Monday, May 24, 2010

Ask a Korean! Wiki: Gifts for a Prospective ESL Teachers?

Dear Korean,

A very good friend of mine will be leaving for Korea next month to teach English in Seoul for at least a year. I want to get her a really nice gift that will be useful to her during her stay. But I have no idea where to begin. Any suggestions?


Dear Diya,

The Korean has always been able to find everything he needed in Korea, so he does not know. Readers, any suggestions?

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. A stack of deodorant ~ in a month there I could never find any.

    A stack of your favourite shampoos as the Korean stuff ain't the same as the UK stuff.

    Oat meal ~ Seriously an Ex marine called Gonzales and other ESL teachers I was bumming around with in Seoul said oat meal and weight gain whey cannot be found in Seoul, marines had to smuggle the stuff in their luggage.

    Non spicy food again other than a small shack which sold waffles and fried foods we could never find anything non spicy.

    Anglo/American sized biker helmets, granted I have a Chinese head but checking out the deals in the biker shops in Seoul there was no such thing which fit my head and they were all open face.

    Camping equipment if you are into that sort of thing, camping in korea is bizare everything is setup for you, tents power sockets etc, TCG went rough camping on beaches, beside rivers etc but then I was on the bike.

    Clothing esp men's in a month all we found were boring suits and workmen ware.

  2. I agree with The Korean. I've found everything I need here. Except two things, which relate to body size differences: shoes and bras. If she's over a size 7 US in shoes, or C cup+, those will be things she'll have to go out of her way to find, have very limited selection in, or have to save for vacations to Western countries.

  3. Electronics are generally more expensive here (though I can't speak for the electronics markets - haven't been to one, and the very idea of trying to haggle with someone in a language I don't understand intimidates me).

    Laptops, cameras, microwaves, coffee pots ... all more expensive (by 10%) than what you'd find in the States. Even Samsung and LG, which are based here. Makes no sense to me.

    As far as camping gear goes, there's a ton here, unless she's into ultralight backpacking (flyweight stuff, alcohol stoves, etc.).

    Coffee. If she drinks coffee, buy her some good stuff - already ground. She can buy the pot here, but good God does she need to buy some "real" coffee. Koreans are very fond of those instant coffees with tons of sugar in each packet. Also, even though there are a million coffee shops around, I haven't found one yet that serves a strong, bitter brew. Koreans make everything (coffee, bread, tomato juice and spaghetti sauce included) taste like candy.

  4. You can find most things in Korea, but there are some things that are more difficult to find.

    Oatmeal you can find. It's expensive, but considering how many meals you get out of it, still less expensive than cereal. You just need to know where to look.

    Electronics are often more expensive.

    Maybe you can bring a particular candy that's difficult/impossible to find in Korea? There are several, especially if you live outside of Seoul or don't want to buy ridiculously huge amounts at Costco.

    Certain spices, especially outside of Seoul can be difficult to find. For example I picked up some vanilla, dill weed and western style chili pepper when last at home.

    But bras, shoes and clothing items can be impossible to find if you're over a particular size.

    Most dried/preserved food items, you can find if you go looking for them.

  5. You might actually try buying a lot of new Levi's jeans and selling them here. You'll triple your money if you don't get busted.

  6. My wife (A Korean) has suggested tampons; a brand that this woman is comfortable with as the options here are apparently limited.

  7. I second good, strong coffee if she likes it. Seoul has amazing cafes that are everywhere, but the coffee everywhere tastes like bitter water.

  8. Money. Sorry to sound so boring, but it's the one thing everyone never has enough of - especially when establishing yourself in a foreign country and you don't get paid for a month-plus after you arrive. Dollars or euro, it'll be appreciated - and it'll be a hedge against the craziness of the Korean won.

  9. Not a gift, but every country in the world has different tampons/sanitary towels, and most countries hide them - they must be there somewhere, but nobody will admit it because it's too embarrassing or something, when no such taboo ever affects the supply of toilet paper, arguably far nastier and more embarrassing. Also a year's supply of tampons occupies space you can bring stuff back in. I don't know if dark coffee and decent chocolate (i like 85% organic) are around there, certainly in china the only ok chocolate is korean, but it's bearable not great. The climate seems to ruin coffee anyway, best to live without. It costs a fortune too and contains milk powder and sugar.I took a large fine-meshed strainer to make it in a pot, very useful as i was backpacking. In Sardinia, all the clothes turned out to be too small, shoes too, and all made of nylon (i sweat, i need cotton). Adaptor plugs can be surprisingly hard to get. Any vitamin pills and medicines you normally use may not be available, or not in a form you're safe to buy. Deet or other mosquito stuff, especially nets, people who are used to being bitten care less. A lot of foreign countries don't have a good selection of language learning books, such as grammars and grammar workbooks. The best dictionaries are foreign to you, as mistakes in your language are no problem, but especially if you're going somewhere without tourists, you should shop around a big bookstore to find language books you like. As you're probably american, you have access to some of the best publishers such as tuttle which i have to travel to london to buy. I had terrible problems in china with constipation as vegetarianism and poverty meant too many pot noodles, bran? Money, yes: the 'cost of living' you read about assumes you don't have to eat out and travel a lot. A spare pair of glasses: my bag was snatched in italy and i was blind for six months (insurers class them as 'jewellery'...and they cost a bomb as i'm blindish in complicated ways). Mostly you can get gorgeous and interesting things abroad. But i didn't find a waterbottle i could be sure didn't have a dangerous (worse than just bpa) lining as they don't care so much about minor health and safety niggles abroad.Holland had only blue biros, chinese ones weren't waterproof, how strange is that?

  10. If your friend is of a darker skin color, makeup might be a nice gift. Tampons were suggested and while they don't make the best gifts they are useful (there's generally one brand sold here, and it's a little rough and Super is very difficult to find). Deodorant, yes, but that can be bought in Seoul. Shoes if she is over size 8 (whoever said size 7 was wrong, I easily find size 8-8.5 no problem). Some nice clothes if she's big or a winter coat. Full size towels are nice or a bedsheet- not the fitted one, but the other one, they are expensive here if you can actually find them. Chocolate, or treats that are distinctly from your country.

  11. Power adaptors sound like a very good idea, and no one seems to've mentioned them.

  12. I agree with The Korean. I've found everything I need here.

    Sure, everything you NEED, but not necessarily everything you WANT.

  13. darth, that might be a good thing for learning a new culture.


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