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Interview with Daniel – a Scottish repatriate

Updated 14 Dec 2021

Hailing from Glasgow, UK and having grown up in Cape Town, South Africa, Daniel describes himself as "a medical student and children’s illustrator born in two different places". After more than a decade in South Africa, he moved back up north to Edinburgh and then to Glasgow for his studies.

In his interview, he describes the rich culture of both cities and gives useful info about making friends, finding a place to live and what to expect of the work culture.

About Daniel

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: Born in Scotland – but lived in Cape Town, South Africa while I was growing up.

Q: Where are you currently living?

A: Glasgow, Scotland.

Q: When did you move here?

A: 2008.

Q: Is this your first expat experience?

A: No.

Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?

A: Alone.

Q: Reason for moving?

A: Pursuing further education.

Living in Scotland

Q: What do you enjoy most about Scotland?

A: The deep and rich history everything is steeped in, the mix of which is more odd than you’d expect. The cultural sense of humour is great, often dark and frank to the point some foreigners would take offence, but it arises from a place of love and respect for the most part. Nobody will put up with any nonsense.

Q: Have you had any low points? What do you miss most about home?

A: Low points have been in missing the people I love rather than the place I grew up… But the weather often leaves something to be desired.

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience culture shock at all?

A: A little, but it passes quickly. For the most part, at least in big cities, Scots are more tolerant and accepting than people expect. There is genuine interest and care for other cultures all over the place. Being a nation that has sent impactful people all over the world shows that it has always been a curious and accepting place. Some things, like the obsession with football and the world-famous drinking, do take a bit of adjusting to. Don’t try to keep up with the locals at a bar.

Q: What are your favourite things to do on the weekend? Any particular places or experiences you’d recommend to fellow expats?

A: Scotland turns from an enormous industrial cityscape to the deepest peaty forest in the blink of an eye. There are some of the most deeply beautiful landscapes in the world just around the corner. You can catch a train to a small town and be out in the wilderness in no time. One advantage of travel in Scotland that I always tell everyone is the great camping and bothy (hut) culture. You’re allowed to set up camp pretty much anywhere, even on private land in most cases, as long as you’re respectful and tidy up, of course.

Secondly, both Glasgow and Edinburgh are powerhouses of art, theatre, and music. In Glasgow, Kelvin Hall has a truly fantastic art collection and museum. The Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) is a favourite of mine, and the University of Glasgow has amazing collections open to the public. National museums and galleries are all free, and the very few private collections open up for free at least once per year.

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to South Africa? Is there anything especially expensive or cheap in Scotland?

A: Overall, the cost of living is more expensive, and accommodation in the centre of the big cities is pricey. Driving a car is also generally much more expensive in the UK than in other parts – but public transport, at least in the cities, is good.

Fruit and some produce is noticeably more expensive, being imported during the long winter months, but berries are cheap and plentiful in the summer.

The finest whisky, of course, is much easier to find.

Q: What’s public transport like in Edinburgh/Glasgow and across the country?

A: Good, for the most part, as much as everyone likes to complain about it. The truth is that it’s possible to live pretty comfortably without a car, and that’s actually preferable in some places (Edinburgh city is an expensive nightmare akin to London for drivers).

The rail network is very developed, so it’s possible to get to all but the remotest parts of the highlands and islands by train. Everywhere is lousy with buses. Edinburgh has a very expensive and much mocked tramline and Glasgow has a historic and (a bit) ridiculous orange underground that runs in a circle through the city centre. Reliability and timekeeping can vary during extreme weather and things are a bit precarious still after lockdowns.

Q: What do you think about the healthcare available in Scotland? What should expats expect of local doctors and hospitals?

A: The NHS is great, and I’d put up pretty much any big hospital as world-class. Individual docs, of course, vary. There is private care available for those that want it, but all those doctors are moonlighting from the NHS anyway. Essentially private care is for those that can afford to skip the queue – much inpatient private care will take place in NHS hospitals anyway, private hospital beds are pretty rare in Scotland at least.

Q: What’s the standard of housing like in Scotland? What different options are available?

A: The baseline is fairly good – unless you’re renting as a young university student, in which case there are no depths a landlord won’t sink to.

Some things are commonplace here that aren’t elsewhere. Hot water central gas heating with big metal radiators, for example. Everything has to be quite well insulated and cosy for the winters.

Every option from dingy single-room bedsit to glorious historic mansion is available. Modern-built luxury apartments might be a bit more rare in Scotland, as most of the city is already filled with beautiful historic architecture. One thing to note is that people in the UK tend to live in much smaller places than similarly paid people in bigger countries. If you want a lot of space in the city you will pay dearly for it.

Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?

A: Mostly you’re going to be fine. I’d say a good rule is to avoid living too close to a football stadium, just for the sake of sanity. The West End of Glasgow is probably the trendiest place to live after Edinburgh city.

Meeting people and making friends

Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?

A: Making friends in Scotland is always easy. If you’re struggling then there are plentiful clubs and teams for whatever interest or sport you can imagine.

Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?

A: My friends are almost entirely locals. There are some slightly insular cultural expat groups, but I found it easy to get along with almost everyone here. The advice I would give is just to immerse yourself, try something new and join an interest group if you’re struggling. If you truly want to fully fit in with the locals then you’ll have to prepare yourself for watching football in the snow and know how to hold your drink.

Working in Scotland

Q: What is the economic climate in the city like?

A:  Like everywhere, it’s still reeling a bit, just like the world economic climate.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?

A: As a generalisation I’d say Scots tend to work hard but know exactly when work ends. On the clock you’re expected to perform, but off the clock your time should be your own.

Final thoughts

Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Scotland?

A: Throw yourself in, the culture is deep and warm. Unlike the weather.

Don’t get offended too easily, it’s just the Scottish sense of humour.

Expect a lot of swearing.

►Interviewed in December 2021

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