Your documents have been submitted, your offer letter has been signed, and your plane ticket has been bought. Congrats on landing a teaching job in Korea! Now the only thing left to do is pack. There are tons of resources with great suggestions and tips on packing for Korea, but before you set about making solemn, possibly life-altering decisions about whether you really need to pack that extra pair of pants or that bag of your favorite snack from home (which, the answer is, yes. Pack them all), you may need to consider packing a few things for your classroom, too.
Depending on whether you’re entering a public school, hagwon, or other institution, and the budget of your school and temperament of your staff, you might not have certain things provided for you in your classroom. When I first came to Korea in 2014, I was teaching in SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education) via the EPIK program. Public schools have very strict, limited budgets, so as the year progressed I desperately wished I had brought some things that are so easy to find back home but difficult or impossible to get in Korea. Here are my suggestions, in classic listicle form as well as video form (above). Unless otherwise stated, almost everything can be found via Amazon.com.
- Planner. Korea has planners, but they will most likely be in Korean. If you are very specific about your form of organization, then pick up a planner that suits your needs before getting on the plane. You could use an app as well, but I suggest using it on a tablet so that it’s just as accessible as a paper planner. Also, you’ll just look so much more “professional” and about your ish carrying around a planner in front of your principal. In the USA, you can get stylish yet functional and affordable planners from Ross, Marshalls, or TJ Maxx.
- PowerPoint Clicker/Remote. As a teacher in Korea, PowerPoints (commonly called PPTs here) will be your main tool of instruction. However, standing by the computer every time you need to move on to the next slide or sentence will force you to be rooted by your computer. The problem with this is that it will become much more difficult to manage your class from that one spot. I like to walk around and interact (or in some cases, KEEP A STERN EYE ON) my students as I teach, and having a remote makes that so much easier.
- Portable Hard Drive. As the months go by, you will accumulate tons of lessons, games, activities, and more. Before the first half of the year is up, you will undoubtedly already have used many of your resources multiple times. Keep them all in one place and back up your files with a portable hard drive. I also suggest filling your hard drive with as many age appropriate TV shows and movies for kids as you can, preferably with English subtitles. Korean students love American or “Western” programs. I taught grades 3 – 6, and a few things they loved were: The Simpsons, Adventure Time, Spongebob, Bleach, Peppa Pig, Doc McStuffins, Avengers (or any superhero movie), Home Alone, Karate Kid (with Jalen Smith), and any Disney movie. TIP: Here is a chance to include some diversity and show how dynamic your home country is! We aren’t all white, blonde, and blue-eyed in the US…but sadly many Koreans assume as much and are very surprised or even in complete disbelief when I state otherwise…but that’s a topic for another blog post 🙂
- Games. Bring any game that requires speaking or writing or wordplay, such as Apples to Apples, Taboo, Guess Who, or Twister (great for teaching body parts, color, and directions). There are ways to create versions these games yourself, too.
- Download a Reliable VPN. This is for all my TV/movie junkies. Thankfully, Korea isn’t as controlling over its internet as, say, China, but there are certain sites that won’t be accessible or may convert to the Korean version if you try to visit without a VPN. Before this year, I did well with a simple VPN (Hola Unblocker) but Netflix has cracked down on it and Hulu seems to be following Netflix’s footsteps. Netflix does have an accessible Korean site, but the selection leaves a lot to be desired. Pay for a strong reliable one before you arrive.
- Holiday and Reward Materials. Most places in Korea acknowledge Christmas and Valentine’s Day, maybe Halloween if you’re in a city, but any other holiday from your home probably won’t be acknowledged here. Holiday lesson plans are pretty popular and usually well-received, so if you want to teach about holidays from your native country then you may want to bring fun little trinkets or props for your lesson, such as a small flag for the Fourth of July, sleigh bells or a Santa hat for Christmas, candy corn or even a costume for Halloween. As far as reward materials, stickers and stamps with English on them are great and easy to pack. Candies that aren’t found in Korea are good, too (Starburst, Jolly Ranchers, Skittles, Warheads, Nerds, etc.)
- Indoor Shoes or Slippers. If your feet are small enough (smaller than a US size 8 for women or a US size 10 for men), then this won’t be so urgent. Despite your size, I still recommend bringing a pair of shoes that will be for indoor use only. It’s common to switch out of your “outdoor” shoes and into you “indoor” shoes in Korea, but indoor shoes don’t mean fuzzy bunny slippers. It can literally be a pair of cute flats or sturdy yet comfortable sandals; just make sure it’s something you won’t wear outside and that you’ll be comfortable teaching in them.
- Your Instrument. The Korean culture is a sharing culture, and that includes your artistic abilities. If you are skilled in an instrument that is easily portable, bring it! Incorporate it into your lessons during the day and then find some people to busk with at night. Win-win!
- Pocket Folders. For some reason, these folders were impossible for me to find, even in Seoul. I like this style because I can easily separate files into either side, or secure them by punching holes and inserting it in the middle of the folder. This can help keep your personal documents and lesson documents neat and organized.
- A Lock. It’s very likely that you will be sharing an office space with many other teachers or in a classroom. If it’s the former, I actually wouldn’t worry too much about people stealing your items since they are also adults. In the classroom though, there’s always that one mischievous kid who knows where your reward candy and stickers are and will find a way to get them.
- Camera. You’re going to want to document this journey, trust me! Also, EPIK has monthly photo contests and an annual video contest with monetary prizes, which I encourage everyone to enter! (I entered and won the Gold Prize–check it out here!)
- Photos from Home. I don’t know when it will happen to you, but my homesickness started kicking in around month 6. Simple photos of my friends and family were really comforting and also helped make my tiny apartment feel more home-y. This is also another opportunity for you to share with your students and co-teachers, and educate them about the people and places of your home country, from your perspective.
Let me know if these tips came in handy or if you have anything to add! Best of luck to all you new teachers!