For this month’s American Expats series, we’re talking to Camila, a Canadian travel writer who lives in Stirling, Scotland. (P.S. I may need to change the name of this series.)
Here, she talks about celebrating Burns night, understanding the thick Scottish accent, and what she misses most from home.
I was born in Montreal, Canada, and grew up in a multicultural family as my mother is French-Canadian and my father is Chilean. I moved to Scotland in 2012 to study a Master’s in feminist literature at the University of St. Andrews in St. Andrews, Scotland. (Best decision ever!)
I ended up meeting my partner then, so I decided to stay. I currently live in Stirling, Scotland, and work as a travel writer in Edinburgh. Stirling is about an hour from Edinburgh, and I commute daily by train.
On making friends: When I was studying in St. Andrews, I met all my friends easily through university, but they all left once we graduated.
Afterward, I became lonely and tried to force myself to get out of my comfort zone, and meet people by joining clubs and going to blog meetups. Because my partner was still studying, I’ve ended up meeting most of my close friends through him.
On Scottish weather: In Canada, we have four distinct seasons, with hot summers and cold winters. In Scotland, the weather is milder all year long, with the average high in summer being 15 °C (59 °F) and rarely falling below 5 °C (41 °F). I miss the snow in winter and the hot sunny days of summer, but it’s nice not to have the extremes anymore.
On getting around: The best way to get around Scotland is definitely by train, though the bus is cheaper (but longer). If you’re not traveling between cities, driving is, unfortunately, the easiest way to get around.
On the Scottish dialect: The Scottish accent can be pretty tough to understand, and despite speaking English fluently, it took me a few years to fully understand.
There were some Scottish expressions I struggled with at the beginning, such as “carry out” (buying alcohol from the shops), “I ken” (meaning “I know”), and “brolly” (umbrella). Having been here almost six years now, I’ve been told I now say some words with a Scottish inflection.
On rent: St Andrews and Edinburgh are both quite expensive. My room in St Andrews cost £600 per month ($790 USD), our one-bedroom flat in Edinburgh cost about £650 per month ($850 USD). Now we own our home in Stirling, which is actually the most affordable city in the UK. The average monthly rent for a two-bed flat is £750 ($985 USD), but we pay a small mortgage.
On Burns Night: My favorite Scottish festival is Burns Night. Burns Night celebrates famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. It includes bagpipes, some sexist comedic toasts (Toast to the Lassies and the Reply from the Lassies), eating haggis, and ceilidh dancing (folk dancing with a live band). We try to go to a Burns supper every year because it’s a lot of fun.
On traveling around Scotland: Scotland is a fairly small country so it’s easy to get around via public transport. We travel often to Glasgow and into the Highlands. We’ve seen most of the country, except the isles (I’ve only been to three) which you usually have to take a ferry or fly to.
On healthcare: Healthcare is mostly free. Upon applying for visas you have to pay a healthcare surcharge (it’s a recent addition as I didn’t have to do it on my first two visas in 2012 and 2014). It means as an immigrant I double pay for healthcare as I also pay for it through my salary (taxes and NI contributions). It’s great that in Scotland we actually get prescriptions for free though!
On Scottish food: The seafood is so good! I highly recommend trying langoustines and mussels, but there is also delicious crab, lobster, scallops, and a huge variety of fish. Fish and chips is a must for first-time visitors to Scotland. If you want to try local seafood in Edinburgh, I recommend Loch Fyne Seafood and Grill.
On visas: I’m currently on a spouse visa. I’ve previously been on a student visa and youth mobility visa (work/holiday). The spousal visa was the most stressful process as there is a lot of proofs and documents to submit. It was also a three-month wait back in Canada, which was tough as my partner was in the UK.
On homesickness: I mostly miss my family and friends, snow in the winter, and hot summers. I also miss real maple syrup, good bagels, poutine, and just exotic choices generally as I come from a big city and now live in a small city.
On living in Scotland long-term: I can definitely see myself living in Scotland long-term. My husband and I recently bought our first home, and we have a close circle of friends. I also have a job I love.
The political climate in the UK is something else, however, so we may see how things go in the coming years. I’m not sure it’s making it harder for non-Europeans expats like me to live in the UK, but it sure doesn’t make us feel welcome. But at least in Scotland, there is a welcoming sentiment from the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon.