There has been no advancement on the EPIK application process since my last post - a lot of people have now submitted their documents and we are all anticipating our notices of appointment which should start rolling out in a month and a half+! There are also a lot of people waiting to be interviewed - so if you're one of them then good luck, think positive and be yourself :D
I've been spending most of my evenings reading blogs or forum posts left by the EPIK intakes from previous years (mainly Fall 2011) and one common suggestion has come up...buy your co-teachers a gift from your home country! So I thought I'd write this post to highlight some of the suggestions that I have read:
I have read from many sources that honey is highly priced in korea. To quote one source -
"Another big surprise of the day was The Honey Incident. Like many kinds of food in Korea, the price of honey is outrageous. It is not unusual to see a jar of honey for W20,000 up, though others of lower repute may be had for W10000 or so."
(found at http://thormay.net/koreadiary/tampons.html)
For those of you in the States, that's nearly $18 or in UK pounds = £11, so this would certainly be a welcomed gift. In fact, there are a lot of Korean teas that are based on fruit that is preserved in honey as it is known for it's medicinal properties in Korea. For example, 유자차 Yoojacha is made from citrus fruits preserved in honey and was given to me by a Korean friend as a cold medicine - it was tastes both bitter and sweet at the same time!
2) TOURIST STUFF!
You may think it is tacky or junk, but some of the people you meet in Korea may have never been to your country or even heard of the area that you are from if you don't live in a big city, so this is one of the best ways to introduce yourself to them and will save from any awkward introductions by serving as a starting topic of conversation. Ideas include: t-shirts, mugs, stationary, shot glasses for soju with motifs on, tea towels, travel card holders...have a look at your local tourist shop for ideas.
It's also a good idea to stock up on little touristy keyrings, stickers, badges etc. as kids of all ages will love receiving them as prizes for good work :D
3) BISCUITS & SWEETS
One of the 'safe' gifts that you usually bring back from holiday for relatives and friends, biscuits and sweets will be easy to share around the staff room and will always go down well. Same goes for things like toffees, nuts and cakes that are popular in your home country. Don't really need to elaborate on this, these types of gifts go down well with everyone but if someone is particularly fussy, you know it'll get passed on to someone who appreciates it!
4) COFFEE OR TEA
Coffee shops are very popular in Korea, so it is likely a coffee-based gift would be well-received. Think ground coffee or flavoured syrups that you could leave in the staff room at school.
Another gift choice is tea - I'm not sure if you have these ^ in other countries but in the UK you can buy tea in little tins. This is brilliant because when the tea is gone, the tin will serve as storage for stationary on a teacher's desk or you can buy ones that are money boxes that can be used afterwards too!
5) CREAMS OR TOILETRIES
In the UK you can sometimes get handcreams with things like lavender or royal jelly that are reasonably priced but would come across as generous gifts in Korea, soaps make nice gifts too like the ones with flowers inside.
If you are buying before you fly, buy some local produce like an ale (UK), wine or whiskey. If not, then SoJu is the drink of choice and you can find higher-end/'posh' SoJu in bigger supermarkets like E-Mart.
7) WHEN YOU GET THERE!
Of course, with the cost of flights and the spending money you'll need during the first month you're there, you may want to wait until your first pay-check before you splurge on gifts. It's common for teachers to bring in pizzas or cakes to share with other staff members at lunchtimes or after classes. You could also suggest taking the members of staff who you have the most contact with out for lunch and treating them.
Gift giving in Korea is a part of the culture and is not just limited to holidays or birthdays which is something that I love because I love to give presents! You might also find that your co-teacher brings you little things like stationary or small sweets (if they are nice!) so remember to return the favour, they'll appreciate it!
Anyway, I hope that was useful to at least one person...It's certainly been useful to me, if not more confusing because I now have too many suggestions to choose from! My favourite options are honey, a mug and some tea...how about you guys?