5 Important Items To Keep At School During Winter In Korea

South Korea has one of the coldest winters I’ve ever survived. Admittedly, I’m from Texas and have never actually experienced a real winter, so I’ve had to learn all these little tips and tricks to keep my goosebumps at bay all on my own whilst suffering the frigid weather. Lucky for you, I won’t be greedy with my new-found knowledge. I’m here to share with you 5 items to purchase and keep in your arsenal at work to combat the freezing temperatures. You can thank me in a comment below after you’ve successfully fought off the frostbite on your poor little digits with the items from my list.

Heat pad1. A Thick Cardigan

Like all cultures, South Korea harbors its own superstitions. Of all that I’ve learned of thus far, none give me more chills than the superstition fan death. When I say “chills”, by the way, I mean the word in the most literal sense. Fan death is the idea that if a person stays in a room without circulating air, he will eventually suck up all the oxygen in the room and die. Korea’s method of preventing fan death is leaving room windows open no matter the season. Can you see why I say fan death literally gives me the chills? It’s snowing outside and my office windows are flung open in an attempt to save all of our lives. I’ve tried sneaking over to windows and sliding them closed when all eyes in the office are averted, but somehow they always magically appear open again the second I step out of the office. I guess I’m not as clever as I thought.

The only way I’ve been able to keep my body temperature at nice, warm levels is by stashing thick cardigans and scarves in my office locker. Under thick layers of mismatched knit, striped, polka dot, and argyle sweaters, I’m sure I usually look like that crazy pigeon lady in Home Alone 2 Lost in New York as I wall the halls. I don’t care, though, because I’m warm, just like the crazy pigeon lady’s heart turned out to be. Trust me, ladies, those not so flattering, bulky cardigans are a blessing during the bitter winter months. Boys, be prepared to look like Mr. Rogers with your chunky cardigans, which truth be told, I surprisingly find rather attractive. But enough about my men’s style preferences. On to number two we go.

2. Warm Blanket

Another less than desirable habit Korea tends to keep is energy saving. Please hear me out before you sharpen those pitchforks because I’m in no way against saving energy. What I am having trouble getting on board with are the concrete rules Korea places on energy use. I’m so accustomed to teaching at schools in the United States where we blast the heaters if even the slightest cool breeze blows outside. It’s difficult to get acclimated to working in a school that refuses to use the heater. Only one office is allowed to turn the heater on (no warmer than 18°), and the principal herds all the teachers and staff into it. No one removes their goose down coats to walk the halls here because you can still see your breath as you move from class to class. This is why I’ve purchased a thick blanket to keep folded in my desk drawer to wrap around myself as I do my lesson planning in heat-less offices and classrooms. At first, I felt strange wrapping myself up in a blanket at work. It felt unprofessional, but then I noticed my Korean coworkers were also sneaking blankets into work. Instead of worrying about looking unprofessional now, all I worry about is having the cutest blanket at work. All the world’s a stage after all, right?

3. Warm Boots

Chances are your school will ask you to change into “school shoes” instead of your outside shoes each morning. Most schools will provide guest shoes for all the teachers to wear, but these shoes are really just house slippers that leave your toes exposed. Do yourself a favor and buy some warm boots to keep at school. I fall under that category of people who never joined a sorority in college and who think UGGS are ugly looking space boots, but I rock them like no other inside my school in Korea. Rest assured, however, I do not wear my UGGS with yoga pants and over-sized NorthFace jackets.

4. Hot Packs Or A Portable Heater

Hot packs were completely foreign objects when I first discovered them. I wasn’t even sure how to use them properly. I thought they were meant to be boiled in hot water, but that’s not the case. All you need to do is snap the silver disc inside of it back and forth a couple times, and voilà. Instant hot pack to warm up your hands as you type away at your laptop. They can usually be found at gift shops and grocery shops costing only 1,000W (1.00USD). If you have the extra cash lying around and really want to indulge yourself, splurge on a portable electric heater. They’re lightweight and work wonders. I can’t say how many days I thought I’d die if it weren’t for my space heater. Excuse the hyperbole, I just really love my portable heater. As will you if you decide to get one.

5. Coffee maker

This last item is for serious coffee drinkers only, and last I checked, most teachers fall under that category. The one item I miss most in American schools is the drip coffee maker. I even miss the days when all we had was cheap, watery, or stale coffee because our school funds ran low. I’d trade a pot of cold, hour old drip coffee any day for what Korea has stored in their teachers’ lounges, mixed coffee. If you haven’t had a cup of mixed coffee yet, count your blessings. The stuff is just awful and is stored by the box full in most schools. It’s essentially a tube of instant coffee mixed with an insane amount of powdered creamer and sugar. I’d say each tube contains 70 percent sugary awfulness and 30 percent weak instant coffee.

When I first arrived to Korea, the country was experiencing its final days of summer. I was able to just forgo coffee and gulp water to stay hydrated during those unbearably humid summer afternoons. If I needed a pick me up, I’d reach for an iced green tea. Refreshing, light, and caffeinated, it always did the trick to give me that midday energy boost. However, now that snow plagues the streets and sidewalks of Korea, I need a beverage that is hot and caffeinated to warm me up and keep me from hibernating. I decided to go ahead and invest in a small coffee pot for myself and keep it at school. It was surprisingly affordable at HomePlus, which is the Korean equivalent of Target for my American readers. (If you’re from somewhere else, sorry because I have no idea where you buy your appliances.)

The ground coffee itself can get a little pricey since Korea isn’t huge on home brewing, but I think it’s worth it. Plus, none of my coworkers like drip coffee, which is probably because they’re all addicted to the sugar in mixed coffee now, so I never have to share the pots I make. I can’t say with full certainty, but I’m nearly sure that your co-workers will probably be just as addicted to their awful instant tubes as mine are, which means you won’t have to share either. If you’re like me and need a daily caffeine pick me up, go ahead and make the purchase from your school. It’ll warm you, help you stay productive, and give you that small comfort and reminder of home.

If you’ve already survived your first winter in Korea, what were some items you kept at school that helped you get through the freezing months? I hope you heed my words of advice and are able to stay warm at your office this winter.

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