Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Emigration: Selfish, or necessary to “get ahead”?

Living abroad is giving me experiences I could never have gained if I had stayed in Ireland, but it comes at the price of feeling that I have abandoned my family, writes Shauna Browne from Korea.

Sat, May 19, 2012, 01:00


Living abroad is giving me experiences I could never have gained if I had stayed in Ireland, but it comes at the price of feeling that I have abandoned my family, writes Shauna Browne from Korea.

Shauna Browne with her friend Lucia at her wedding. Lucia is wearing a Hanbok, the traditional Korean dress.

It all started with a tweet from my sister- “Will miss you this weekend chick! Perhaps a skype date with the family?!xxx”

And that’s when the floodgates opened and the guilty feelings came back, posing the question: “Is emigration selfish or just necessary to get ahead in life?”

This weekend in Ireland, my father is launching his second book.  My older sister, who lives in Spain, is coming home for the occasion.  Four-fifths of the Browne family will be there, without me.

Before I came to Korea, I was working a 35-hour-a-week job, which I was really enjoying. It paid well, and would probably have continued for another while.  I lived a two hour drive from home, and could continue in my role as a good daughter, sister etc.

So why emigrate?

It was just me – no husband and no children.  My parents encouraged us to travel, but if truth be told, they would have wanted us to go to places where we had backup, like Australia where we have close friends.  But Australia, for all it’s positives, is what everyone does, and I like to do things differently.

After researching the job market and everything else involved in such a big move, I came to Korea. I had been here for 3 weeks in my final year of college so I knew the necessity for English teachers. In September 2009, I left my parents in Dublin Airport and took that flight to a whole new country, culture, language, and continent.  I was on my own, and failure was not an option.

I didn’t have to leave Ireland.  There were options there.  I wasn’t in such debt that I needed the money, I left because I wanted to. And doing so means that for the last two and a half years, I’ve been living with the guilty feeling that I’ve become a bad daughter, sister, niece and grand-daughter.  My grandmother passed away while I was here, and my family made the decision that I was not to return for the funeral.  I always wondered whether people at that funeral looked at my family and thought “You’d think Shauna would have come home for her own grandmothers funeral – how selfish.”

Shauna's family in Tipperary

I’m pretty sure that everyone who has emigrated knows exactly what I am talking about. The guilty feelings are something we suck up and get on with because we have to.  My life here in Korea is only getting better, so I can stand over my decision to live here.

People who make the big decision to emigrate do so to give themselves an up in the world.  If I had stayed  in Ireland and applied for jobs, I would be just another educated, Europe-travelled, predictable candidate.  Now though, if I were to apply for a job in Ireland, I have this whole other experience and ability that comes with emigration.  I would stand out from those other candidates who have never had this experience. Emigration makes you a different person.  You go to the new country on your own.You learn a new language and culture.   You become more independent, more open, more wise.  You build your life from nothing, and succeeding in a new country is down to no one but yourself.

The same can be said applying for a job in a new country.  You bring skills and knowledge from Ireland that set you apart from candidates here, so it’s win win situation.

Shauna with her Korean friends in Seoul.

I do realise that it’s different for everyone.  I came on my own, but so many others move entire families to different countries, for whatever reasons.  I read somewhere recently that children who speak two languages are better at switching between tasks that children who just learn one.  I imagine children who grow up or spend time living in another country are much more rounded, independent children than those who don’t, and I can’t help but think that if this is the situation, why wouldn’t you move to another country?

So while I’m safe in the knowledge that this move has given me the upper hand in so many ways, I will always live with the guilt that I’ve abandoned my family. And as my life continues to get better here in Korea, I’ll continue to live with the fact that everything comes with a price.

Shauna is an English teacher in Seoul, and social media officer for the Irish Association of Korea. She blogs at