Thursday, August 13, 2009

Before Coming to Teach English in Korea--Things to Bring with You on the Plane

I began this past 7/3/09 about my recommendations of what to pack to bring with you to Korea, and why, and never got around to finishing it.

I recently saw that did a post called The Ultimate Packing List: What to Bring to Korea.

I still want to put my own two cents out there on this topic so I'm going to finish up my post in spite of the fact that there will be some repetition on my list.

The reasoning behind my list is based on my experiences as a public school foreign teacher in Korea. A lot of what I write here is also applicable to hogwan (private institutes/cram schools/training centers) teachers who are new to Korea, and even for university instructors too.

Here are things that I had difficulty finding when I first came to Korea, and for some of the items even after I'd been here a while.


The bedsheets we use back in Canada and America (and I'm sure many other English speaking countries) are not commonly used in Korea. When you go to department stores like Emart (similar to Walmart), Shinsegae (upscale department store), GS Mart (grocery and department store), or any of the other department stores in Korea you will NOT find bedsheets. Korea also has small beddding stores that sell pillows (similar but not quite the same as back home), blankets, comforters, quilts, and the bed coverings that they use in place of sheets. You can also buy relatively cheap sleeping mats (compared to the price of a full bed) if you need something and have a low budget.

pillows Pillow selections in the department stores do not generally have a wide range of choices. If you need something special it's probably a much safer bet to bring it with you in your suitcase. Memory foam pillows like those made by Posturepedic and other companies are not easy to find in Korea. Also, if you don't read Korean the labels on the pillow packaging can be a nightmare to understand if you're allergic to polyester, etc. Good quality pillow covers are also hard to come by.

towels Apparently there are a few places in Korea where you can find 'good quality' (based on North American norms) bath towels but I haven't been able to find them yet. The department stores do have towel sections but I don't really care for the small selection. I recommend bringing your own with you.

deodorant Deodorant is still not a common shopping item in Korea. The first time I ran out during my first year in Korea I thought it was no big deal, I'd just go to a department store the next time I left the island i was living on--wrong! The last time I checked to see if things were changing in department stores I saw ONE type of deodorant for men, and one for women. If you like (or need to) using men's antiperspirant gel you won't find it in the department stores or drug stores. And as far as the selection goes for women's deodorants there were only one or two choices.

You can buy deodorant on the 'black market' in Korea. Namdaemun Market, for example, has an underground shopping area where you'll find a pretty decent selection of the most popular deodorants--but you'll pay extra, and I mean extra. The last time I was there I saw Gillette Antiperspirant gel for W7,500 EACH.

I'd recommend bringing with you at least a six month supply of your personal deodorant, and a whole year if you have the space in your suit cases.

medicines Korean hospitals and pharmacies do not follow the same kind of process that North American facilities do. What I mean by this is that you generally seem to get a packet with MULTIPLE pills when you're sick in Korea. Add to this the language and culture barriers and you'll quickly experience a kind of medicine culture shock. When I've asked what the names are of each pill in English, a description of each pill's effects, and what possible side effects there might be I'm generally greeted with surprised and/or indifferent reactions from Koreans who tell me to take my medicine and don't worry about it (an expression I've really come to hate hearing). Another thing is that questions about medical allergies may or may not be asked due to different reasons--usually language limitations.

Keep all of these things in mind when you consider what to pack and bring with you.

Tylenol for colds and flus, especially the Daytime and Nighttime kind. When you're sick and have to go in to work it's a lot better to be taking the Daytime stuff so that you can still have some degree of mental presence and alertness while teaching.

Immodium This will come in handy if you eat something that disagrees with you big time. And believe me when I say that it's better to have this with you and KNOW that it works well then to be trying something knew and find that your body doesn't respond to it.

Gravol Same thing about the gravol as the Immodium.

cough medicine -- Unless you're open to trying some of the Chinese herbal cough medicine Koreans use you'll want to bring your own. That being said, the Chinese stuff works pretty well.

I love how Juliane tries to convince me to take two shots of this stuff when I got sick, lol.

favorite Soap (if you have one) I love Irish Spring soap. You can get it in Korea but NOT in department stores. Dove and Ivory soap are also available, but I think it's only Ivory that is in department stores (have to double check on that one).

hair dye If there's one particular shade of whatever your personal hair color is don't bet on being able to find it in Korea. Hair dyeing is very common here, but the range of colors is limited.

shampoo You'll be able to find a fair number of shampoos that you can find back home--but bear in mind that the packaging may be very different, and likely will only have Korean on its labeling. If you use a very particular kind of shampoo for special hair conditions it can be pretty difficult to find if you don't read and speak Korean, and it may just not be available at all.

toothpaste You'll be able to find a fair number of brand names in the department stores, and what you can't find there you can look for in the underground market at Namdaemun Market in Seoul, and the Foreign Food Mart in Itaewon (see the link below for how to get there).

"What the book?" -- New and Used English Books and Magazines -- Itaewon, Seoul, South Korea

floss In the department stores you can find floss, but I generally don't like anything that isn't Johnson and Johnson's mint waxed floss--so I'm out of luck on that particular item. I usually find it at the Foreign Food Mart in Itaewon.

underwear If you're a plus sized person it's 99% certain that you will not find your size in Korea. There are some plus size, or BIG SIZE as Koreans like to call it, stores in Itaewon where you can look and have some degree of success, but I'd still recommend bringing your own with you from home.

bras If you're a C-cup and higher you need to bring bras with you from home.

socks if you have big feet Finding socks is pretty much impossible if you have feet that are bigger than a size 10 for men, and 8 for women.

shoes if you have big feet Generally if you're feet are bigger than a size 10 for men you'll have trouble finding sizes, and size 8 for women. There are a few places in Seoul that might have bigger sizes and I'd start searching in Itaewon if you really need to find something. But the safest and easiest thing to do is just bring what you need with you into the country.

plus-sized people need in general just need to assume they won't be able to find much, if anything, in Korea.

General Packing List

socks: dress, casual, sport
dress shirts/blouses
dress pants
casual pants
exercise clothing: shorts, shirts, running shoes

Spring/Summer/Fall Clothing
light weight dress shirts and blouses
*make sure to not have low necklines on blouses as Korean school clothing culture is conservative
sandals that can handle the rainy season
sun hat/baseball cap

Late Fall/Winter Clothing
*if you come from warmer parts of the USA (or elsewhere) you'll want to bring good winter gear
warm winter coat, wind proof, water proof
winter boots/cold temperature hiking boots
gloves or mittens
winter hat
NOTE: There are North Face and Columbia stores in Korea where you can purchase winter and seasonal clothing and gear--just bear in mind the size issues if you're a bigger person

Formal Attire
There will be ceremonies and meetings and other events where you will want to have a suit (or if you don't own one at least a shirt and tie) and women's suit or formal dress or blouse and skirt to wear. For example, when you first meet your co-teacher, and then your principal, you will want to be wearing formal attire.

deodorant (6 month supply or more if possible)
tooth brush
tooth paste
shaving creme
hair products for styling

adapters for plugging in/converting your home country electronics (you can buy these once you're in Korea)

bring some of your favorite novels with you until you find the English book stores in Korea


If it's possible some teachers may want to purchase some of the titles below before coming to Korea. Please bear in mind that I do not know the availability of these titles outside of Korea.

Teaching Books and Resources

EFL/ESL Teaching Methodology

How to teach English.

Harmer, Jeremy. Longman, 1998.

W22 000, 000

How To Teach Speaking.

Thornbury, Scott.

Series Editor: Jeremy Harmer. Longman, 2006.

W27 000

Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking

Newton, Jonathan

by I.S.P. Nation

ISBN: 978-0-415-98970-1

Routledge, 2008

A Framework For Task-Based Learning.

Willis, Jane. Longman, 1996.

W22 000

EFL/ESL Lessons, Games, and Activities

If you arrive in Korea and don't have a lot of money and/or don't want to spend a lot of money on teaching books and resources this is one title you can purchase cheaply. It will give you an idea of lesson topics and the basic structure of an EFL/ESL lesson plan.

Oxford Basics: Simple Speaking Activities.

Jill Hadfield and Charles Hadfield. Oxford, 1999.

W5, 800

If you're going to be teaching in Korean elementary public schools this is one book you should check out for lesson ideas, games, and activities.

Very Young Learners.

Vanessa Reilly & Sheila M. Ward. Oxford, 1997.

Resource Books for Teachers, Series Editor Alan Maley.
W26 000

This book can be used as the basis for putting together lesson plans for elementary, middle, high school, and even university level students. The instructor just needs to modify vocabulary levels and language goals to fit the needs of the class they will be teaching.

Games For Children.

Gordon Lewis and Gunther Bedson. Oxford, 1999.

Resource Books for Teachers, Series Editor Alan Maley.

W26 000

These two books are good for advanced level middle school classes, high school classes, and university.

Jazz English, Volume 1, Second Edition.

Gunther Breaux. Compass Publishing 2006.

14, 000

Jazz English, Volume 2, Second Edition.

Gunther Breaux. Compass Publishing 2006.

14, 000

This book can be used for getting ideas for games for middle school, high school, and university level classes.

Games for Language Learning, Third Edition.

Andrew Wright, David Betteridge, and Michael Buckby. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers. Series Editor, Scott Thornbury.

W28 000

Learning Korean Language Books

Survival Korean: The Korean study guide written by the host of Arirang’s TV’s “Let’s Speak Korean.”

Revere, Stephen.

W21 500

Korean Culture and History

If you buy one book to learn about Korean culture and history this is the book you should buy. It's not expensive, and it's a very easy read. It also covers pretty much every topic you could want to know about in Korean culture today, and gives an easy to read survey of Korean history. Lastly, it has an entire chapter about the Korean education system--definitely something new teachers always want to know more about.

What’s so good about Korea, Maarten?

Maarten Meijer. Hyeonamsa Publishing, 2005.

W12 000

Korea’s Place In The Sun: A Modern History.

Cumings, Bruce. W. W. Norton & Company, 2005.

W19 500

Modern Korean Fiction, An Anthology.

Edited by Bruce Fulton and Yongmin Kwon. Columbia University Press, 2005.

W42, 620

EFL/ESL Research Articles Anthology

An anthology with excellent articles about teaching English in Korea. The focus is mostly on college and university Korean students, with a few about high school topics. If you're an EFL/ESL career teacher this is something you should have in your teaching library, and even if you're not a career EFL/ESL person and just want to learn more about EFL/ESL research topics in Korea it's a really good read.

Teaching English to Koreans.

Edited by Susan Oak and Virginia S. Martin. Hollym Publishers, 2003

W15 000

EFL/ESL Websites

This is a great website for making vocabulary worksheets really fast.

This is a great website for ready to go lesson plans, activities, songs, games, flash cards, etc. The other nice thing is it has materials for all levels of language student from young children up to adult.

Free Printables for Teachers - Free flashcards, printable games, free worksheets, printables, phonics, clipart, projects, ebooks and other resources

Alright, I'm about written out for today. I'll revisit this post as people put up comments and suggestions about things that need to be added and/or edited.

I hope it helps all the new foreign teachers arriving in Korea, and perhaps even people who have been here for a while too.



John from Daejeon said...

For those close to a Costco, you can find very good quality towels. I purchased one that has been with me for over three years now. I've also noticed that besides Costco, you can find decent pillows at Homeplus as well.

When I first came here, I would have suggested that you might just want to bring along an extra suitcase that could hold an extra 50 pounds (23kg) of clothes and personal belongings, but the airlines have really raised up the prices--$350 U.S. on United for that extra bag nowadays. So, shipping it via the post office might make more sense. The U.S. post office has a flat rate on international boxes up to 20 pounds for a little over $50 for that medication or those books that you really can't live without.

Just watch out on those valuation forms for customs, so you don't get caught having to pay extra tax on the items or having them held up by Korea Customs Service. This is from their website regarding postal procedures: "Post/ Express Deliveries
If the total value of the goods (including purchase price plus freight and insurance) does not exceed 150,000 won (about US $120), it could be cleared without paying Customs duties and taxes.

If the total value of the goods exceeds 150,000 won, you need to pay Customs duties, VAT (Value Added Taxes) and special excise taxes & etc."

Wow, Jason. You have quite the library going on there. How much did they set you back, and do you plan on keeping them with you as you move? I sometimes worry about the stability of apartment buildings in South Korea when I think about the weight that might be in some due to books, pianos, potting soil, etc. Thankfully, there aren't really any large earthquakes here to bring my crack-filled old apartment building down around my head as I type this.

Good luck in your new position.

Lana said...

You can buy deodorant at Olive Young drugstores in Korea... I believe they sell the Nivea brand deo and some others.