Expat Interview: Oisin Feeney, A Photographer in Korea

Couple Kiss at Korea Burn

This is the second interview in my 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! 

In this installment of my Expat Interview series, I met Oisin Feeney, a media graduate from Ireland, who is currently working as an English Teacher and Photographer in South Korea, having previously spent some time living and working in Chicago. I believe that Oisin’s interview, and his general outlook on life abroad, make him an excellent role model for others becoming disillusioned with life back home. He is carving out his own future, and plans to continue doing what he loves, and encourages others to do the same!

“Usually my job and my passion are separate things; The job allows me to stay in a place, the passion allows me to be content there.”

What made you move abroad?

I got back from Chicago completely broke and accepted the first job that I was offered. It was a job in a call centre for a bank and with each passing day I grew more and more depressed and dissatisfied with the lifestyle. When I saw a friend post that there was a vacancy for a teacher in Korea I jumped at the opportunity!

How did you make your first friends?

Well when you first arrive in Korea, most towns will have a facebook group for teachers in the area. So a lot of your friendships at the beginning are geographical friendships. Then I started working as a photographer/ tour guide for a group at the weekends, WINK Travels. Many people go on these trips solo and it is a great chance to meet people and find people with similar interests.


What do you love about being an expat?

I suppose my favourite thing about being an expat is that you live a relatively untethered life over here. My job looks after my bills, rent and insurance. I never feel like I have to struggle to make ends meet like I did in Chicago, living for tips. When I have free time I can totally devote it to my own creative pursuits.

What have been your favourite moments from the last year?

Oh now this one is a difficult question indeed. One would have to be the Jindo Sea Parting Festival. It happens once a year and the sea parts just wide enough for a procession of people to walk from mainland Korea over to a smaller Island, the curiously named Mordor. We did it the opposite way round, we got a boat to the island, danced and sang with the locals and as the waves receded we began to walk to the mainland.

The drums never stopped playing the whole way across and it was a great celebration when the island folk met the mainland folk in the middle of this ‘bridge’. It was wonderful. I took one of my favourite ever photos there of older Koreans taking a break from fishing and dancing with the drums. Korean traditional drums are an amazing sight.

Sea Parting

Night fishing in Jindo, during the Sea Parting Festival

What are your favourite places in Korea?

One of my favourite places has to be Deokjeok Island. It is beautiful. We organised a trip there but only one person signed up. We used this time to explore the island and make it more interesting for future trips. We found a beautiful hike to the top of a mountain and there you can get a stunning sunset over the island. Hiking down in the dark is a bit tricky, mind! But it’s worth it!

As well as that, the mountains in Korea are simply stunning. Seroksan Mountain was a bitch of a climb, but after 15 hours of hiking the view at the top was breath taking.

Why is Korea such a great place to photograph?

Korea is a great place to photograph because the country is so alive. There are people everywhere… Seoul city is positively teaming with life, and photographic opportunities. Yet only a short bus ride away you can be on a mountain, on a beach or at a beautiful temple. The possibilities are limitless.


Sunrise in Jeolla

Are there more opportunities to take interesting photographs in Korea than Ireland?

I think when it comes to taking photographs it is not about the camera or even about the location. It is about the artist’s perception. If I am happier, I take better photographs. When I am bored and uninspired, my photos reflect my feelings. In Ireland I was uninspired… My country is so beautiful, but I just wasn’t ready to settle there.

Is it easy to get paid work as a photographer?

NO! The vast majority of the gigs I get offer a free ticket in exchange for photos publicising the trip. It works fine for me though, as it gives me the chance to perfect my portfolio. I have recently started doing couple photography and really love it. The happiness I feel after a successful shoot is like a drug for me. Whatever about the money but when a customer tears up because she likes my photos, that is the best payment I could ever receive.


What are your future plans?

Future plans? I will stay in Korea another year and keep working as a photographer/ tour guide. I currently interview other photographers for the ‘Photographers in Korea’ website. As well as that I want to do a lot more photo shoots for couples, it is my one of my favourite styles of photography right now. I will also be working on the website kimchibytes.com to try and improve my photo blogging/writing skills. Along with the teaching of course!

What advice would you give to someone moving abroad?

Finding work is easy, but finding happiness is not. I find happiness in being busy and always trying to better myself. There are so many ways this can be interpreted though. If yoga is your thing, then do it. Use the job to get to a country and then TRY EVERYTHING. EXPERIENCE EVERYTHING. You have nothing to lose.

To view more of Oisin’s beautiful photography, check out his website here and his Facebook page here. You can also read his piece on ‘Moving to Korea’ on Irish Youth site SpunOut.ie.


Lost in Translation – Funny Korean Signs

One of the things that keeps me smiling on an every-day basis is the abundance of hilarious English signs that line the streets, roads and parks of Korea. Be it signs that have a minor spelling mistake, Korean’s inability/refusal to use the letter “L”, or signs that most likely were translated in a poor mans version of Google Translate, they always put a smile on my face.

I can’t count the amount of times my friends and I have remarked, “Why don’t they ask a native English speaker to proof read their sign / brochure / menu before sending it to print?”. The answer is and may always remain…I have no freaking clue!

Maybe they think it’s too expensive or too much hassle, or as my boss pointed out, maybe they simply see English words as “pictures” and don’t really care what the letters or words mean as long as they look pretty. Either way, I need to stop complaining, as they give me endless entertainment on usually long, boring days. :D

So, which is your favourite?! 

shit house

cat cafe hongdae fuckfake

funny korean english sign

funny mens waxing image

funny sign korea

no riding dolphins

lost in translation konglish


Related post: Korean Love Couples (..and their matching clothes!)


Ireland, as drawn by Korean Kids

My first class of the day is with 2 very cute Korean brothers who come to me simply to improve their English conversation skills and to expose them to a native English speaker. They will be moving to China soon as their father’s got transferred there for work and they will be attending an International school. As one boy is 6 and the other is 8, with very different levels of English (think very, very basic!!) an hour long class can be quite difficult to plan.

I have quite a lot of leeway in what I teach them, so last week each day we would learn about a different country. I had great fun teaching them all about Ireland and teaching them some traditional Irish songs. When we were finished I asked them to make a poster that represented Ireland and below is what they drew. I have to say I LOVE their version of Saint Patrick and that they think he led the ‘snacks’ out of Ireland! Plus the fact that they drew Guinness as ‘Black Beer!’ is priceless. Kids are just the cutest.



20130826_144938 20130826_145215





CouchSurfing in Korea can get you FIRED

This is just a quick post on Couchsurfing in Korea that I wanted to share, just to warn others of the potential dangers of couchsurfing in Korea. Most people who put “couchsurfing” and “dangerous” in the same sentence are referring to the dangers of hosting a complete stranger in your home. The dangers of meeting complete strangers, on the internet, then meeting in a public place, and taking them home as if they were a friend and letting them sleep on your couch / spare bedroom / floor mat..whatever. Having hosted 100’s of couchsurfers and surfed on 5 continents, I can confidently say I have never had any truly negative experience, have never felt threatened, never had anything stolen and have also walked away from the experience with a smile on my face and amazing memories and new friends.

Until today I thought Couchsurfing could work anywhere but having been in Korea one week, I can see that in certain cultures, and in certain countries, it may be more of a hindrance than a help. Why?? Well, check out the letter, below, which my friend received from the principal of her school following a few weeks hosting people in her city South of Seoul…. I doubt she will be hosting anymore. :( Oh Korea.

Statement of Civil Complaint 

Last Friday (7/19) evening, I got a phone call from vice principle Kang. It was your civil complain *sic* from parents of our school students. That person told about your behavior that you are inviting many men to your house and they came out in the morning from your house. It cause *sic* neighbor inconvenience. And that person also said to the vice principle, they already asked you to stop that but you didn’t change. Your neighbors already know that YOU are BLANK Elementary School TEACHER and they think that your behavior is not appropriate for teacher’s attitude as well as not good for your young students who live around your house. At the end of the complain, *sic* that person told that BLANK Elementary school hired unsuitable person for teacher. 

I already told about your ‘Couchsurfing’ to principle and vice principles but they are disappointed with the fact, many men came out in the morning from the teacher’s house which is rented by budget of korean civil’s tax, and they want to change your attitude as a TEACHER IN KOREA. 

As American way of thought, you may think that is invasion of privacy. But you are employee of Korea national educational institution. And Koreans expect you to comply with Korean culture. In this country, if you give an impression behind on student’s parents *sic* that you look to be sexually promiscuous as teacher, *sic* then you can be a target of criticism whether actually happened or not. So your behavior that conflict with Korean culture caused your neighbor’s civil complaint. Furthermore, this complain *sic* is regarded as our school hired inappropriate person for teacher. Consequently, you caused the complain to school and violated a contract article 19-1. So we will issue warning letter. 

Article 19 (Codes of Conduct) 
1. The Employee shall not behave in any manner which may damage or tarnish the reputation of the teaching profession in general or of the GEPIK program and the undersigned Employee in particular during the Term of Employment. 
If you do not change your behavior and attitude with this complain, *sic* other complains will come to school and education office. That will make us issue another warning letter and finally we will reconsider about the contract with you.


Dear Diary- Hello Kenya

This is the start of a new series of posts that I am going to copy word for word from an old travel diary I found in my bedroom. Reading back I was not the most sensitive person and my creative writing could have done with some (a lot) of tweaking!! But hopefully you will enjoy the naive honesty of a 20 years old backpacker with big dreams!

Dear Diary,

WOW. It’s hard to believe I’m actually here in Kenya. In Africa. Only a few hours on a plane and one enters a completely different world. After the hectic experience of Heathrow airport and nearly getting lost, Nairobi Jomo Kenyetta was a breeze. All those stories of muggings and hawkers, crooked airport staff and pushy taxi drivers seems to be a myth. Or else we just got lucky.

Father Tom from St Patrick’s Missions picked us up at the airport and we were given a second breakfast before been whizzed down town by Joseph, their driver, to sort out our bus tickets to Kitale the next day. Passing by hawkers selling everything from Mangos to puppies, children begging in traffic, a foot-less leper on the roadside. From the lush suburbs inhabited by rich diplomats from around the world and foreign aid organizations and missionary compounds to the slums, an endless menage of aluminium shacks, make shift hairdressers, sweet shops, shoe shiners, car washers, wood cutters. People cleaning themselves alongside the road in ditches full of thick brown, muddy water. It was all so overwhelming for our fist day in Kenya.

We were given a huge lunch and dinner best food ever; potatoes,kidney beans, soup, bread, pizza, porridge.

We have been laughed at many times today by the other priests and local at any mention of ‘Lodwar’, the place we are going to teach. “Bring sunscreen” one said with a laugh. I guess they know best, they have lived here for 9 years!

Welcome to Kenya!