What a deep question right off the bat! My name is Caroline Collie, and I’m an American married to a South African I met in Scotland. We work for a charity called Samaritan's Feet and have one delightful little Scottish-African-American son, and another on the way this month!
I first moved to Edinburgh, Scotland in 2005 to be a part of a team starting a church there. I studied and worked in Edinburgh for four years. While there I met my husband, who is South African, and about a year and a half into our marriage we decided to spend some time in SA before eventually settling down in the States (at least we think that’s the plan.) So we packed up and moved from Scotland to South Africa in 2009, hoping to spend more time with his family and to have a positive impact in an amazing country.What challenges did you face during the move?
Which one?! During the move to Scotland, most of the challenges involved the common experiences of culture shock – the initial honeymoon “this is amazing!” phase, the this-is-getting-kind-of-tough phase, the I-don’t-want-to-be-here-anymore phase and eventually the this-pretty-much-feels-like-home-now phase. It is always challenging to get set up in a new place, I think, and Edinburgh was no exception. Getting turned down for bank accounts and phone contracts, catching the wrong bus and walking home in the rain, you get the idea. Eventually you adapt and learn to enjoy where you are – or else you stay grumpy, or head home.
The move to South Africa has been a bit more complicated. My husband has experienced some re-entry shock after being out of the country for more than a decade. Getting set up all over again, as is always the case, takes some time, but we found it more challenging than we expected here. The cost of living was higher than we expected as well. Forging new friendships was not as easy here as in the UK, and we’ve felt a bit isolated at times.
How did you find somewhere to live?
We arrived with our suitcases and checked into temporary (holiday) accommodation, and gave ourselves three weeks to look for a place to rent. We stayed in the first rental for nearly a year and then found a great deal on a better place in the same neighbourhood a year later. The rental process was similar to our previous experiences, looking and thinking and picking and choosing and wishing there was more to choose from at a lower price!
Are there many other expats in your area?
We live outside of Cape Town in a town called Gordon’s Bay. There are definitely lots of expats in Cape Town, and even in the small town where we are, there are internationals from lots of locations, enjoying the neighbourhood where we currently reside as holiday accommodation!
What is your relationship like with the locals?
We have some great friends, and don’t spend much time with expats, even though they’re our neighbours. Because of our work, we’ve also had the opportunity to experience different cross-sections of the local population, for example, working in the townships where poverty is a stark reality.
What do you like about life where you are?
After being in Scotland for four years, the first answer is always the weather. Being from North Carolina, I enjoy the sunshine when I can get it, and the seasons and heat and storms make this place feel a lot like home. The culture also feels more similar to American culture for me, and that’s made me feel a little more at home too.
But the beauty of South Africa should probably top the list – this country is absolutely stunning. When amazing views, incredible mountains and gorgeous beaches were being handed out at the beginning of time, I think South Africa got her share, and a few other nations’ as well!
What do you dislike about your expat life?
The hardest thing has always been being far away from family. Giving birth to our first son in Scotland with grandparents and other family in South Africa and North Carolina was tough. Our second one will come very soon and we’re excited to have my husband’s folks closer by, but it’s still tough to have my Mom and Dad so far away. We plan to eventually settle in the US and I suppose we’ll have to have another there to round things out. Could I go for a world record on this?
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
If you have the opportunity – or if you can make the opportunity – go for it. I may not have done much ladder-climbing or have a lot of material possessions to show for the past five years of my life, but the number of once-in-a-lifetime experiences I’ve been blessed with on this adventure make everything else pale in comparison. Getting outside of your comfort zone is good food for your soul!
What are your plans for the future?
We hope to eventually settle down back in the US of A. (Where my husband will be the expat again!) I hope we have the opportunity to continue to travel, but after moving home about eight times in the last five and a half years, I sure wouldn’t mind having the same address for a while!
Caroline, her husband Mark, their son “the Bear” and the Bear’s little brother-on-the-way live in Gordon’s Bay. She blogs at From Africa, With Love From Africa, With Love and you can follow her tweets @carolinecollie.