Finding Kendra

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  • Kendra B

An ALT Packing for Japan: Regrets and...Regrets

Hey all!

I am a world-renowned overpacker. Seriously! Need some wet wipes? Sure. A flashlight? Gotcha! A snack, some paper, spare socks, a band-aid, pens in every color of the rainbow and a mostly broken umbrella? Of course! People know me as the walking, talking Wal-Mart.

How then, was I expected to move my life over to Japan in just a purse and two suitcases? With extreme difficulty, that’s how! My angst showed a bit in the post I wrote to procrastinate my already procrastinated packing on the night before my departure.

As many of you are now anxiously awaiting your departure next week, I thought it was time I told you about my packing regrets and my packing triumphs! So here’s what I packed that went well, what I wished I’d just left at home, and what I didn’t pack but oh, how I wish I had.


1. Rain Coat It doesn’t rain in southern California (you know guys, that wet stuff that mists a little and causes everyone to drive like they’re drunk? Yeah, that.) But it totally rains in Japan, especially those first few months in the spring and early summer. Do yourself a favor and go to work dry! It’s mid-March and I’m already feeling waterlogged…

2. Cardigans Mostly for the ladies, because suit jackets aren’t all that comfortable, especially in the summer. A nice cardigan over a blouse works beautifully (and you’ll probably still be one of the nicest dressed people there).

3. Socks, socks, and then some more socks You take your shoes off everywhere in Japan; from homes to temples to visiting new schools you’ll be in your socks a lot. And you’ll also be very embarrassed and kind of judged when your socks are smelly and dirty! So always keep some clean socks in your bag and you’re good to go.

4. Skirts Here’s another one for the ladies, sorry gents! Skirts are very popular here for work and for play and they’re also the coolest option for the rather oppressive summer humidity. I never wore skirts in America but I love them here, they’re much more flowy and comfortable than their American body-con counterparts.

5. Stickers/shiny pennies/erasers/small cheap prizes I have a post coming soon about my Teacher Survival Kit (there it is!) and stickers make the list. Kids like competition, they’ll have fun with it, but if a sticker is on the line…. Woah. Stand back and watch those kids go at it! Friendships put on hold, classes torn apart, war ensues. I also brought a bag of shiny pennies from the stash in my family’s garage in America (enough that I was stopped at LAX security for the giant hunk of metal on the x-ray) and they love those--especially when you tell them they’re lucky.

6. Pictures of family, pets, home, school, etc. I noticed that when I use pictures of my dog and cats as flashcards instead of the generic ones, the kids are a lot more interested. They like to hear fun facts about you in your intro lesson and visuals are worth a thousand words (especially because they’ll only really understand about 3 of those words). As I make my English bulletin boards throughout the year, it always goes well if I include me doing the activity/holiday/etc. that I’m talking about. Especially if it’s really young me!

7. Deodorant/Skincare/Toothpaste/Foundation Need I say more? The Japanese products don’t work as well or the same as what we’re used to in Western countries. They’re also designed for the Japanese. I’ve always been very prone to acne and am deathly afraid of putting anything on my skin when I can’t read exactly what’s in it… I still have some of these products from when I came over and get nervous when my stash runs low. I get most basic things here but my skincare can't be changed! Plus, there's a lot of products with whitening chemicals in them, watch out for those.

8. Spoons Yes, you read that right. My dad had me take my spoons from my college silverware set with me in my suitcase. I thought it was really random but when I got to my apartment on that first day, sat down on the cold wood floor with my pre-made dinner and realized I had nothing to eat it with, those spoons were a lifesaver! It takes a few days to set everything up and get to all the stores you need, so a starter utensil is really nice to have. (Moral of the story: Just take that weird thing your family wants you to bring. Even if it isn't useful, you're giving those left behind some peace of mind. Mine just so happened to be useful!)

9. Tampons Sorry guys! But ladies, pads are everywhere over here, they’re the method of choice and tampons are usually super expensive and not quite up to our needs… Just get a Costco pack (or two), take them out of the box and put them in a zip-loc and you’re set.


1. Scarves I love scarves. Like, it’s all I get for Christmas because everyone knows how much I simply adore scarves. But I brought way too many--you can’t wear them in school here for some reason. Your neck can be warm on the way to and from school, but not in the classroom. And there’re not enough days when I wear casual clothing to make the 15+ scarves I brought with me worth it. Sadness…

2. Omiyage (Gifts) I was freaking out before coming here because everyone was telling me I needed to bring a gift from America for all the teachers at my schools! Don’t worry, they don’t expect it, so don’t waste the precious packing space. Omiyage is for when you already know them, go on a trip, and then come back. And as I have seven schools with over 100 teachers total, I never tell any of them if I’m going somewhere. If anything, I just discreetly give something small to my closest coworkers after a trip. I did bring everyone candy canes after I went home for Christmas once, those actually went over super well--I had to tell people that they were edible, candy canes don't really exist over here. But when you first arrive? Really, don't bother.

3. Tank tops Looking back I’d have packed more t-shirts than tank tops (sleeveless). I live in the countryside, it’s a rather conservative area and I get stared at enough already, thank you! I pull out my beloved tanks when I leave my little town and go elsewhere.

4. Too many casual clothes I tried to limit it, I did! I did okay but still have a few too many casual clothes. You have two days to wear these–Saturday and Sunday. How many do you really need?! Even summer break has me working all week, so I still only have two days for my many, many casual clothes (this will totally depend on your placement though).

5. Intro Lesson Materials I saw so many people at training with half a suitcase full of stuff from home to show off during their intro lesson. That’s all fine and dandy for a day, but then you’re stuck with it for a year in a tiny apartment with no storage. Bet you wish you’d left that scale White House model in the States, huh?


1. Tennis shoes for indoors I brought fancy flats for my school shoes. Before Christmas my feet were killing me by 3rd period and I had another three to go! I got some nice walking shoes with a lot of padding over the break and my feet are happy with me again.

2. Tissue/ Toilet Paper Because after a long day of traveling from your training location to your apartment, you’re probably gonna want to use the bathroom. Too bad you’re going to be stuck running to some unknown store and probably getting lost unless you come prepared. Just remember, if you ship a suitcase, please don’t put it in there. That’s just face-palm worthy.

3. Long sleeves The kind of shirt I didn’t even own until this winter vacation. I froze for the first month I was here every time the sun went down because I packed only for summer. Put in maybe two or three warmer shirts until summer actually arrives and for the fall (when I froze again) before you are sent/break into your winter wear.

4. More Stickers Especially with English on them. You know: “Good job!”, “Great!”, “You Rock” and so on and so forth. You can never, I repeat never have too many stickers!

Long story short, limit your packing as much as you can. If you’re an abnormal size (I’m rather tall) you do have to bring all the clothes and shoes you’ll need, but if you’re one of those lucky people who can actually shop in Japan, do so! Clothes are super cute here and it's a fun thing to do with new friends.

Please let me know if you have any more questions and if you’ve already come over to this wonderful country, please tell us: what did you bring that went well and what would you just leave at home now that you know better?

Have a magical day!

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Hey all! My name is Kendra B. and I'm happy to meet you! I'm a teacher with a need to continue learning and a heart torn between staying put and going out to experience the world. I'm about to leave for Peace Corps Zambia for the next 27 months and would love for you to join me on this new adventure!


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