Question from a reader: giving gifts to a director

A reader writes in with a question:

I am on my way to Incheon in a few weeks to start teaching at a hagwon. I'm both excited and terrified (in a good way), and can't wait to leave!

I have read that it is a good idea to bring your Director a gift, and doing so usually starts you off on a good note with them. The problem is I haven't found any examples of the type of gift to bring. Any ideas?


Hi J.,

Giving your director a gift is one custom that gets you started on the right path with an employer, although it's far from required or expected. In fact, it's more likely that you'll be given gifts of some kind as the new person at the school. For most teachers, that includes a few things to make your first days in Korea easier - some food in the fridge, showing you around town (possibly your co-teacher if at a public school, or your director or another teacher if at a hagwon), and the like.

It's somewhat common for the director / owner to take the group out to a Korean dinner and give you your first taste of things like galbi (Korean barbecue) or soju (Korean fire-water, similar to vodka but weaker). Of course, half the reason they do that is to see how you handle things - try your best to be gracious and not be culture-shocked.

If you want to give a gift, it will be appreciated - but not always accepted at first! They might refuse, and you must insist they take it. This push-and-pull / give-and-take is part of the Korean culture; you'll also see it when Koreans are figuring out whose turn it is to pay for dinner as they slam their card in the checkbook before someone else does.

So what to get? Start by knowing what you can about your director / principal. Male or female? Older or younger? What do they do when not at work? Your recruiter should know these answers, or one of the other teachers at your future school could also tell you. Some general ideas include alcohol (such as a bottle of liquor or wine) goes over well with some, as does coffee, chocolate, tea, or other tastes of your home country. If your area is known for the production / manufacturing of something, consider that as a possibility. Trinkets or souvenirs are also an idea, which can remind the person-in-charge where you're from or be something to make their desk a little happier. If you discover your future principal is a camper or hiker (both fairly common activities), go to your local camping / hiking store and look around.

Don't forget about your future fellow teachers - both Korean and native English teachers. They won't be expecting anything from you and probably won't be getting you anything either - but it's definitely classy to bring them a taste of something non-Korean. Again, know what you can about these people before buying - the last thing you want to do is try giving a bottle of Jack Daniels to the principal's who also a nun!

Thanks to, I can tell you that "Korean Customs Regulations allow each adult to bring in two bottles of wine or liquor with them duty free." Other consumables, such as food, get a free ride so long as they clearly appear to be for personal (not commercial) use. If you plan on bringing anything you shouldn't have to pay duty on it.

Welcome to Korea :)

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe - 2009



From what I remember, giving

From what I remember, giving fruits nicely packaged is always a good gift to give. I never gave a gift, but I think that would be a very neutral safe thing.

A nice box of apples was like $20-$25 at the time in 2005.