Moving to a new country can be both intimidating and exciting.
One of the trickiest parts is trying to decide what to drag half-way around the world and what you can just buy when you arrive.
Of course, these things vary depending on what country you are teaching in, and even what area of a given country you will live in. On that note, here are five things I wish I had brought (or had brought more of) to Korea but didn’t.
Get These Things to Korea with You
As surprising as it may seem, it is incredibly difficult to find stick deodorant in South Korea. I am not certain why this is. I have heard a wide variety of reasons from the idea that Korean people don’t sweat as much as westerners, to a preference for cologne instead of stick deodorant. What’s the truth? No idea. Either way, bring enough for a year or plan on having it shipped from home.
Big Bath Towels
This is something that might not seem like a big deal, but it can certainly make a huge difference on a cold morning. Korean towels are small and coarse. Small enough that it can be pretty tough to get completely dry and every shower leaves a sodden towel behind. Those nice big towels can be a great comfort, especially in the chilly winter months.
Korea gets cold enough in the winter that you will want warm winter clothes and as tempting as it is to leave these bulky items behind, it may be best to bring them along. It can be difficult to find reasonably priced clothing that fits westerners. Although this is less true in Seoul, the prices for western sized clothing can be much higher than the cost of that extra piece of luggage. A further note on this: schools in Korea don’t (as a general rule) heat the hallways and even the classroom and office heating is often left until ‘chilly’ has given way to outright cold. This means teachers need warm clothes, layers, and, possibly most important, a decent looking, warm jacket that can be worn both indoors and outdoors. This is the approach that Korean teachers take and Native English Teachers will quickly find it necessary to take the same approach or freeze to their desks.
Obviously, bring any prescription medication that you require. Early on, it can be difficult to navigate the health care system and your health coverage is being processed during the first month so any claims get incredibly complicated. Also, it’s entirely possible that the prescription you need is not available or regularly used in Korea. Better to be safe and bring a supply from home. Be sure you also bring a copy of the prescription with you in case you need to explain to anyone why you are carrying several months-worth of medication.
It is also worthwhile to bring a supply of over the counter medication that you are familiar and comfortable with. As you may recognize very few over the counter medications in Korea, if there is one from home that works particularly well for you, bring a bottle along.
Having said all this, it is not hard to get medications in Korea. A visit to the doctor’s office nearly always results in a prescription of some kind. The tricky part is figuring out what the heck you are taking.
Photos from Home
And not just on your computer. Bring something tangible with you that you can use to decorate your apartment and remind you of home. Before we left Canada, my wife made us each a photo mug (you can get the photo tumblers in several different stores). It has wedding photos, family photos, pictures from our past adventures, and a few from our life before Korea. It’s nice to have that sitting on my desk when I feel a little lonely or far from friends and family. Not only that, the students are fascinated by it. Every time they are in my office they pick it up and show their friends. The braver ones even ask questions. They especially love our wedding photos.
Most employers will require that you bring copies (sometimes even originals) of your degrees/certifications, criminal record check, proof of teaching experience, passport, birth certificate, and extra passport-sized photos. Sudden requests to see your documents, especially early in your arrival, are not uncommon. If at any point you decide to change jobs, or even if you choose to renew an existing contract, the chances are pretty good that you will need copies of your documents. In addition to professional requests, if you choose to volunteer during your time in Korea, certain organisations may require copies of the relevant documents.
Ladies, if you have a preferred feminine hygiene product you should bring a healthy supply or arrange to have more shipped over. Selection in Korea is not as broad as in most western countries and the products that appear familiar may not actually be quite the same. In addition, if you have a preferred birth control prescription, attempt to get a healthy supply prior to coming to Korea. Navigating the medical system can be a little tricky in a culture that is not as open about sexuality. In addition, it is more difficult to check the hormone levels in a language that you don’t fully understand.
As a little bonus here are 2 things not to bring.
Don’t Bring the Following to Korea
It seems to go without saying that most cell phones purchased in other countries will probably not work in South Korea. There are several major telecom companies here that dominate the market and it can be incredibly difficult to get a foreign cell phone unlocked and use it in Korea. I don’t know of anyone who has succeeded in having this done. You can use the internet, and there is wireless everywhere here, but you can’t access the mobile networks.
One of the things we were told we might not be able to find in South Korea was coffee. This is not true. There are coffee shops everywhere and for those who prefer home brewed coffee, there are several online companies that will deliver your orders to your school or home. It is true that most Koreans drink rather weak instant coffee in their offices, but that is not for lack of other options.
Those are just a few tips to consider when packing for your upcoming move to Korea.
Best of luck on your adventure!