Care Packages from Korea

  • Photo by Photo by Sung Choi, styling by Sung Choi and Sonja Swanson for Seoulist

    Photo by Sung Choi, styling by Sung Choi and Sonja Swanson for Seoulist

The contents of a box are telling of both sender and recipient. In college, for example, my mom would sometimes send me new undies because a) she knew I hated doing laundry and b) it never occurred to her that I might be opening her care package in front of thirty new friends in the freshman dorm lounge. Nonetheless, I loved getting her care packages. Not only were their contents often useful (and sometimes delicious), they were within arms reach for my rare moments of homesickness.

That’s the thing about care packages—even if their contents are useful or tasty, they mean something more. Their senders could never fit everything you actually missed about some place inside. Sometimes the symbolic has to suffice—a local paper for those lazy Sunday afternoons, an autumn leaf from your local park, or a recipe plus pre-measured ingredients so you can recreate Mom’s cooking (sort of). We want a lifestyle, a life, packed into a box and the rush of memories that accompanies the opening.

Many of you have made your lives in outside of your home country, whether for six months, five years, or more. I interviewed three former expats who spent time in Korea and asked what they would like in a care package.

What do you miss (or think you’ll miss) from Korea? Leave a comment!

Sue Cho
Lived in Seoul in 2010, currently a designer in Boston/Paris

Sue Cho

1. Traditional Korean tea: “I really miss the whole super traditional tea atmosphere that in itself is like a therapeutic cleanse. I’m a huge tea person so I frequent little cafes and afternoon teas at hotels, but there’s something about going to these small cafes or “tea houses” in Korea (especially the bunch near Insa-dong) with the aged wood decor that warms me up even during the rainiest days.” (Tea from O’Sulloc in Insa-dong, cups by Yido Pottery.)

2. Packaged cookies: “As a health freak, I don’t even want to know what goes into these deeelicious cookies (I try to eat all natural and I’m pretty sure these cookies are 100% processed). But they are just too good!”

3. Indie mags: “This is what I love about Korea’s “underground” culture. They have really creative mags with amazing content that’s comparable to the uber-hip British mags. I just can’t find magazines as weird (weirdly awesome) as these in the States.” (Magazines between 3,000 and 10,000 won at Kyobo Bookstore and The Book Society at The Art Sonje Center.)

4. Patterned socks: “Oh, the socks… like the ones with celeb’s faces on them? Ludicrous. Wouldn’t want to be seen with these on ever. But they are hilarious and I always get a kick out of wearing them around the house on a quiet slow Sunday.”

Nicole Maloof
Lived in Korea 2009–2011, currently an artist in Boston

Nicole Maloof

1. Shin ramyeon: “Apparently, someone told me that the ramyeon they sell in the States is different from what they sell in Korea. I need to buy a pack here and do a taste test…”

2. Gim (Korean dried seaweed): “I have yet to find gim like I had in Korea. The stuff I opened yesterday was just too thick.”

3. Floor cushion (not featured): “I miss sitting on floors! Now as I look around my apartment, there are chairs everywhere! I try to sit on the floor while I eat in the living room, but our coffee table is a little too high.”

4. Cute stationery: Luggage tag and giraffe card from Kosney, notebook and sticky notes from 13ook.

5. Star paper: These long strips can be folded into tiny stars. “I haven’t seen this yet in the States!”

6. Maxim Gold instant coffee: “Even though I’m all for French press coffee, if someone sent me the instant coffee packets, that would strike something special in my heart.”

7. High Cut: “I like to use this for my collages.”

8. 24-hour food delivery: “I miss how fast and efficient everything was in Korea. You can get almost anything delivered so quickly. Like a delicious dinner for less than $6!”

Jesse Mahautmr
Lived in Daejeon 2010–2011, currently in New York City, applying to grad school

Jesse Mahautmr

1. Smartphone: “If America is characterized as a ‘first-world’ country, then Korea should be considered a ‘half-world,’ because where else in the world can you watch a live TV broadcast K-drama on your cell phone while underground on a subway while traveling 80 km an hour?”

2. KTX ticket: “I miss getting from Daejeon to Seoul in only an hour!”

3. My host mom’s cooking (not featured): “Her food was THE BOMB. Kimchi jjigae, sundubu jjigae. Mmmm.”

4. ACE crackers: “I had an unhealthy love affair with these.”

5. Seoul-brand chocolate milk: “I had some American chocolate milk the other day, and it tasted so nasty compared to what I had in Korea. And being able to pick up one of those baby cartons in a family mart for 700 won? Amazing.”

6. Chamiseul soju: For the nights out that didn’t break the bank.

7. Coffee shop stamp cards: “I really miss hanging out with friends, co-teachers and my girlfriend at all of the amazing cafes in Korea. Korea has such a great coffee shop culture. Plus I spent most of my free time spring semester in cafes, studying for the MCATs with my girlfriend.”

8. USB flash drives: You can get anything done on computers in Korea—banking, shopping, train tickets… it’s so convenient.

Sonja Swanson

About Sonja Swanson

Sonja is a West Coast (best coast) transplant whose favorite weekend plans involve good food with good friends. Find her on Instagram @sonja_jaja.

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