Preparing for and Settling in Korea
What to Bring/Pack
When preparing yourself for moving to South Korea, there are certain things that you should pack. First, Korea uses 220V-240V on all appliances. If you are coming from the U.S., keep in mind that U.S. appliances are built for working with 120V. This means that your appliances will not work in South Korea and even if they do, they could be damaged or burn out if you do not use a voltage converter. You can go to any electronics store, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, etc. and pick up a voltage converter. You will also need an adapter. An adapter is a little piece that you attach to the ends of your plugs that change what the plug looks like. In the U.S., all of our plugs have two prongs and they are flat. In Korea, their plugs have two prongs as well but they are round. If you attach an adapter piece to a plug, on one side the flat prongs go in and on the other side it has two round prongs for use in the outlets. Using an adapter alone will NOT change the voltage going into your appliance. You MUST use a voltage converter for most electronics.
Laptops have a rectangular black box attached to their charging wire. This box works as a converter for your laptop alone. In this case, you will only need the adapter to put at the end of your plug. You will not need a voltage converter for your laptop.
Other things, such as battery chargers, phone chargers, hair dryers, etc., you will need a converter to charge these things or get them to work. The first day I moved to Korea, I plugged in my alarm clock with an adapter alone and within an hour it was broken. It had burned out.
As for hair dryers and straighteners, I HIGHLY recommend waiting until you come here to buy them. I brought them with me and it was such a waste because using the converter with the blow dryer barely had my blow dryer working and using it with the straightener barely had my straightener heat up. It definitely did not heat up enough to straighten my hair. So, I recommend waiting until you're here and the next day go to the store and buy them. For some locations of stores and where to buy certain items, see below "Where to Buy".
So far, that means you should pack at least 2 adapters and a converter.
Moving on to personal items. I'm sure many of you have read that you can't find deodorant in South Korea. That may be true in remote locations but if you are in a big city such as Seoul or Busan, most stores carry deodorant. The most common deodorant that I have come across is made by Nivea. It says 24h protection on it. I have not purchased it so I cannot tell you how it works. Before coming here, I took a trip to Costco and bought around 7 Degree deodorants so that I would have enough for the year (I hoped). If you are a stickler for a certain brand or you are going to an area of Korea that is a distance away from any big city, then I would recommend packing as much deodorant as you can.
Toothpaste can be found in all of the stores, but I have tried Korean toothpaste and I don't really like it. This is another thing that if you are partial to a certain brand, then pack away. I brought over two of the really long Crest toothpaste tubes and one smaller one. I am 9 months in and all of them are gone. To give you an idea of how long it lasts, I brush my teeth every morning and sometimes at night (not every night - I know, I'm supposed to). I think 3 large tubes of toothpaste and maybe 1 smaller one should last the year just fine.
Shampoo and conditioner are also readily available. If you go to the major shopping stores, you can find several brands there. Most are Korean but I have seen quite a bit of Pantene Pro-V in the stores. I had brought over a Nexus shampoo and conditioner and a Herbal Essence shampoo and conditioner, and those just finished about a month ago (October and I came here in February). So, if you can, bring around 3 bottles of shampoo and conditioner and I think you'll be just fine. Again, that's only if you want to bring a particular brand over. Otherwise, you can purchase a Korean brand.
Really, as far as any western brand goes, if there is a certain brand of something you are hooked on and don't want to change, bring as many of that as you can. Any western brands that are here are over-priced due to importation costs. I for one am hooked on MAC make-up and everything here is DOUBLE the price that it is back home. GUESS clothes are ridiculously over-priced as well (a T-shirt is around $100). Western food is also higher in price (especially at western restaurants). So, anything at home that you would like, whether it's cosmetics or not, you should bring some with you.
A few other things that are overpriced here in Korea are honey, maple syrup, cinnamon, and garlic powder. I don't know why, but they are definitely more expensive here. If you use any of these on a regular basis, you should definitely bring some over here with you.
I would DEFINITELY recommend bringing sheets over. The downside is that you won't know what size your bed is until you get here, so if you have friends or family that can send you over sheets after you arrive in Korea then do it that way, but if not, choose a certain size and bring it with you. I have a twin bed in my apartment but the twin-sized sheets did not fit my bed. The sheets actually ripped in the corner because they were not long enough. If you can find them, I think you should purchase "extra long and extra deep" twin-sized sheets. Or bring queen-sized sheets to be safe. I have yet to find a store that sells fitted sheets (even the big department stores). Koreans seem to mostly use a mattress cover in place of sheets.
As far as towels go, you should probably bring 1 or 2 with you just to get started. Unless you plan on going shopping the very next day you arrive, I think it's a good idea to have at least 1 towel handy.
Now, I know a big question on everyone's mind is what clothes to bring. South Korea has all 4 seasons. It is rare for there to be snow here but it gets extremely cold. Right now it is freezing and windy (not a nice combination). You can buy clothes in street markets or malls but their style here is different than western styles. Girls like very girly things and more professional looking outfits for everyday wear. They also like really big shirts. Guys wear skinny jeans, plaid shirts, neon sneakers, and just tighter clothing overall. In the 9 months of being here, I have only purchased around 4 or 5 shirts and 2 skirts. I have yet to attempt to go jean shopping here. Unless you are in a department store, you are not allowed to try on clothes - not even over what you're already wearing.
With all of that being said, you should pack at least 1 good winter jacket, sneakers, sandals, some summer clothes, and some winter clothes. I would pack a few professional looking outfits (more along the lines of business casual). Don't worry about packing work shoes since you take your shoes off as soon as you get to school and put on the school slippers. Pack maybe one or two pairs of work shoes and that's it, just for going to and from work and for any work outings you may attend. I have heard of a few schools requiring teachers to wear business suits but I've only heard about that on the internet. I have not seen it or heard of it since being here. Every English teacher I know has been allowed to wear jeans to school. I change it up during the week wearing jeans one day and business casual the next. I, for one, do not want my students to not respect me based on what I wear to school. GIRLS - you should also be sure to pack as many bras as you can (if you are a little chesty). There are lots of lingerie shops but since Koreans have very similar body types to one another, there is not a huge variety of sizes.
It gets very cold during the winter. I definitely recommend bringing a pair of boots and gloves.
Where to Buy Once You're Here
Once you get to Korea, there will be things that you want to purchase. The major stores are Home Plus, E-Mart, Mega Mart, and Lotte Department Store. Home Plus, E-Mart, and Mega Mart remind me a lot of Wal-Mart or Target. They carry everything from shoes to food. Lotte Department Store is similar to Macy's. You can find a lot there but it'll be more expensive than going to one of the other major stores.
You can also visit www.koreabridge.net to search around your city for people selling things that you need. I wish I had learned about that website when I first arrived as it would've saved me a lot of money. There's also www.gmarket.co.kr and www.11st.co.kr. G-Market's website has a button in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says "English". If you click on that some of the website turns to English but a lot of the items being sold are still in Korean. Either way, you can register on G-Market to purchase things from the website. 11th is a different story. I only use 11th if I find something cheaper on there or if I can't find what I need on G-Market. There is no "English" button and if you try to sign up on their website, everything is in Korean. Anytime I have purchased off of 11th, I have asked my co-teacher to do it for me and then I gave her the cash for it.
Busan also has a Costco in the city. You need to have a Costco membership to enter but the good news is that if you don't, you can register in Korea for $30 for the year. The Costco in Busan is located in Suyeong (Brown line). If you walk out of exit 5 at the Suyeong stop, hail a taxi, you can ask them to take you to Costco. If you have a Costco card, I find it much more helpful to say Costco and show them the card. It's not very far from the subway stop but I have had a few taxi drivers who did not know what I was saying.
Everyone is worried about getting a cellphone when they first arrive in Korea. When you meet your co-teacher he/she will take you to a cellphone shop to help you pick out a phone. This cannot be done until you receive your ARC (Alien Registration Card). Within the first few days of moving into your apartment, your co-teacher will take you to the Immigration Office to apply for your ARC. The very first day I met my co-teacher (February 25th), we went to the Immigration Office and I didn't get my ARC until March 18th. So, it wasn't until March 20th that I was able to go to the phone shop and pick out a cellphone. For the phones here, if you sign up for a 2-year contract, they will give you the phone for free (including iPhones). There will be a penalty if you cancel after one year, though. Weigh out the pros and cons of a one-year contract and a two-year contract and then decide. The phone company I went with told me my two-year contract would be free but I had to pay a 200,000 won deposit on the phone, which I would get back when the contract was up. Well, once they found out I held an E-2 Visa, that 200,000 won deposit dropped to 20,000 won. They said that if I cancelled the contract, I would basically have to pay for each month that I no longer had the phone. I-Phones run about 55,000 won a month in billing. My phone (not a smartphone) costs me 38,000 won a month but that's because I chose the option with more texting, since I text a lot.
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