Scotland

THINGS I’VE LEARNT FROM A YEAR OF LIVING IN SCOTLAND

The One Where I Moved to Scotland For a Year

Girl in green jacket walks down path with lake and hills in background
The Isle of Skye, Scotland

This wasn’t how it was supposed to end.

Now, as I post this, I should have been saying goodbye to my best friend after a weekend exploring Scotland.We were going to the Isle of Mull, to see the colourful beach houses of Tobermory. I would have been sad to say goodbye, but it would have been ok because I’d be seeing her again when I came home in six months time.

Instead? 

I’m in New Zealand. After the world came crashing down overnight I was forced to pack my bags and leave. I didn’t have time to say goodbye to the friends I’ve made over the last year. I didn’t get to visit my favourite restaurants one last time, or eat a final Tantrum donut. In the rush to leave I didn’t get to process leaving Scotland, a country I’d fallen hard for and didn’t feel ready to leave.

So this post is a goodbye. It’s a chance for me to reflect on what I’ve learnt over the last year, from how to make friends to why moving overseas is the best thing you can do in your 20’s. But it’s also the goodbye I never got to say to Scotland.

My year in Scotland was the year I learnt to trust myself. It was the year I learnt the importance of exploring your own backyard, and to make the most of the time you have. Because, as we’ve all learnt, you never know when it’s all going to end. Now, as I try to figure out what comes next, I realise just how much I learnt from a year of living in Scotland.

Girl in black jacket and beanie smiles at camera, standing on stone bridge leading to castle
Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Things I’ve Learnt From a Year of Living in Scotland

The First Six Months Are The Hardest

My best friend, and one of the bravest women I know, moved to New Zealand from Russia when she was just 15. She wanted to build a better life for herself, and so she left. Without her parents, and with no safety net here on the other side of the world. 

When I told her about my plans to move to Scotland she gave me the best piece of advice I’ve heard about moving overseas. The first six months are the hardest.

Her advice was something I held on to through the first few months, when I struggled to make friends. Battling loneliness, anxiety and vitamin D deficiency, I clung to the knowledge that life would get easier. And it did.

Six months into my move, Scotland started to feel like home. Though I still suck at making friends, I’d begun to grow my tribe and had at least three pals. I’d found a new flat and job that I loved, which greatly helped. I was beginning to find my way, and Glasgow no longer felt like such a foreign city.

It turns out she was right. The first six months really are the hardest.

Read More: Everything You Should Know About Moving to Scotland

It’s The Little Things That Count

When you first move to a new country, life feels really hard. You’re building a life from scratch, and everything is harder than it was at home. 

You don’t have a support network (or even a bank account). Finding a place to live is made more difficult by the fact that you have no idea which suburbs are nice. Going to Lidl is like a trip to a foreign country. 

And in that weird adjustment period, it’s the little things that make a difference. 

A colleague going out of her way to make you feel welcome at a new job could make you cry, because it’s the nicest thing someone’s done for you since you’ve moved. Discovering Morrison’s and learning where everything is in the supermarket will give you a weird sense of accomplishment. Going to the gym and seeing Jamie Fraser from Outlander could be the highlight of your time in Scotland*. (*This ACTUALLY happened and it was definitely the highlight of my time in Scotland).

Moving to Scotland taught me to appreciate the little things, because sometimes, when you’re having a tough day, the little things are all you have.

Two girls sit, arms around each other, facing a castle and loch, Scotland
A year of living in Scotland ended with a trip to the Scottish Highlands

Scotland is the (Second) Most Beautiful Country in the World

I discovered two things from living in Scotland. One, that New Zealand is the most beautiful country in the world. And two, that Scotland is pretty damn close.

From the bonny shores of Loch Lomond, to the crumbling beauty of Glasgow’s tenement flats, Scotland has a lot to love. But it wasn’t until my last week in Scotland when a trip to the Highlands and the Isle of Skye showed me just how special Scotland is.

Driving through Glen Coe, with its rugged hills and Munros topped with snow, I thought I had never seen a more picturesque landscape. And then we got to Skye. Honestly, every second sentence was interrupted with exclamations of “it’s just so stunning!” and “did you see that??”. I was in awe, and the heartbreakingly beautiful landscape made my impending departure even harder.

The Scottish Highlands are one of the natural wonders of the world, and Scotland is a country everyone should have on their bucket list.

Hogwarts-like turrets of Glasgow University, Scotland
Girl wearing black jacket and beanie sits on edge of hill looking out over fairy circle and surrounding hills

It’s Important To Explore Your Backyard

One of the main reasons I wanted to move to Scotland was to be closer to the rest of Europe. New Zealand is literally at the bottom of the world, and a 26+ hour flight means trips to Europe are a rare (and expensive) occurrence. 

So, like a lot of other young kiwis, I moved to the UK to see the world. And I did. In the last year I visited 11 new countries. I explored Paris, and went to Oktoberfest in Munich. Eating two gelatos a day was the highlight of my trip to Italy, and I had my first winter Christmas in Budapest

I saw a lot of the world, but if I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t see enough of Scotland. 

I explored the Isles of Arran and Skye. Glasgow and Edinburgh were ticked off the bucket list. I did plenty of day trips around Glasgow and hill walks near Loch Lomond.

But I didn’t make it to Aberdeen or Applecross. I didn’t get to go to the Isle of Mull. I left Scotland with places still on my list, and now I don’t know when I’ll next get the chance to tick them off. So see the world, sure. But remember to take the time to explore your backyard. 

Highland cow on Arran Island, Scotland
One of Scotland’s friendly Highland Coo’s

Be Your Own Best Friend

Cheesy AF, but true; you are the most important relationship you’ll ever have. 

Living in Scotland for a year taught me how vital it was to like being by myself. I learnt to rely on myself, because I had to. Doing things alone came out of necessity, but you know what? I grew to kinda love it.

The first time I went to the movies alone (to see Avengers: Endgame, FYI), I felt weirdly self-conscious. I thought people were looking at me, and judging me, for going to the movies by myself. But really? Nobody cares.

Learning to go for a hike alone, or to travel by myself, was a big learning curve. But the freedom I’ve gained from being happy on my own has been, honestly, life-changing. I don’t have to wait for someone to tag along if I want to do something. When I travel I can spend a whole day at an art gallery, if I want to, because I don’t have a nagging travel buddy wanting to do something else.

Relying on myself was the inevitable reality of moving overseas alone. But learning how to be my own best friend? That’s one of the best things Scotland has taught me.

It’s Good to be Spontaneous

If you know me, you’ll know I’m a planner. Ok, over-planner. Colour-coded Excel spreadsheets are my jam. My trips, my calendar, my life… everything has a colour-coded Excel spreadsheet attached to it.

But living in Scotland taught me that sometimes it’s good to be spontaneous. And that actually, my best memories were made when I threw a little caution to the wind and didn’t plan it all.

Like when I spontaneously booked flights to Munich to see my best friend before he flew home to New Zealand. It happened to be the first weekend of Oktoberfest, and that trip turned out to be one of my favourite trips of the year. 

Or when a fellow kiwi suggested we do a trip to escape the January blues. We flew to Warsaw for a weekend, and Poland quickly nudged it’s way on to the List Of Countries I Have To Go Back To. 

Planning is in my DNA, and I’ll never not be a planner. But living in Scotland for a year showed me that sometimes, a little spontaneity can go a long way. 

Girl in black jacket stands in front of the famous Harry Potter train bridge, Scotland
Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous by Harry Potter

You Always Have a Choice

The thing that made life in Scotland easier for me when I first moved was knowing that I had a choice. As I adapted to the new life I’d made for myself, I knew in the back of my mind that if I wanted, I could always go home. I didn’t want to move home, but having that choice made it a little easier.

Because I’d chosen to stay, I wanted to make my life in Scotland the best it could be. I pushed myself to make friends, to travel and to do the things I set out to do. Because ultimately I had made the decision to move to Scotland, and it was up to me to make it work.

The hardest thing about moving home the way I did, packing up my flat in a day and flying home to escape the pandemic? I didn’t feel like I had a choice.

I could have stayed, sure. But I would have faced having no job, possibly for months. With no access to public funds on my visa I wasn’t financially in the position to be able to do that. And lockdown would have been a lot harder on the other side of the world, without my friends or family. 

Having to move home, without any real choice, has been impossibly difficult. But it made me appreciate the time I did have a choice, and the time I chose to stay. 

Girl in pink sweater smiles at camera under Glasgow University Cloisters, Scotland

Make the Most of Your Time, Because You Never Know When It’ll End

The biggest lesson I learnt from a year of living in Scotland came right at the end. 

In the year I lived in Scotland I learnt a lot. I learnt how to make friends, and how to be my own best friend. Scotland taught me the importance of spontaneity, and why you should always explore your own backyard. In the year I lived in Scotland I learnt that things get better in time (approximately six months, FYI), and that the little things make the biggest difference.

But it wasn’t until right at the end, when I watched the life I’d built fall like a house of cards, that I learnt the biggest lesson. That you should always make the most of your time, because you never know when it’s all going to end.

Maybe right now I regret all the hours I spent watching Love Island. The days I spent playing Sims or nursing gin-related hangovers might now feel like a waste of time.

But really, I do feel like I made the most of my time in Scotland. 

I didn’t get to Aberdeen or Applecross. But I did manage to see a whole lot of Scotland. I did what I set out to do and saw the world, and I learnt a whole lot along the way. I don’t know when I’ll be back, or if I’ll ever live in Scotland again. The Scotland chapter of my life may have ended, but damn, it’s been a good one.

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Things I've Learnt From a Year of Living in Scotland
Things I've Learnt From a Year of Living in Scotland

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