In case you’ve forgotten, it’s time to pack up those pensThe busiest shopkeepers across Korea this time of year are those selling stationery supplies. For most students, a new school year begins the first week of March, so in preparation students flock to stationery stores to buy notebooks, pens and, of course, pencil cases.
Students in Korea change pencil cases as frequently as ordinary folks change mobile phones. The cases are considered an essential part of student life. For college and high school students, pencil cases are generally zippered, hotdog-shaped totes, perhaps 26 centimeters long (10.2 inches) and made of leather, nylon or canvas. For middle schoolers and elementary students the cases are usually flat numbers made of plastic or aluminum.
The cases hold a student’s cherished equipment, everything from highlighters and micropencils to different colored ink pens, whiteners and small rulers.
“Cases make my life easier because without them it’s hard to keep pens and pencils in one place,” says Lee Jun-ho, 24, a student at Yonsei University who has been carrying a pouch for nearly 20 years. As an accounting major, Mr. Lee says he lugs a lot of pens because it helps with note-taking.
To appeal to students, manufacturers produce cases in many designs. There are even so-called multifunctional types, which convert into penholders. As a student begins college, pencil cases become less noticeable, but they’re hardly extinct.
A peek into an average high school student’s textbook will reveal page after page of colorfully underlined text and accompanying notes in tiny, careful script. You can’t make those notes without a pencil case in reach.
In many Western countries, pencil cases, often called pencil boxes in the United States, exist chiefly at the elementary and early middle-school levels. As Western students begin to write and do math, they are anxious to fill their boxes, which generally feature a small drawer, with blocky erasers, protractors and retractable pencils. By the teenage years, a pencil box in the U.S. is considered the sole property of a certified nerd.
Kim Jeong-han, a Seoul National University student, has been using the same pencil case for10 years. “Even though it has become dirty and worn, I still carry it because I have a deep attachment to it,” says Mr. Kim. Inside his blue Sesame Street case, Mr. Kim stores a wide range of pens and markers. As geeky as he may appear, Mr. Kim defends his pencil case passion. “Why should I be embarrassed about carrying one? It’s very compact and convenient.”
So when do pencil cases become passe? Yoo Ji-han, 25, who just left college and began working as an engineer, only recently put his case to pasture. “Since I work with computers all the time, I don’t need to use pens. If I do, there are pens everywhere in the office so I don’t feel the need to carry a case.”
by Choi Jie-ho