‘I left Harold’s Cross because I wanted a kind of financial freedom that wasn’t on offer to me there’

Give up a life in music in Seoul for a medical career; a new life in Sicily; and working on the stock exchange in London

Welcome to the March edition of the Abroad newsletter from The Irish Times. Neil Smith describes himself as a “chancer from Greystones” who took a dive down an artistic route in South Korea. He describes landing in Seoul for the first time as like “stepping on to the set of Blade Runner. The city pulsated with neon-lit, 24/7 nightlife, packed subway carriages and streets adorned with an array of bustling, steamy restaurants – a stark contrast to Dublin in 2010. Although many find Seoul overwhelming, it was a symphony that resonated with me.” From there Neil formed a band, played festivals with the likes of Kasabian and the Foo Fighters, and was cast in TV shows. However, he was compelled a few years ago to step away from all that and pursue a career in medicine at the age of 37.

The advantage of having a second European language is obvious for Anna Waters. At 23 years old she moved to Sicily after she finished a language degree in Dublin and has since been soaking in all the culture that it has to offer. Her story is one that resonates with many young people across the globe: “I left Harold’s Cross in Dublin because I wanted a kind of financial freedom that wasn’t on offer to me there. I have a job here as an English language assistant in a secondary school.”

Waters talks about how she got the job “through a programme between the Irish and Italian governments”. The programme requires “12 hours a week in classrooms with English teachers doing pretty much whatever they tell you to”. Despite not ever planning to become a teacher the job affords her a “kind of life that has been squeezed out of my hometown”.

Rob Allen talks about his life in London working for Flutter, previously known as Paddy Power. He talks about his memories of the financial crash in the late 2000s and how it affected his line of work: “I had friends whose families were affected by the crash and I became a bit obsessed with financial news from 2008 onwards.” Allen enjoys the fast pace of London, calling it “enjoyably relentless” despite obstacles such as Brexit in the last number of years.


Julie Gilbert writes about the advantages of living abroad and how “over nine enriching years, I immersed myself in the vibrant city of Abu Dhabi”. She talks about painted sunset skies and diverse restaurants, very different from anything she found in her hometown in Mayo. “The UAE brought together a diverse community of individuals, each with unique stories and backgrounds, and it is through these connections that I truly discovered the beauty of human connection.”

In a related vein, Laura Kennedy writes about how relationships with people in your home country can degrade because of the distance between you. She describes moving to Australia as “a bit like a death”. “Some openly lament – to your face – that this will certainly mean the end of the friendship. They are presaging your physical absence.” Kennedy describes Australia as “the sort of place where many of us would love to spend a few years”. However, the sacrifices that come with that are to fall prey to the “widely held belief that to go to Australia is in a profound metaphysical sense rather than merely a material one, to be ‘gone’”.

Rosena Chamoy writes about her life in Marrakesh. Moving there in 2005 after a number of trips to the city, Chamoy set off on what she thought would be a “grown-up gap year”. Some 20 years later she is still living there with her husband. She and her husband have been regenerating a farmhouse to open as a hotel that “launched in September, just two years after we bought it, and we have had lots of visitors from around the world already”.

And finally, this was the month of St Patrick’s Day – where the world celebrates all things Irish. Berlin Correspondent Derek Scally spoke to the mayor of Munich and some of the Irish community in the city about the largest Irish gathering on continental Europe attracting more than 1,500 participants and 40,000 onlookers.

“So many Irish have come out to Bavaria – either to live permanently or to develop as a person – and they all have such positive experience,” says Irish tenor Dean Power, who lived in the city for a decade. “St Patrick’s festival in Munich huge and not just about Irish people, instead it is a welcoming thing for all people from everywhere.”

You’ll find plenty more stories by and about the Irish diaspora on irishtimes.com/abroad.

Thanks for reading.