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Stories from Scotland: Five things I’ve learned from living abroad

Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Courtesy Photo

— The end of one year and the start of another always seems to be a time for reflection.

2016 will mark the fifth year my husband and I have lived abroad, first in Italy and now in Scotland. During these years, we’ve learned a lot: how to make homemade pasta, a few Italian words…a few Scottish words for that matter; which region we prefer for Italian wine, how to appreciate the sun. But the biggest lessons learned are these:

How to adjust to new surroundings. When you live, study or travel abroad, you have to know that things aren’t going to be the same as you’re used to at home. This seems obvious, but adjusting to a new culture, as well as appreciating it and being flexible and patient are easier said than done. In Italy, everything closed between 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. and then again for the night at 7:30 p.m. If you realized you forgot butter while cooking dinner, you were out of luck. And in Scotland, we never see the sun. For two people used to Colorado sun, that was an adjustment. Learning to make the best of a situation is important no matter where you are but especially when traveling.



Try everything. We pride ourselves on trying everything once. In Italy that was tripe, and in Scotland that was haggis. And we’re still not sure what it is about animal stomachs that people find appealing…

How to appreciate the little things. When you live abroad, completing small tasks can feel like a huge achievement. For example, getting to and from the airport successfully, mailing a package home and actually having it arrive and having a conversation in a different language (and understanding it).



How to enjoy the mishaps — because there are going to be mishaps. But they’re usually where the best stories come from. Sometimes, they’re larger than others, like the time my husband and I were lost in Palermo, Sicily, unsure of which bus to get on and in which direction and no one would help us. On the verge of tears (me) and rage (him), we sat down for cappuccino and croissants, and somehow, everything worked out. And sometimes the mishaps are smaller, like when I realized — after four years — that I had been using fabric softener instead of laundry detergent.

You can live with less. We’ve lived in a new apartment each year, which are usually filled with other people’s things. We don’t have our own sheets or towels, dishes or our own kitchen appliances. I didn’t pick out our curtains or our rugs or the paint color on the walls. We go into each new season not even knowing where we’re going to live. But somehow, every apartment has felt like home. The experience of living in a different country, of traveling to new places and seeing new things is much more important than any household item. Since everything we bring or buy has to go back to Colorado with us, we’re very conscious of not loading up on too many “things,” though we have been known to bring back eight bottles of wine — and now, in 2016, I guess that will change to Scotch.


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