Whether you’re moving to Korea for a year or just passing through, packing strategically can be a challenge. There are some things you just won’t find in the Land of the Morning Calm, things that specifically apply to us women of color. From our skin tones to our body shapes to our physiology and mental/emotional health, we have commonalities that we need to take care of and address before living in a country as homogenous as Korea. Check my YouTube video above for detailed tips, or if you’re more of a reader (skimmer), check the TLDW (Too Long, Didn’t Watch) version below (which became longer than I intended…my bad ^_^).
- Makeup. Ever seen a brown Korean in 2016? ME NEITHER. Brown makeup is rare to come across and pricey if you find it. Stock up on anything that matches your skin color or compliments it–such as nude lip shades or rich, bronzed eye shadows.
- Skin Care. Korea is becoming more and more well-known for its amazing skin care industry. Products are cheap, plentiful, and what harm is a little skin-whitening agent gonna do? What’s that?…you don’t care for whitening products? Better bring your butterlicious butters from home then–especially if you have yet to learn Korean for reading those labels.
- Deodorant. Apparently, Koreans don’t sweat much through their armpits. So they don’t NEED deodorant or antiperspirant like other races/ethnicities. That means deodorant will cost you an arm and two legs once you find it. Please, fight the funk and come with about 2-3 sticks to get you started.
- Hair products. If your hair has any hint of a kink or curl, you need to bring a month’s supply (or a full-size bottle) of your favorite hair products. On the other hand, there are two great websites for girls with tightly coiled/kinky hair: Honey Hair (which I’ve used multiple times and love) and iROK Curls (haven’t used, but many others have). iHerb is another possible resource. Also check out this Facebook group, Natural Beauty in Korea. It has saved me many times and is an invaluable resource including hair stylists in Korea that cater to black hair, hair styling tips, and sightings of any black hair products being sold in Korean stores.
- Speaking of hair products…just bring hair. There are a sprinkle of hair stores in Korea, but I’ll never forget seeing a $20 synthetic wig on sale for 79,000 won (about $71) and a pack of braiding/twist hair for 10,000 won (about $9)! No ma’am, my frugal heart would not allow my will to bend to scam like that. I brought hair from home for protective styles, and ordered a huge bulk package from the US to hold me over for…well, my whole year basically. Team up with some friends to do the same and split the shipping cost.
- Learn to do your own hair! I can’t stress this enough. Even if all you do is moisturize, seal, and plop on a wig…that is better than trusting a nervous Korean stylist with you hair (of an unfamiliar texture) and setting yourself up for disappointment…or going to one of the few black stylists and forking over too much of your paycheck for a style that you could easily do yourself, boo! Peruse YouTube. Watch some tutorials. Learn your hair. DO you hair!
- Clothes. Most of my melanin-happy sisters are a little (or alot) thicker than your average Korean. If you are bigger than a US size 4 in Korea, you are big by Korean clothing standards. So stock up on pants, leggings, shorts, button-ups, shoes (bigger than a US 7) and anything that needs to fit over your curvier parts.
- Bras and Underwear. Once again, Koreans cater to Koreans, and since most of the women are small, don’t expect to see bras past a B-cup or in your shade of nude. Also, it was hard for me to find cute underwear that was worth the price…then again I’m cheap so maybe I’m trippin’ on this one (nah I’m not).
- Tampons. Korea has every kind of pad imaginable, but their tampons are a joke…a cotton swab in plastic. Bring as many as you can, especially if your flow is heavy, or else spend all your money on the tiny ones they sell here.
- A very cute one-piece bathing suit and coverup. Koreans go to the beach and don’t get undressed. I’ve seen this at pools as well. This can be a bit daunting if you head to a Korean beach with every intention on getting semi-naked…and no one else is. So just in case, bring a cute monokini to make that transition easier.
- Spices. Korean food is good, but sometimes you need that little touch of home in your meals. I know I sure miss the flavors of crayfish, egusi, and chicken/beef bouillion powder, and you’ll probably miss your favorites too unless you bring them!
- Photos, magazines, movies, shows showing family or people who look like you/us. When I say “us,” I am referring to people of African descent, in my personal case. You may go weeks without seeing another brown person, and that ish can get old and lonely REAL FAST. Keep some media around you with people who look like you, and go a step further and share it with the Koreans around you (co-workers, students, friends, your bus driver, that sweet ajumma down the street…) because they need to be hit with some diversity.
- Anything related to your heritage (clothes, foods, books, etc) to keep you somewhat grounded. Melanated brothers and sisters, there will be a time when you love Korea, despite being the only black person in the town. Then, you will hate it and may even force yourself to fit in, Korea-boo style. Then finally, you will accept your position. Once you’ve reached this stage, your confidence (and sense) finds its way back to the surface and you’ll want to start flaunting the HECK out of your blackness. Kinky fros, dashikis, sprinkling in some cultural slang in conversations with co-workers, 36-inch box braids, Africa pendants, Malcolm X quotes in your grammar lessons…and you’ll discover that while it’s easy to lose yourself when living in another culture, it’s wonderful to find yourself again and embrace things you forget about and take for granted when you’re living within your own culture. Bring the ankara and kente print clothes, the black power fist tees, the gold rings to wrap around your marley twists, and anything else that makes your feel unapologetically proud of who you are and where you come from, no matter who may be staring.
Let me know if you have any other questions about what to bring to Korea!