Expat Interview: Shauna Browne – Irish in Korea

This is part one of my new ‘Expat Interview Series’, where I plan to interview my expat friends who have dotted themselves all over the world. I’m hoping this series of posts will provide some insight into what it is like to live overseas, and might even encourage a few people to pack their bags and make the move! 

Meet Shauna Browne, an Irish expat who has been living in South Korea for almost 6 years. In this time she has totally immersed herself in Korean culture, has made every effort possible to learn the Korean language and has tirelessly promoted Irish music, Irish sport, Irish culture and all-round positive links between the two countries.

If ever there was an example of a ‘model expat’ or a person who embodies what it means to be Irish, Shauna Browne would be that person.

What made you move abroad?

I guess it was fate. I had travelled around Europe when I lived at home but never had any desires to live or work abroad. Then, in my final semester in college, I interviewed for a job in France and was convinced I had got it. At the same time, I was encouraged to apply for a Summer program in Korea. I never got the job in France but I did get a place on the summer program in Korea. Those three weeks changed my thinking. We learned about Korean language, culture, tourism, religion and so on. When I came home, I graduated, saved up and returned.

What is the most difficult thing about living so far from home?

Not being there for your family. You miss so many big moments and no matter how many Skype calls you make or how many gifts you send home, the guilt never goes away.

What do you love the most about being an expat?

The adventures and the people. Being an expat, you make your own story, your own life. As an expat, I did more travelling and took more time to explore, and although they weren’t always good stories, I’ve still got lots of them to tell.

The people you meet along the way are a big part of it also. The bond you share over a pint in a pub or in a hostel somewhere is really special.

Tell me about your involvement with the IAK.

My involvement with the Irish Association of Korea (IAK) started my first year when I went to their September Ceili looking for other Irish musicians to play with. I got chatting to the committee and that lead to me attending meetings. I took several roles including P.R.O and vice Chair before being elected to Chair two years ago.

The IAK is a voluntary organisation that aims to promote Ireland and all things Irish in Korea. We do this mostly through events, our biggest being the St. Patrick’s Day festival in March. Others include weekly music sessions, Seoul Ceili, the Ireland Korea video competition, literary events and so on.

Over the past few years the knowledge of Ireland amongst Koreans has increased. Many of them play Irish music and regularly fly to Ireland to take classes.

Is there a strong connection between Ireland and Korea?

I think the connection between the two countries is getting stronger. There is still a long way to go in really understanding each other’s cultures but working holiday visas, home stay programs and the increased knowledge of culture is helping. The Working Holiday Visa between Ireland and Korea is also extremely popular and the rise of movies and TV shows set in Ireland has helped also. It’s really great to see the increase in Irish products available here and the continuous link between the two countries.

What do you love most about Korea?

I love lots of things about Korea. There’s a lot of randomness here that I like. I think it’s the freedom I love the most. It’s possible to carve out your own adventures here. There are so many groups to get involved with and so many people to meet. Each one leads to a new adventure so I think that’s what I love best.

Is there anything about your adopted country that drives you crazy?

The backward approach to foreigners is crazy. While some Koreans are so open and friendly to you, others just look at you with suspicion and the second anything bad happens, the foreigners get the blame.

What can you do in Korea that you can’t do back home?

That’s a tough one. I think in Korea, I can be the person I want to be and not the person that society dictates I should be. I’m not sure if that makes sense but it goes back to being able to join a wider community.

What are your future plans?

I’ve just gotten accepted to do my Master back home so I’m heading back in August. I want to re discover Ireland and do some foreign travel while I’m there. After the year, I’m not sure where I’ll be but hopefully back as an expat!

If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

A good attitude is the difference between those who succeed and those who don’t. When you move abroad, everything is different; the culture, the language, the food, the way of thinking. Have an open mind, laugh at your mistakes and you’ll have a great time!

You can check out Shauna’s adventures in Korea over at her Award-Nominated blog,’What A Waygook‘ and you can also read her thoughts on emigration on The Irish Times ‘Generation Emigration’ blog here. Also….That time she made history in Seoul can be read about here!

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4 Comments

  1. June 2, 2015 / 4:19 am

    Reblogged this on whatawaygook and commented:
    Delighted to have been part of this. Follow Journalist on the run for more great blog posts!

  2. Conor
    June 3, 2015 / 9:31 pm

    Hi! Saw your post on Reddit. I’m an American Chef living in Cork for the past twelve years. I have truly made my home here. 2 kids, a house, Irish wife, and all the austerity. I’d love to share my story.