Today marks 20 years since I first arrived in Scotland for “just one year” as a study abroad student. At the time, I never expected that I would one day make Scotland my long-term home, but here I am. I am a registered Scottish voter, I am a taxpayer and a community volunteer, and I have a great academic career at a Scottish university. Yes, I have a bright future as a “New Scots” ahead of me.
When I first arrived, in the shadows of 9/11, I was quite overwhelmed by it all. Indeed, I had a bit of a rocky start filled with tears and a bit of stress. And I was in a new country that seemed a little familiar because of a similar language, but it was also very different. But it wasn’t long before I felt settled and started to fall in love with Edinburgh and with Scotland as a whole.
That chance encounter meant that my “one year” in Scotland became more than a year – but not right away. Instead, I returned home to America to complete the last year of my undergraduate studies, despite desperately wanting to stay. Afterwards, I returned to Scotland once again to be with Paul (we each travelled to visit each other during that last year of my studies, too).
After spending another year living in Scotland with Paul, he proposed marriage (in Venice, it was romantic!) and we began to plan our future together. That led to a decision to settle back in America to begin our marriage, with a long-term plan to return to Scotland after I completed my PhD and we adopted a couple of kids (both of those things were in progress in April 2009).
But then everything changed in the blink of an eye. Paul died and my (our) dreams died with him. There would be no children. There would be no PhD (yet). There would be no return to Scotland as a family. There would be no happily ever after…
Of course, whilst our story had ended its earthly tale*, my story carried on (with him in my heart). And that meant a return to Scotland on my own – without the kids, the PhD, or Paul, as had been the plan.
And so, nearly 10 years after my first arrival in Scotland, I returned once again. This time, my return was to complete what I had planned to complete after my year’s study abroad: My master’s degree and, later, my PhD.
This all means that, in the last 20 years, most of my time has been spent living in Scotland. In the first 10 years, I lived in America more than in Scotland but in the last 10 years, I’ve lived in Scotland full-time with visits home as often as possible. (Which, thanks to COVID, hasn’t been possible for a while and I don’t know when it will be possible again.**)
So yeah, 20 years after I arrived in Scotland for “just one year” and I’m still here and I love it!
Don’t get me wrong: I miss the Homeland and all my amazing family and friends who live there. The “expat life” is hard on the heart and leaves me feeling conflicted on so many levels. But Scotland is my Heartland; the place where I feel a sense of belonging, more than anywhere else; the place where my heart and soul sing with joy. (As I said: conflicted!)
Of course, I don’t know what the future holds and the political and social climate in both the UK and the USA makes me feel quite unsettled about the future at times. But I expect that my future will include a whole lot of Scotland. (And eventually, a Saltire’d passport!) That said, I do look at academic posts in Washington State and British Columbia from time to time. You never know when the right opportunity might present itself.***
I try not to think about what my life might have looked like had I never made the decision to study abroad – or indeed, to study at all. There are far too many variables that could have affected my life and none of them includes Paul, so I can’t imagine how any other path could have brought me the same levels of joy that Paul brought me. (Yes, that also means a lot of sorrow, but I have no regrets!)
But I digress, so I’ll get back to the point.
Today marks 20 years since I first arrived in Scotland as a 27-year-old, single, “mature student” undertaking a year’s study abroad. I am now a 47-year-old widow, less than 2 weeks away from starting a new lectureship as Dr Ryan at the same university where my Scotland story began. So much has changed… yet so much has remained the same.
I am excited to see what the next 20 years have in store for me.
* Paul is still a part of my personal story as he lives in my heart and in my memories; I think of him every day and I will love him forever. I also know that we will be together again in eternity when my time on this earth is over. Then, our earthly remains will be together in the ground whilst our souls reconnect in the ever after.
** My last visit was August 2019 and the plan was to make two trips home in 2020 (summer and again for Christmas). I am now unsure when I’ll get there next, but I will make plans for a long visit that includes remote working so that I can stay longer. Help me get there sooner by getting vaccinated and masking up!
*** I am not actively looking for a new job. But if the right opportunity were to present itself, and would give me more time with my Mummy and Daddy, I could be swayed. Although whilst my ideal would be a great professorship at the UW whilst living with my parents, they might think differently about having me move back into my bedroom…