Expat Interview: Oisin Feeney, A Photographer in Korea

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! 

Meet 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.

Sonia

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.

Gyeonju

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.

Korean-Couples-Photograohy

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.

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