Life

10 Years Ago, I Moved to Scotland.

10 years ago, I got on a plane at the Philadelphia airport with my mother and four suitcases stuffed with vacuum-packed sweaters, winter coats and wellies, and I moved to Scotland.

Writing that makes 10 years suddenly seems like a small number for something that feels like it was another lifetime ago. It was a lifetime ago – it was actually several lifetimes ago – when I was 18 and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, terrified and optimistic, sad to leave but ready to break free from my life under a microscope to escape someplace where nobody knew my past or had ideas about my future.

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West Sands runs, gorgeous and torturous in all forms of weather and hour of the day.

I had no idea what to expect. I’d poured over the little ‘St Andrews for Americans’ booklet they’d sent along and stocked up on the essential ‘ball gowns’ wet weather gear, but that was literally all I knew. It turns out St Andrews is a small coastal town, and it has things like beaches and castle ruins and remnants of a cathedral and buildings with turrets. I honestly had no idea. All I knew was there was something – some completely indescribable, deep gut feeling, that that was where I needed to be, and there was no other option.

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Angry North Sea during my ritual mid-afternoon walk through East, Castle and West Sands.

And as corny as it sounds – I flourished there. I found my people. I found my voice. I found my true independence and self-identity and confidence within the first few days of walking down those cobblestone streets and pounding down West Sands, and it was never a question of coming back. Scotland was my home.

Sometimes looking back on that chunk of life, it seems like a secret hole that never really happened. I disappeared off the radar into the dreich for almost seven years, emerging back into the sunshine (or snow) over holidays or pieces of summer to half-resume my American life. I kept both worlds, and most of the time they were separate, until occasionally they would collide in a random city in the States or in Europe, where it would be a sudden reminder that I was knowingly splitting myself in two, and part of me would always be far away from the other. I grew into adulthood in the UK. I learned to set my life up with British versions of things, which seemed natural (and obvious) at the time, but became so staunchly apparent when I did move back to the States and realized how far behind and confused I was with what were simple things. I always said the UK was the best place to ease into being abroad – it was similar enough to feel comfortable, but different enough to be novel and not the same.

 

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Crovie, a slice of secluded heaven in the northeast.
Like all things, as I get farther away from it though, the harder it becomes to remember – really remember – what it was like and have that true understanding that this was a significant phase of my life that happened. It becomes summarized now as ‘I lived in Scotland’, which is such a nondescript way of squashing experiences and emotions and just life into something concrete, because I didn’t just live in Scotland.

I spent almost seven years in Scotland. I laughed around dinner tables. I extreme danced on tables and on open floors. I ran through 3pm darkness and gale force winds and fishing villages. I ate chips and cheese on 600-year-old stone walls. I crossed the Old Course at night, flag in hand. I cried on couches. I skipped under the moonlight. I popped round for tea and broccoli and biscuits. I ate my bodyweight in Shreddies (and drank my bodyweight in wine). I stripped the willow down ballrooms and towns and city streets, in flowing dresses and ski jackets and highland cow hats. I sat in pubs. I met people that changed my life. I saw life. I saw death. I felt soul-destroying pain and soul-defying euphoria. I stared at the world from tops of mountains. I stared at the world from trains. I got lost in cities. I hitchhiked. I ran. I walked. I stumbled. I crawled.

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Typical beach attire. Not unlike San Francisco some days.

But most importantly, I learned. I learned that my life was mine, that there was no pre-determined path I had to follow. I learned how to learn. I learned how to balance and to let go. I learned to love what was around me and not fear what I didn’t know. I learned to travel. I learned to say no. I learned to say yes. I learned when to shut down and when to start up again. I learned when to give in, when to give up, and when to just give. I learned what I liked. I learned what I hated, and I came out of it all with a hint of British stoicism and cynicism and an appreciation that though we may all come from different corners of the world, we are inherently the same.

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Dunnottar Castle

Here’s to you, Scotland, the best small country in the world. You built me and you broke me, and you’ll always be a part of me.

And if I should become a stranger
You know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything
I’ve ever had
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