Packing for EPIK was really difficult for me. First, because packing away your life into two suitcases is a challenge in and of itself, and second because it's hard to pack for a situation that you've never before experienced. Now that I've been in Korea for a year, I have a better idea about what was actually useful, and what I could have done without. Also, ladies parts of this post are more geared towards you, but gents you can still get the general idea.
Weather in Korea
Korea is very hot and humid in the summer, and very cold and humid in the winter. So, be sure keep that in mind. For summer think flowy skirts, fabric shorts, and lots of soft cotton tops. Also, remember that Korea is much more conservative about cleavage than Western countries, but also much less conservative about skirt length. So, low-cut tops are a no-go, but feel free to rock out with a super short skirt.
For winter think layers. Lots and lots of layers. During the dead of winter I would wear thermal leggings, my work pants, two to three tank tops, a long sleeve undershirt, a sweater, and then a blazer. This is what I wore inside. Korea is very... conscious... about how much heat they use, because fuel is very expensive here. So there's a high likelihood that your school might only have the heat on a few hours a day.
Office Dress Code
In terms of work wear that's a little more difficult. because you won't know what kind of school you're at until you land. As the majority of jobs are in elementary schools, that is most likely where you will be placed, but it is still possible to get a middle school position. (High school has largely been phases out, since the EPIK program is down-sizing.) The elementary school dress code is more lax than middle school, in that some people say jeans and T-shirt are acceptable. I say, you aren't a slob. So don't dress like one. (Unless you are, in which case get on with yo bad self.) My suggestion is to bring a few pairs of nice jeans (dark wash, no holes, no bootycrack), some casual slacks, a few appropriate skirts, a few blouses, and some nice sweaters.
Just use your common sense. It's a school, not a corporate office. Here's a good rule of thumb: if you wouldn't want to meet someone's parents in your outfit, you probably shouldn't wear it to school.
Also, when it comes to work it's better to be a little over-dressed. Korean's take fashion and their overall image very seriously. Girls will put on make-up, a cute skirt, and heels to go to the convenience store - no joke. I'm not saying you have to do that, but I am saying don't be that sloppy looking foreigner. You don't need a suit and tie, but we are not in college and your pajamas are no longer acceptable when leaving the house.
So keeping all these things in mind here is my detailed item breakdown of what to pack for one year in the EPIK program.
- Copies of ALL your paperwork
- 6 passport photos (Just good to have around and you need them for certain applications)
- Your passport. Duh.
- $800 to $1000 USD for your first month before getting paid
- 2 pairs of darker wash skinny jeans
- 2 pairs of slacks (1 black and 1 grey or khaki)
- 6 nicer tops (again this is not the Oscars, but no holes, no cleavage, no slogans)
- 3 light weight sweaters
- 2 nicer skirts
- 3 to 4 summer dresses/skirts
- 3 to 4 loose cotton tops for summer
- 7 pairs of socks (socks are a huge thing here, so don't overpack)
- 1 Good winter coat (Hoodies do not count! That mofo needs to be wool or polydown.)
- BRAS (If you wear over a size B cup, I would bring enough bras for a year - Korean ladies tend to be a little smaller in that department so you might get lucky with a C, but a D or DD? Forget about it.)
- Underwear (Again, this depends on your size. If you are size 6 and below you'll probably be fine because there are a lot of cute lingerie stores here. Anything above that and I would bring a years supply or be prepared to order online.)
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 2 pairs of good quality flats (No Payless!)
- 1 pair of winter shoes
***Shoes are again contingent on shoe size. You will be able to find up to U.S. size 8, mayyybe 9 if you're in a big department store, but anything above that, again you're out of luck ***
Don't bring things you don't wear now.
IF YOU DON'T WEAR IT NOW, YOU WON'T WEAR IT HERE.
DON'T FOOL YOURSELF.
- 4 sticks of deodorant (that biz is seasonal here... so you don't want to get caught unprepared)
- Tampons (These are available, but they are definitely more expensive and the brand variety is very low. So if you have a favorite brand, stock up on that.)
- Enough shampoo, conditioner, and face wash to get you through your first week or so
- Mascara (This is optional, but for some reason mascara is really expensive here. There's no way I'm paying 12 bucks for something that's four in America.)
- Advil (Tylenol is available, but Tylenol is weak.)
- Dayquil/Nyquil or you favorite cold medicine
- Contraceptives (Again, optional. Birth control is available without a prescription; however, if you need a specific brand you might want to consider stocking up. Also, the only condoms available are Durex and Korean brands. So... I guess it depends on how picky you are.)
What to Leave at Home:
- Your nail polish and giant cosmetic bag (Make-up is a HUGE business in Korea and it's often cheaper and better quality than that in America. Just bring the essentials and then buy the rest here.)
- Your massive bottle of face wash (Unless you need one specific brand for medical reasons I would just sample around and find one you like here. Skin care is an even bigger industry than make-up so I can almost guarantee you'll find one you like)
- Giant bottles of shampoo and conditioner
- CLOTHES YOU DON'T WEAR NOW
- Bedding (You can buy pillows, sheets, and blankets here.)
- Too much jewelry (It's heavy in your suitcase and you probably don't wear half of it. Pick out your favorite pieces and only bring those.)
My last tip is to pack seasonally. If you're coming in August, pack enough warm weather clothes for two months, fill the rest of your suitcase with winter wear, and then pack up a box of summer stuff to be sent later by a loving parent, or really dedicated friend. Go visa versa if you are coming in the summer.
Packing your life away in two suitcases is definitely not easy - you will probably pack and re-pack your suitcase at least five times. My best advice is to be very practical and honest with yourself. If you know something isn't useful, leave it behind. Think: Do I wear this often? Can I wear this with many other pieces? Is this something I will need immediately upon landing? Or can I buy it there?
Korea is a developed nation, with access to all the essentials (except Spicy Nacho Doritos) - it might not always be the brand you are used to, but it's probably available and who knows you might even end up liking it better. Also, don't stress too much about it. One of the best things about letting go of most of your stuff, is that you realize you don't really need most of it. Simplifying is hard to do at first, but it can end up really being a blessing.
Have you ever packed for a huge international move? What did you bring? What was the hardest thing to let go? If you have any questions about a specific item, or suggestions about something I might have missed please message me! I love to hear from readers and if you're considering moving to Korea, I would be more than happy to help you :) Find me on Facebook or Twitter and I will get back to you ASAP.
Enjoy the beautiful view!