Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Sophie Dingle/courtesy

Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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


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


Courtesy Photo

Sophie Dingle

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.


rhys jones 1 year, 4 months ago

I'll never forget the time, my clutch cable broke in my Suzuki car in the mountains of southern Japan, near Hiroshima and Iwakuni, where I was stationed. I limped it back to town, shifting only as necessary...

Seeing a Suzuki dealer, I pulled in to get that cable -- but the only person there was an old man who pre-dated mandatory English in school, so his English was as spotty as my Japanese. I had a heck of a time just conveying my problem, going through gymnastics, mimicking pushing the pedal then shrugging my shoulders (would-be actor that I am) but it took him actually sitting in the driver's seat and pushing the pedal to grok the problem -- but now we had another problem: This dealer did motorcycles only, not cars -- I forget how he conveyed that -- and the dealer who did cars was on the other side of Iwakuni. Now we needed directions. He scratched his chin, then picked up a little stick by the side of the road, and knelt by the sand in the gutter, then drew a little triangle in the sand, each leg extended. On one leg, off to the side he drew a dot and said "Coco" (here) and I said "Hai!! Hai!!" (yes yes) real fast like they do -- then he drew a circle at another corner, and said "Base" (where I was stationed) "Hai!! Hai!!" then at the third corner, another dot, and "Train station" "Hai!!" Hai!!" so each leg represented a major road. At the third corner, by the train station, he made two little cross-hatches on the leg coming back toward where we were, representing cross streets, and said "Signal light two" "Hai!! Hai!!" At the second intersection, on one corner, he drew another little dot and said "Doko" (there). "Hai!! Hai!!" Now I knew where I needed to go.

Bingo!! With a minimal exchange of words, (six English, three Japanese) and a little ingenuity and creativity, we were able to have a whole conversation and solve the problem. People can be really cool, whoever and wherever, if you just give them a chance. This little event restores my faith whenever I remember it. Thanks for reminding me, Sophie!!


rhys jones 1 year, 4 months ago

PS -- If the lack of sunlight prompts the heavy use of Scotch -- well, let's just say I might prefer wine and Italy.


Sophie Dingle 1 year, 4 months ago

Completely agree and much prefer wine over Scotch, however since we're expecting our first child in February, I'm sticking to tea these days which the Scots are experts in, so I'm good! Thanks for sharing the story above - I love it!


rhys jones 1 year, 4 months ago

Thanks Sophie. With you for a Mom, that kid's gonna be GREAT!!


jerry carlton 1 year, 4 months ago

Sophie Great column as always!

Rhys If the Broncos get by Chargers who knows how far they can go?


rhys jones 1 year, 4 months ago

Jerry -- Unless the Patriots screw up in Miami, it looks like the playoff trail will go through Foxborough, unless somebody else knocks them off at home first. Fat chance, on that slanted field. We still haven't recovered from their last shenanigan (or a previous one) which had Josh McDaniel implanted as our head coach to destroy the team, and the first thing he did was to send Jake Plummer packing, the best arm we've had since Elway, who would otherwise possess two or three rings by now. I'll bet McDaniel was getting two paychecks during his brief tenure here. And I digress. The road will probably stop there. If not before. I'm just glad I work Sundays, so I will miss the ultimate heartbreak.

The Nuggets still aren't dead yet, not far out of 8th place in the division, last playoff spot, and they seem to be getting better, though the Rooster (Gallo) spends a lot of time hurt, as in now. (His head bobs funnily when he does a layup) Cavs at Pepsi in about 10 minutes, and I hope I can find a good stream on stream2watch.co/sports/basketball because there's a pot pie in the oven, should be ready by the second quarter. LeBron is in town. Ciao!!

You can get that game too, Sophie -- though it's been my experience that basketball and hockey mix like oil and water; most people like one or the other, but not both. Ciao to you too anyway!!


Dan Kuechenmeister 1 year, 4 months ago

Sophie, Thanks as always for your enjoyable "travelogue". It is fun to see and hear about Scotland through your eyes. Great castle picture by the way.


Jeff Kibler 1 year, 4 months ago

As far as animal stomachs go, my favorite is menudo.
I haven't found it on any restaurant menu here.
My New Year's resolution is to learn to cook my own tripe!


Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.