Hello everyone! May is a month full of public holidays in Korea so it is time to write another blog post before life gets busy again! Coincidentally, May is also the month where KGSP-scholar hopefuls get to know whether or not they make it pass the 2nd round of application. I got a special request from one of my readers to draft a post about what to bring when scholars arrive in Korea because some of them have already started preparing (kudos to you!). I will split the post into a few sections for easier reading.
Korea is blessed with four seasons a year with very distinctive weather every season. For people like me who is born and raised in a mono-season country (it is summer 365 days in Malaysia), having the chance to experience 4 different seasons are indeed a blessing. But without the right clothing, it is hard to enjoy the beauty of every season so in this section I am going to cover on types of preferred clothing per season for girls and also my advice on what to bring!
The beginning of spring will be more chilly as there are still bouts of cold waves from time to time (they call it coldness before the flower blooms LITERALLY!). It even snowed once AFTER the cherry blossoms have bloomed and withered so that’s why temperature can be rather unpredictable. Spring is also a season where it rains a lot but as we progress through spring the weather will turn warmer and it would be perfectly fine to go out and about in summer clothing by then.
For girls, spring is a really nice time to play dress up in floral dresses/one pieces or thinner clothing. The most ideal dressing for spring is actually thin clothing with a layer of thinner outer jacket or cardigan that can be taken off when it is too hot.
P/S: I could withstand the cold pretty well and I am the type of person who can run around outside in shorts and summer clothing when it hits 17 degrees and above. Cold tolerance varies between individuals and I think where you come from will also make a difference because most people who come from hotter countries tend to feel cold easily but can withstand heat better than people from colder countries vice versa.
Some photos of my spring clothing choices:
Pro tip: Bring medium to floor length skirts or dresses because they could be worn in many seasons like spring, summer and autumn. You can also bring shorter skirts and pair them with leggings during colder days too! It is advisable to bring a water proof wind breaker in case it rains as it doubles as a rain coat while blocking the cold spring wind (photo 2). If you are not fond of wearing skirts (it can be quite tedious sometimes when we have to sit on traditional flooring during outings or meal gatherings), then dress pants is also a good alternative (photo 3) because it can double as a formal clothing but yet you can also wear it casually for a day out!
Pro tip 2: It is not too expensive to buy those fashionable long coats (photo 1 and 3) that we often see in Korean dramas because there is always good deals lying around so it is better to buy it here.
Pro tip 3: If you have limited bag space (we all do but I was fortunate enough that my parents tagged along with me so I have more luggage space), jeans are the best items to bring because you can wear it literally for every season! Jean pants, jeans top of various thickness (photo 2) are my favourite pieces because they can match almost everything else. My advice is to invest in a few pair of good, thick jeans for winter, and thinner, lighter jeans for the rest of the other seasons.
Pro tip 4: Thinner clothing of certain material may not be dryer friendly and some may require ironing. We do have a dryer and an iron on every floor in our dorm but to save on the hassle, try bringing clothes that do not require ironing. For the drying part, we can dry our clothes on the hanger (bought ourselves) so it is OK if some clothes cannot go into the dryer.
Summer is when the heat strikes and people from hotter countries tend to wear really little like spaghetti stripe top and mini shorts with slippers. The only advice I could give for summer clothing is to wear clothes that are really thin but try to cover up as much skin as possible because it BURNSSSSS when you need to walk under the sun a lot. Most of the Koreans I observed wear long sleeves and long pants during summer (for fear of getting burned) but I feel like I would faint if I were to wear that so I normally just wear a tee and shorts with sneakers for summer. A cap or hat and sunnies will come in handy too!
Since I came from a tropical country, I have a lot of summer clothes at hand so there is no need for me to buy anymore here.
Some photos of my summer fashion:
Pro tip 5: My summer clothing consists of work and casual clothing but seeing that my future masters is in MBA, I brought more formal tops compared to casual tops because I reckon I would need to wear them more often during my stay here. Depending on your major, there may be certain dress code you need to follow during your course, so it is better to find out first before packing. Dress code for language year is casual FYI.
Autumn can be really unpredictable as well. As it slowly transform to winter, some days get really cold towards the end. However, the beginning of autumn seemed more like summer to me because it is still very hot and humid. But it rains lesser compared to spring and it is much more windier. Similar to spring, it is a nice time to whip out the long outer coats with padding in the inside to stay warm. In my opinion, autumn feels colder than spring so this is when I wear a lot of jeans and long sleeved clothing under a coat or a fur jacket. Scarves are also widely used to keep the neck warm and add a little more style to the outfit.
Pro tip 6: Autumn is a good time to start looking out for winter boots and winter clothing if you are planning to buy them because the stores will be launching their winter collections by then and there is bound to be discounts and good deals. Winter boots is not a necessity in Gwangju even though it did snow pretty often last winter. I survived with just a normal pair of Fila sneakers through snow and it works fine.
Winter in Gwangju and Korea generally is full of cold, harsh winds with almost no rain. Surprisingly it is not as cold when it snows but the coldest time would be the period right after it snows. Last winter, all of us (locals included) were surprised that it snowed pretty often and pretty heavily most of the time. Roads can be really slippery when thick snow starts to melt so it is IMPORTANT to have the right shoes to avoid falling. But even with good shoes, there is still a risk so it is better to be careful.
Winter is when we will need to wear long johns and down feather jackets because the normal long coats with padding is still too thin to fight the cold. Some of my friends opted for Uniqlo’s Heat Tech as their inner clothing layer. I have both Heat Tech and long johns from Universal Traveller (a stores that specializes in selling winter apparel and necessities in Malaysia). A proper long john plus thick top and down feather jacket is enough for me to endure the coldest days of winter. Heat Tech tend to be a bit thinner in terms of material and they have different grades of heat retaining properties so it may be advisable to buy the thickest one if you do not have a long john.
Pro tip 7: Ear muffs, gloves and furry neck warmers are sold pretty cheap here in Korea so you can purchase them here. The more expensive winter item would be down feather jackets and long paddings (knee length down feather jacket). My roomie bought a light down feather knee-length jacket from Uniqlo Korea and it cost 169,000won (about RM620). I didn’t buy any winter outerwear in Korea because I brought the one I had and also bought a second one for about RM688, both from Universal Traveller. Both coats did a great job so I didn’t see the need to buy a long padding here. It would be better to bring the ones you have in your country if you already have one. If you don’t, you can try buying it here but take note that those paddings from branded outlets tend to be really expensive. Two down feather jackets is a good number because you can swap around and in case one gets wet because of rain or snow, you can wear the other one while waiting for it to dry up.
Pro tip 8: It costs around 8000 – 10,000 won to dry clean ONE piece of down feather coat. Based on personal experience, you may discuss with your friends to bring the coats for dry cleaning together to get a better price.
Pro tip 9: I managed to survive winter without long john pants when I am wearing jeans because I bought really thick jeans. Uniqlo also sells dress pants with fur lining which can keep us pretty warm. I brought two of them with me.
Pro tip 10: We can buy socks for real cheap in downtown so if you didn’t bring enough, don’t worry because you can find them everywhere in a decent price.
The most essential items to bring are comfortable walking shoes and plenty of underwear. It may sound really funny but the truth is, Korean sizes are pretty different and you may not be able to find suitable underwear here in terms of size and comfort level. So make sure you got that covered! Shoes are also important because you will be doing a lot of walking AND for those who have big feet (like me), it would be hard for you to buy shoes here too because their biggest shoe size is actually my shoe size (luckily or else I would be stuck with only one pair of shoes). My size is 40 and it is hard to get one that is not too tight on me here.
In terms of bags, backpacks are the best because we can use for class and travelling. Best to get waterproof ones in case it rains. For handbags, not very much needed unless for special events but nevertheless I still got some in downtown for a really good price.
Depending on the major, there are certain tools and equipments that are needed so bring them along because you don’t know if you can get them here or would they be really pricey. For me, I didn’t bring any books because I don’t have any business related books (I studied science for my degree). I just brought my scientific calculator which I use for Math class in high school just in case I needed a calculator for statistics class.
But with limited luggage space, I would suggest to opt out bringing basic stationary like ruler, pencil, pen etc because you can buy them in Daiso here for a cheap price.
BRING your academic transcript, important academic certificate and other important certificate and copies of your passport, Identity card and passport size photo of yourself because they need it for Alien Registration Card (ARC) registration and sometimes they might need it out of the blue for other purposes.
Although we can buy all sorts of normal medicine here for flu, cough, headache, fever etc, it may or may not be the most effective medicine for us because we grew up in a different country and our bodies adapt differently to new viruses and bacteria. Having some basic medicine that you normally consume will come in handy especially when you suddenly feel sick in the middle of the night or when you are in a new place.
Bring medicine for the following:
- Food poisoning (diarrhea, vomit)
- For special needs (eg. back pain medicine, high blood pressure medicine, migraine medicine) – this is most important especially if you need to consume from a specific brand
1. Electronics – laptop, phone, camera etc
You can always buy them here but it is going to be pricey (taking to account the limited student budget we get) and there are lesser options available. In my opinion, it is easier to buy electronics back home because we can buy the exact model that we want and it is much more convenient. It is hard to purchase electronics here because of language barrier (at the start of our stay) and the models available might be limited in other areas outside of Seoul.
2. For girls: SANITARY PAD!
I would give this item a 5 star priority because having period is something unavoidable.
Similar to the underwear story mentioned above, it is going to be really hard to look for a good brand that suits you at the start. So bring at least 2 months worth so that you have ample time to ask around and try out some brands sold here. And also, pads here are really expensive compared to my country. For example, I bought one packet of overnight pads in the convenient store and it cost around 500won/pad. So in the end after knowing which brand I wanted to use for the long run, I bought them in bulk on Gmarket online and it cost around 300won/pad.
This actually mean cold hard CASH. Some countries are really advanced and cash is no longer widely used. In Korea, the locals can pay using check card (aka debit card), credit card or using their phones. But for us, we will only be getting our bank card a month after arriving. We can also use our own credit card issued by our home country BUT bear in mind that not every card is accepted in every store. To be safe than sorry, it is best to bring at least enough cash to last you for a month (for food, books, necessities like pillow, blanket etc that you need to buy here) PLUS a little bit as a spare. In Gwangju, USD is not accepted but I think you can convert your USD to Won in the bank.
Also important, Woori Bank staff here in Downtown Gwangju do not speak English so bring an English speaking Korean with you to the bank! This is probably not very likely in the first 2 weeks unless you already have friends in Korea before coming.
Pro tip 11: To figure out how much a certain item might cost in Won, you can visit the Gmarket Global website to get a hint. We won’t be able to purchase anything online until we get the bank card, but at least it gives you a hint on how much the necessities will cost.
Pro tip 12: Daiso is the cheapest place you can shop. But unfortunately they do not sell items like bedding items and clothing. That aside, we can get toiletries, laundry items, stationary and even cooking utensils there for a cheap price.
So there you go! Hopefully this post would be a great help to those who are preparing to come this year as a scholar! Good luck and happy preparing! ^^