Possibly the greatest fear for anyone who emigrates is losing their national identity.Will that move make you less nationalistic than you are when you were at home? In a new country, the fear of being “just another foreigner” is terrifying and idea that there is no organisation there to encourage you being you is frightening.
When I moved to Korea almost 3 years ago, I retired myself to the fact that I would have to stop all the Irish things I love, hurling, playing Irish music and ceili dancing. The fact that I was going to Asia pretty much convinced me that from there on in, I was just another foreign teacher in Korea. And for a while, I was. Irish in Korea aren’t as numerous as other countries so for a while I played music to my walls and left my dancing shoes in the corner.
Then by a random stroke of good luck, I found out about a Ceili happening in Seoul. That Ceili turned out to have been organised by the Irish Association of Korea, a voluntary organisation that help to promote Irish culture in Korea. The difference that Ceili made to my experience in Korea was incredible. They helped me get in touch with Irish musicians and I finally started playing music again. That music turned into ceili dancing and now I’m playing music and dancing more often that when I was in Ireland! And now that you can find I.A.K. everywhere (meetup, website, twitter, facebook) the numbers joining us are increasing.
While I don’t play Gaelic or hurling in Korea, it doesn’t mean I couldn’t. Seoul Gaels promote and encourage Irish sport in Korea and they have a really strong following. They have a great team, are always encouraging new members and regularly play in national and international tournaments.
What I notice most, though is that, for these two organisations, the number of Korean followers is growing. I.A.K. have monthly meetups and usually half are Korean. When I talk to these people, the knowledge of Ireland and all things Irish are quite high and they are only too happy to get the opportunity to get involved with Irish dancing and music, sport and language. Irish events are a regular feature in Seoul, the big ones being St. Patrick’s Day and the Seoul Ceili. It makes me quite proud to think that Koreans are becoming integrated with Irish culture and it couldn’t be done without the people who volunteer with the I.A.K. and Seoul Gaels.
I can definitely say that now, I am possibly more Irish (or at least as Irish) as I was when I came here. Now that I have this opportunity to continue doing the things I love doing but in Korea, I can’t see myself leaving any time soon. This Saturday, the IAK are running their annual Seoul Ceili. On the day, an Irish dance troop called Tap Pung will perform. The thing is that the members of Tap Pung are all Korean! I’m super excited to be going along to this and can’t wait to do some ceili dancing.
For anyone interested in getting involved with either of the two Irish organisations in Korea you can find them at;