Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Current and retrospective

Most blogs consist of current observations and ruminations. I'll provide plenty of those posts. Current happenings. Quick reactions. Immediacy. Some of those posts may have a "stranger in a strange land" quality, with the rewards (e.g., laugh at the silly American as he struggles to pay with British coins) and the dangers (e.g., those silly Scots do it all wrong…except, oops, I misunderstood the culture) inherent in such posts.

British coins
Coins in my pocket today: 1 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, 1 pound, 2 pounds. I try to avoid carrying anything other than 1 and 2 pound coins, just as I used to abhor carrying around change in the U.S.
Twenty pound notes (front) from Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank
Banks are allowed to print their own variations of currency.
Twenty pound notes (back) from Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank
Back side of the bills.
I'm also hoping to write the occasional retrospective post, providing a broader view and at least slightly deeper insight. For example, we regularly get asked by friends and strangers about the details of packing up and moving to another country how did we move our dog and cat, what belongings did we ship overseas or donate or store at home, how did we find a place to live, and so on. Now that we've made it through the process, I can look back with hindsight and glean the most important information, filter out or describe the frustrations, and perhaps provide some advice for newbie expats.

Likewise, I have already visited a bunch of tourist destinations and will visit many of those same places again, either on my own or with visitors. For example, I've visited Stirling twice and Edinburgh three times, and I'll be visiting both cities again in the next several weeks. A retrospective post incorporating all of the visits to one city (or a particular tourist attraction) may be more interesting/useful than separate posts for each visit. The retrospective posts won't be definitive declarations - this blog is not a thesis or a Rick Steves guidebook but with luck they may be more revealing than a snap judgment written without much reflection.

Carving on Queen's seat in Thistle Chapel at St. Giles Cathedral
Carving on the Queen's seat in Thistle Chapel within St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh.
What is the Thistle Chapel, created for the Order of the Thistle? A future post will explain it.

Stirling Bridge in Scotland
Stirling Bridge, site of a landmark battle against the English in 1297.
It's a picturesque bridge, though I am told it was wooden in 1297. More history in a future post.

Friday, July 26, 2013

How we ended up in Glasgow

We moved from Raleigh, North Carolina to Glasgow, Scotland. Many local Glaswegians have asked us, "But why would you move here from such a lovely place in America?"

Since Scotland currently is in the midst of a genuinely historic weeks-long wave of heat and sunshine, I usually answer: "We came for the hot and sunny weather" or "To get a tan." The locals laugh and assure me this weather won't last long.

I know. In our first three weeks, I generally wore pants and often a sweatshirt or fleece vest. In summer.

Boat cruise on Loch Lomond
Enjoying the view on a hot and sunny day during a boat cruise on Loch Lomond.
Truthfully, we moved to Scotland because Kate got offered a job as a Lecturer in the veterinary school at the University of Glasgow.

How did she get that job?

Because she's awesome.

Quad on main campus of University of Glasgow
Quad on the main campus of the University of Glasgow.
After completing her veterinary degree at North Carolina State University, Kate wanted to continue her studies with a residency in anatomic pathology.

Graduation from NCSU veterinary school
Kate (third from left) at graduation from veterinary school.

The vet school, however, didn't have any positions or funding for a resident to start until a year after she graduated. The school wanted to keep her, so it arranged a deal with one of the major veterinary diagnostic companies to pay for her three years of residency if she then agreed to work for the company for three years after she finished the residency. The company had a local North Carolina office and we expected to be living in or near Raleigh for many years to come. But in the third year of her residency the company had financial difficulties and released Kate from her obligation, though it still paid for the residency.

Flying Saucer trivia night in Raleigh
Taking our newborn baby to trivia night at the Flying Saucer in Raleigh with other vet school residents.
Instead of having the next several years mapped out, Kate suddenly had the option of considering any job, anywhere. No more restrictions, no more boundaries. She buckled down and passed her board exam the letters after her name are now D.V.M., D.A.C.V.P.  (update: now they're D.V.M., D.A.C.V.P., M.R.C.V.S.) and started looking to see what the job possibilities might be.

She cast a wide net, looking for good quality jobs regardless of location. We considered options as far away as Singapore and Australia. Once we started considering jobs overseas, the jobs in America lacked a bit of luster. 

Ultimately, the University of Glasgow offered a job which would give Kate great experience with solid pay and the chance to live overseas and experience a different culture. Our toddler is several years away from school and easily moveable. Living in Europe gives easy access and comparatively low cost to travel throughout the continent and beyond. Despite the professional, financial, and personal risks involved in making such a move, we would have regretted not taking the chance more than any of the risks involved. No regrets so far.

Puddles along the Forth & Clyde canal
Splashing in a puddle on a cool and rainy June day in Glasgow, along the Forth & Clyde canal.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Whaddya mean, "Coloring Without Borders"?

Doctors Without Borders, known in most of the world as Médecins Sans Frontières, does important work in war-torn or desperate countries around the globe.  Meaningful work.  Vital work that saves lives and gives hope to those who most need it.

By contrast, this blog may be mildly interesting to a handful of people.

My life right now centers around my toddler son, who just turned two.  Jackson recognizes few boundaries.  Everyone is a potential friend or playmate.  He has almost no sense of danger  he'll run off a ledge and simply assume you'll catch him.  If a crayon or pencil or pen is in reach, he's likely going to color on whatever surface is available, delighting in bold strokes and giant loops arcing across the page.  He invites our dog to "play Legos, Mattie."  All things are possible, inanimate objects are anthropomorphized, you can't possibly be correct that he has eaten the last Cheerio because there must be more somewhere in the bag and he really does want to eat Cheerios and please more Daddy more Daddy please please more Daddy he REALLY thinks you're just unnecessarily withholding Cheerios while you're driving down the highway.  A chance encounter with a live "statue" street performer in Glasgow now leads Jack to inquire about each stone statue he sees:  "Not move, Daddy?"  He pulls his shirt over his head and announces "I'm hiding!"

Jackson likes to push the boundaries, just as a toddler should.
Jackson's life is full of possibilities, not limitations.  Almost anything is possible.  The world does not yet have many restrictions or logic.  His coloring typifies his life view.  Like any toddler, Jack won't color within the lines on a page from a coloring book, not even if he had the fine motor skills to do so.  What would be the fun in that?  Instead, he explodes the boundaries with exuberant slashes cutting across the page or intense scribbles in the empty space.

I think this coloring suits the personality of Tigger.
I want to live my life a little more like Jackson colors.  I know, I know, I have responsibilities and a family to care for.  A profession to practice.  And there's retirement planning to think of.  So I can't won't go whole hog and abandon all those things that make me an upstanding member of society.  But I want to push myself a little, stretch the boundaries of how life is supposed to go.  Quit my job, move to another continent, and hope it'll all turn out fine?  Done.

This blog will focus on traveling and living without borders.  For me, the best travel and the best life experiences come from visiting foreign countries and learning new cultures.  A seven-country European trip after high school (thanks, mom and dad!) opened my eyes to the world.  A dozen years later, my life was changed after spending a month in China in 2004 more than enjoying the amazing sights (both manmade and natural) Kate and I visited, it was a perspective-altering trip that helped redefine how I viewed life at home in the U.S.

The massive boundary of the Great Wall served to keep China isolated from the wider world.
The drama of the karst mountains in southern China reminds me of the severe beauty of the Scottish highlands.
If traveling for a few weeks at a time can have a powerful effect on my life, how profound will it be to live abroad?  When the opportunity to move to Scotland came up, we couldn't say no.

I'm inspired by family and friends who have stretched the boundaries in their own lives.  My sister-in-law, Rachel, has hiked through contested Kashmir to the base camp of Mt. Everest.  She made the jump in mid-life from being a wildlife biologist to training for three years as a luthier (i.e., a violin maker).

Rachel at the summit of Grand Teton in Wyoming.
One of Rachel's violins.
My godmother, Martha, moved with her husband from the U.S. to Indonesia in the 1960s a far greater life change than moving from the U.S. to Scotland in 2013.  That same fortitude had her living without assistance alone in her home into her nineties, and she remains a lucid and independent soul.  Friends from various stages of my life have moved overseas to pursue careers, whether in business or law or as part of the U.S. Department of State.  I'm inspired by all of them and the courage they've shown.

Foreign Service Officer Sara during her posting in Zambia, herd of elephants in background.
I want to travel and live without borders.  Jackson is along for the ride, which hopefully will serve him well as he gets older.  Eventually he'll learn to color inside the lines, but I hope he also retains some of the spirit to color without borders.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

First post

We moved to Scotland six weeks ago. Most of our stuff is unpacked. We've bought furniture and appliances and a car, set up a bank account and mobile phones and satellite television. Yet I have a lingering feeling of disbelief. The reality of moving to a foreign country and not just visiting for an extended vacation hasn't sunk in. We didn't buy return flights to North Carolina? Our (small) allotment of vacation days isn't being exhausted? We live here now? We live in Scotland? A place with castles and whisky and golf and haggis and tartans?

Culzean Castle
Culzean "Castle," which is really a seaside country estate built on the bones of an older castle.
Our lives just took a turn onto the road less traveled. As expatriates, we're certainly not unique; a few million U.S. citizens currently live abroad. Moving to the U.K. barely qualifies as expatriating, but rather as expat-lite. Nevertheless, about 99% of American citizens will never live outside the U.S. borders.

Now we're immigrants. We have new cultural and legal rules to learn. I've had half of a year to get used to the idea. Excitement. Pride. Commitment.

Whisky with a haircut
Whisky with my haircut?  Well, if you insist.
More strangely: I'm also now a blogger?

Blogging unsettles me. I lean mildly toward introversion. I can barely muster the interest/effort/courage/witticism to post on Facebook a couple of times a month. I enjoy hearing about your life, seeing too many pictures of your kid, reading your amateurish forays into political opinions, wondering about why you're friends with that moron, blocking all the updates about the games you play, hitting "Like" to support big events in your life. However, I'm not especially keen on sharing those details about me.

Yet here is my first blog post.

By blogging, I want to accomplish several goals, whether concurrently or variously or just occasionally. I hope it can help keep me connected to friends and family, to let them vicariously experience our lives in Scotland. Meanwhile, although it is unlikely anyone outside my small circle will read this blog, the possibility exists and so I will try to make it accessible to others.

Blogging also will help chronicle the life of my young son, Jackson. Since I'll be spending most of my time as a stay at home dad, my blog will be filtered through the challenges fun of raising a toddler.

Wandering in Anstruther
Jackson monkeying around in the fishing village of Anstruther, home of the best chippie in Scotland.
Viewed in another way, if I get hit by a bus, this blog may help little Jack know something about me when he's older.

I'm going to try to share some insight into visiting and living in Scotland, and by extension into visiting and living in the U.K. and abroad generally. We plan on traveling throughout Scotland, the U.K., and Europe. Despite the challenges of setting up life here and my wife starting her job three weeks ago, we've already spent time in the last six weeks as tourists in Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Stirling, and Glen Coe, as well as exploring our home city of Glasgow and environs such as Loch Lomond.

View down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh
A view down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.
I'm a history buff and will delve into historical trivia. I'm a musician who hopes to hear great music in the concert hall and find great bands in the pubs. I love museums and architecture and paintings and cathedrals. I'm a sports fan who just this week attended the British Open and a Celtic football match.  I'm a political junkie who will follow British politics, including next year's referendum on Scottish independence. I'm looking forward to describing the myriad flavors of crisps, what it's like to wear a kilt, and just how remote the Outer Hebrides are.

Swilcan Bridge on the Old Course in St. Andrews
Mattie, Kate, and Jackson posed on the 700 year old Swilcan Bridge on the Old Course in St. Andrews. Most Sundays the Old Course is open to the public for picnics, dog walks, and tours.
And, admittedly, blogging gives me something to do.

With luck, I'd like to inspire you to move abroad. You might have pondered it already. Perhaps dismissed it as impossible. Maybe somewhere in this blog you'll find a nugget to help you.