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Interview with Danielle – a Canadian expat living in Scotland

Updated 7 Jan 2013

Danielle Sasaki moved to Scotland three and half years ago from her hometown of Winnipeg in Canada to start a new chapter in her life with her Scottish husband. Danielle works as a school teacher and, in her spare time, enjoys running and blogging about her expat experience.

Find out more about expat life in the UK in the Expat Arrival’s UK Country Guide or by reading more expat experiences of life in the UK.

About Danielle

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

Q: Where are you living now?
A: Close to Laurencekirk, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Q: How long have you lived in Scotland?
A: Three and a half years

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: I moved by myself

Q: Why did you move to the UK; what do you do?
A: My boyfriend, and now husband, is Scottish, and I moved to Scotland to be with him while he attended college.

About Scotland

Q: What do you enjoy most about Scotland? How’s the quality of life?
A: I live in rural Scotland; the closest town is five miles away. I love that it’s so beautiful here; we live in a very idyllic setting, and we’re close to the mountains and the North Sea. I also love that we’re so close to continental Europe as well. The quality of life is good, although we deal with the quirks of harvest every now and then.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: I guess the weather could be a negative: I’m accustomed to a dry and sunny climate, while here it’s dreary and damp much of the time. Aside from missing my family, I miss the true Canadian summers and winters, and most of all, I miss the snow. Here in Scotland, there’s no definitive change between the seasons; you always feel like it’s autumn or spring, aside from the occasional heat wave of a week when the temperature reaches 25 degrees Celsius.

I also miss the way of life in Canada, and how differences in people and cultures are accepted and non-issues. Here, it’s just so different, and many cultures don’t seem to be as accepted by some members of society.

Q: Is Scotland safe? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: I would say Scotland is, for the most part, a safe place. Edinburgh is a fantastic city, and Glasgow is known for being a very friendly city; I would just avoid its more deprived areas as Glasgow is also known for violence unfortunately. Like many other places in the world, people should stick to well-known, safe areas in both cities. Rural Scotland, the highlands and the islands are very safe.

I would also avoid football matches as well, as football fans have a reputation for drunken hooliganism, and many people here refuse to take their children to matches because of this.

Q: How would you rate the public transport in Scotland? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: I think the answer to this question depends on where you live in Scotland. In the large cities and the Central Belt (the populated area between Edinburgh and Glasgow), there’s an abundance of trains and buses that you can take, and I’ve had friends from that region who rely on public transportation instead of using a car. If you live in rural Scotland, like I do, you definitely need a car, but there are buses between towns and into the large cities. We often use Scot Rail trains for trips down to Edinburgh and its airport, but have recently been using our car instead. There are also many ferries between mainland Scotland and the Inner and Outer Hebridean Islands, making travel and island-hopping easy and affordable.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Scotland?
A: I don’t think healthcare here has as good standards as what I’ve been used to in Canada. The NHS seems to offer the bare minimum treatment for both health and dental care, and it seems as though there’s not enough time spent on patients; the doctor’s appointments I’ve had in the past have only been for no longer than 15 minutes each time. If you want better care, you’re forced to go with the private option, which means having to pay.

I’ve used the physiotherapy services here as well, and they don’t seem to offer as much in terms of modalities used and practices (like manipulation, acupuncture and massage) as the system I was accustomed to in Canada, and I’ve had to learn that the hard way when it came to rehabilitating a current injury. I’ve since been able to find a better physiotherapist, as well as an osteopath, who have both made progress towards me being injury-free.

About living in Scotland

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?
A: I enjoy living in Aberdeenshire, and if I had my choice of places to live in Scotland, I would choose Edinburgh or Argyle and Bute.

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Scotland?
A: Housing depends on what kind of house you have. Older houses are better built and larger, while the newer ones are smaller and seem of poorer quality. Heating is different here: you can use radiators powered by oil, and you must fill your oil tank, or use electric storage heaters which, in my experience, are useless and create costly electricity bills.

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: The cost of living in the countryside can be affordable, but I think that depends on where you live. My husband and I lucked out with our current house, which is in a beautiful setting, close to Aberdeen, along the rail line, and all for a very affordable monthly rent. I know if we were to buy a house, though, we wouldn’t be able to get as large a house as we would in Canada. We pay council tax on top of our rent, and we also pay electricity, internet/phone line, and when required, we have to fill up our oil tank outside to heat our house and water. In Canada, natural gas is predominantly used to heat houses, so having to fill an oil tank is new to me. It can also get quite expensive if your tank is empty; we had to fill ours just before Christmas last year, and it cost about GBP 600! I think the cost of living is about the same if you were to convert pounds into Canadian dollars, as I find everything seems more expensive in Canada because the prices are higher, but the Canadian dollar is worth less than the pound.

A lot of people in North America think it’s very expensive in Europe in general, but I think it’s actually the opposite, and quite affordable. Some food at the grocery store is more expensive, like meat and oranges, and you can only get it in smaller quantities. A lot of food, however, is cheaper, like olive oil, dried herbs, flour, sugar and milk.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: I’ve only met one other American expat since moving here, and everyone else has been Scottish. Locals are friendly, but sometimes they just seem so different from what I’m used to at home, and they’re not nearly as ready to engage in conversation unless you know them.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: I have some friends, but I have found it difficult to make friends as I find there are many differences in culture and philosophies on life here in comparison to Canada. I don’t drink, and I’m not at all into football, which seems to be two ways people first come together here in Scotland. I’ve since been able to meet more people like me, but again, this is few and far between. My friends here are different from my friends at home, and it’s difficult sometimes because you don’t have a history with these people because you’re new to everyone.

About working in Scotland

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit for the UK?
A: No, I got a work visa while still living in Canada; once that expired, I went down to the UK Border Agency offices in Glasgow to apply for my current visa, which I received on the spot. I plan on submitting my application for natural citizenship very soon.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city? Is there plenty of work?
A: I think this depends on what your job is. As a teacher, I applied for 20 or more teaching jobs in four different local councils, and have only ever been called for one interview, which is the job I currently have. I’ve tried several times to get a new teaching job, but there aren’t any permanent, full-time contracts available, and it wouldn’t be smart to leave that for a part-time, temporary contract.

My husband is a landscape gardener, and was unemployed for around six months; he finally resorted to starting his own business as he was also finding it difficult to get full-time, permanent work. His company is quite busy, and now, he’s never short of work.

Q: How does the work culture in Scotland differ from home?
A: In Canada, much of my job success has come down to my experience in life, and not so much based on my qualifications. As a teacher, once you’ve received your Education degree, there is freedom to teach different age groups, even if you’re not trained in that age group, (so a primary-trained teacher could go teach secondary without any further education). Here in Scotland, everything is qualification-based, and regardless of how much experience you may have in life, in your current job, or in a trade, you will not be considered for the job unless you have the proper qualifications on paper. I find this really restricts people, and also creates a bit of a mess in terms of levels of education because there are many different higher education diplomas and certificates one can have without ever having to attend university, (not for teachers, but other professions). The system I’m used to relied heavily on university education and not diplomas and certificates.

I was also surprised to find a culture of unemployment and reliance upon the government to provide for the unemployed. There have now been three generations of unemployment in Britain, and this culture seems to be passed down to every new generation. I have secondary-aged students who will openly say that once they’re finished school, they’ll just claim benefits instead of getting a job. It makes me angry to think that I’ve come to a country and I’m a contributing member of its society, while its own citizens can’t bring themselves to work and would rather live off social benefits. I never knew unemployment to be so mainstream until I moved to Scotland, and how unmotivated some people are to get a job because the government is giving them enough money to live well, depending on how many children they have and their health. I know there are plans to make great changes to the benefits system in Britain, and I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to the UK?
A: Whenever you move to another country, be prepared to take a while to settle and for things to feel like home. I’ve been in Scotland for 3 ½ years and still don’t feel completely at home. I sometimes struggle with the differences in culture, but at least my husband and close friends understand where I’m coming from and support me. Seek out others from your country if you can, and try to see the many positives about living abroad. I would love to live in Canada again, but I know if we were to move back, I would miss the many things I love about living in Scotland and Europe. Unfortunately, you can’t have the best of both worlds.

~ Interviewed December 2012

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