lot more than you’d expect. A lot more. So… if there’s an emergency, you can get some, but it’s much better to bring some with you.
Bring some of your favourite cold and flu medications with you – especially things that are not really medicine, as such. For example, things like Vicks or Med Lemon (I do not know what this is in other countries, but I don’t know how you survive without it). I miss the sinus medication I used to take.
You can get stuff here, but if you’re picky or very attached to a particular brand, then bring that with you.
I’m lucky enough to work in an office with coffee addicts. We order tins of decent coffee online, so we’re pretty sorted. Good coffee is expensive here, but not horribly so, I’ve found. Get a Costco card or order online.
10. Shampoo/ hair products
My hair is relatively fuss free. Also, my hair is very straight. My friends with curly hair tell me that they’ve had trouble finding shampoo to suit their needs, although others report success from stores like Innisfree. Shop around, but I suggest bringing enough shampoo to tide you over.
On the note of shampoo… I used Korean shampoo for about the first six months here, and it was fine, at first, but then I found my hair getting very greasy and falling out a lot. Not good. Then I switched back to a Western brand, and now it’s all good again.
I do wish I’d brought more leave-in conditioner with me, but it’s quite heavy, so I’m in two minds about that.
For reference, familiar brands of shampoo I’ve seen here are: Head and Shoulders, Pantene, Dove and Tre Semmé. Tre Semmé turned up very recently, so it may not be everywhere.
11. Gifts for your principal/ co-teacher
This a tricky area. Your co-teachers will enjoy gifts from your home country, but it can be tricky to pack these, as you don’t know how much of anything you will need.
However, if you really feel the need to do this – trinkets and ornaments have worked well for me. Gifts like tea also go down well. Remember that if you bring a gift, it’s a token gift, not a big deal.
If, however, you want a safe option that will definitely work, getting snacks for your office with your first paycheck works really well. One of our lecturers at orientation suggested that it should be something easily divided (like fruit or other small snacks), rather than something that is difficult to divide, like cake.
12. Mementos from home
Yes. Bring photographs and other things to help make your apartment feel more like home. I brought all kinds of wildlife pictures that I’d intended to put up in the classroom, but as I don’t have my own classroom, they’re now all over my apartment. I’m happy that I did that.
13. Various kinds of food
Part of the experience of living in Korea has been trying out new snacks. The only stuff I’ve asked my family to send me has been Cadbury’s chocolate. It really is the best stuff. My English co-worker is having someone bring Marmite for her.
Other than that, I haven’t been overwhelmed by a longing for anything I could have brought with me.
Things like cheese… I miss cheese.
I have searched in vain for familiar toothpaste. If you’re not particular, then you’ll be fine, as there is toothpaste in Korea, and it works. If you are particular, then bring toothpaste with you.
15. Make up
There are various issues that I’m not able to discuss with any authority. For example, make up for darker skin. I’m quite pale, and as such, Korea has been an absolute dream for me. I finally have foundation pale enough for my face! However, if I were to get a tan… trouble.
I have not had much trouble with other kinds of make up, though some people have told me it’s more expensive than they would usually expect.
(To be honest, I have spent more money on make up in Korea than I have anywhere else. And on skin care. My skin is better here than it’s been since I was… about 14. It helps that the girl working at my nearest Skin Food really seems to like me.)
My only major issue has been finding make up (particularly BB Cream and powder) that doesn’t have whitening stuff in it. I’m pale enough. I don’t need to be paler.
One last piece of advice:
When you are looking at other packing lists, be sure to look at when they were published. What was true in 2009 may not be true now. I found a few lists that were updated in 2012 before I came here that managed to clear up a few of these for me. Research is key.