Aberdeen Expat Learnings

Life Lately: How to Survive Life in Aberdeen

Aberdeen Beach Promenade Expat Smalls Abroad

We blinked and here we are, 7 months into our life in Aberdeen.  Or in other words, 227 days to be exact, but who’s counting!?  It’s no secret that we weren’t excited about moving to Aberdeen, especially after living in Paris for a few years.  You may be asking: Why live somewhere you don’t want to be?? But given the employment situation, here we are.  So our mission (and we chose to accept it) is to make the most of the expat life in Aberdeen.

I wonder how many expat families are out there living in a city, or country, where they don’t want to be?  Moving away from home, putting yourself outside of your comfort zone, battling with language, visa, culture shock and all sort of expat problems is tough enough.  Having to do it in a place where you don’t even care to leave your house because it’s raining 60% of the time and the hottest month has an average temperature of 14 degC then… well, you can only imagine.

However, since it’s been a while since I’ve written a Life Lately post, I figured it was a great time to look back at the past 7 months of our Life in Aberdeen.  And you know what… life isn’t that bad.  The biggest lesson we’ve learned is that life is what you make of it.  Since Aberdeen isn’t our forever home, we might as well make the most of it.   Give it the benefit of the doubt.  The so-called ‘old college try.’  Because who wants to live a miserable, unhappy life?  Certainly not us.  So here is how we’ve gotten over the post-Paris blues and changing our attitude toward the Granite City.

Surround Yourself with Good People

I’ve always maintained, that the friends you make while living abroad can help make or break the expat experience.  One of the things I am most grateful for, looking back on our life in Paris, were the friends we made.  Our most memorable experiences involved the people that are like a second family.  Our friends have made the city feel like home.

We’ve been just as lucky to find the same thing in Aberdeen.  And all it took was a simple email, to another expat blogger.  One connection that opened up a world of expat friendships.  I suppose it helped I wasn’t a psychopath when she invited me to lunch, to admittedly, vet me before introducing me to her friends.  I’m glad I passed the test!

So if you’re not keen on randomly emailing strangers on the internet to go for lunch, there are so many ways out there to connect with other people.  There’s Meetup.com, Internations, Facebook groups… the list is endless.  I’m also a part of the American Women’s Association.  They organize events throughout the year like the Mardi Gras party we went to in February.

It also helps to surround yourself with people who love living where you do.  Although it makes us feel like ungrateful, selfish snobs that want to return to the City of Lights, their appreciation for life in Aberdeen has helped us see it through a new lens.

Take Advantage of Everything the City has to Offer

Okay so Aberdeen won’t have epic all-white flash mob picnics,  nor even more epic dance parties in chateaus, but it’s not completely void of activity.  When we first moved here, I went to the library and the tourism office to stock up on every pamphlet, booklet and program about the city and surrounding areas that I could carry home.  That helped me create our Scottish bucket list so we can keep on track and get excited about seeing and doing new things.

I’m in Aberdeen Facebook groups, signed up to the Aberdeen(shire) tourism newsletter and generally just have my eyes and ears open to catch advertising for events in the city.  Look, we braved the cold to watch the Santa Clause parade at Christmas and stroll through the Christmas markets.  We braved the drizzly rain to watch the Guy Fawkes bonfire night in Stonehaven and Banchory.  We braved the frigid cold to wander around the city during the Festival of Lights.  We braved driving in ice and snow to try all the beers at the Banchory Beer Festival.  We regularly go for runs along the beach promenade and have been to a wine tasting or two, or four hosted by the local wine shop.

The point is: you have to get out and take advantage of the things that do exist.  Even when the weather sucks.  We had the same attitude in Paris and that led to rewarding, unforgettable and bespoke experiences that few people can say they have partaken in.

Deep Dive into the Culture

We had never visited Scotland and didn’t even know much about the country aside from what we learned from groundskeeper Willie on the Simpsons.  Living in Aberdeen has opened our eyes to a rich culture and history that we would have otherwise ignored.  And that would be a shame.  Back in December, we went to our Crossfit gym’s Christmas ceilidh and danced so hard, I wanted more.  In January, we celebrated Burns Night with a traditional haggis dinner, more ceilidh dancing and David even wore a kilt for the occasion. (Bucket list item: CHECK)  We’ve done some ‘hill walking’ (read: hiking) in the surrounding countryside.  Even visited a distillery and savoured a Scottish dram or two.

These experiences and events have added joy and appreciation for our life in Aberdeen.  But the motivation has to come from within and that’s something we’re pretty good at.  Whenever we see an opportunity get an authentic experience, we go for it. Otherwise, what’s the point of living overseas, in another country, if you’re not going to make the most of it.

If all else Fails, Make your own Fun

Here is where the first piece of advice makes a difference.  I’m not going to lie and say that Aberdeen is a bustling city of activity, culture, and excitement. (We lived in Paris remember. It’s all relative.)  But that doesn’t matter when you can make your own memories.  All it takes is some motivation, planning, and people willing to join you.  Like shooting clay pigeons or trying to escape from a room.  Or dressing up like movie stars and solving a murder mystery for Halloween.  Or most recently, dress up in ridiculous neon tights and too much blue eye shadow to host an 80s party.

If everything fails…

Well, that’s what vacations are for.  An escape from the day-to-day.  And we’ve been on quite a few since we’ve moved… the most amazing African safari and two trips back to Paris.  Because, Paris.

I say that in jest.  Living in the past or for the next vacation, isn’t the way to live.  Sure, enjoy that time in your favourite places.  But the day-to-day should bring you joy as well.  I know it’s hard and I’m not saying every day it’s perfect.  We still complain and reminisce about days gone by.  But little by little, getting into the habit of focusing on the positive has helped tremendously.

And my last most important piece of advice

I’m going to channel Oprah and say, when you are in a crappy place, either physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, whatever-ally, practice gratitude.  I started a gratitude journal in December and I’ve been writing down 3 things that I am grateful for every day.  But it started even earlier than that by simply talking about the things we are grateful for over breakfast with David.  They range from very deep, personal thoughts of gratitude to even the most banal things like:  I am grateful it is sunny today; I am grateful the sun is shining into our living room; I am grateful for the pretty sunset (yeah, there are some common themes).

The point is: living in a place of gratitude doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for negativity, feeling sorry for yourself nor misery.  I’ll admit I am not consistent with it every day, but I’ll keep getting better at it.  Just like I’ll keep getting better at appreciating where I live, even if it was never my first choice (or even in my top 20).

I’ll add one more to the list:  I am grateful I’ve learned how to make the most of life in Aberdeen because these skills will only help me if we end up moving somewhere worse.  And there are worse places to be.

So, if you’re in a funk about where you live right now, whether you are an expat or not, give these strategies a try.  You might just end up surprising yourself like I did.  I would have never guessed that I’d like the taste of haggis and voluntarily eat it at every chance I got!  Thanks Scotland!

And if you’re reading this and have been through this before, did I miss anything?  What would you add to the list?  

And hey, thanks again for reading!  I’m linking up with #WanderfulWednesday with Lauren of Lauren on Location, Van of Snow in Tromso, Isabel of The Sunny Side of This and Marcella of What a Wonderful World. Go check out other great travel posts to fill you with inspiration.

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  • I absolutely love Scottish culture and would love to attend a ceilidh one day! Then again I totally understand your frustration with the weather. As much as I love the snow in Tromso during winter, I hate those cold and rainy summers and can’t wait to move somewhere that actually has summer temperatures later this year 😀

    • I hear ya! Me neither. I always joke about how I’ve always wanted to live by the ocean… well I should have specified a temperature range. 😂 Oh and ceilidhs are such good fun! You really work up a sweat.

  • lb formerly lg

    In the last month I also started a gratitude practice every night – writing down 3 things I’m thankful for and 3 thinks I’m looking forward to tomorrow. Not a secret I had a rough 6 months with things happening stateside and even though I love it here, it was difficult for me not be down. I really find the gratitude practice has helped.

    • That’s a great tip about writing 3 things to look forward to… I’m going to incorporate that. What a nice way to end the day. I just can’t believe it’s taken be so long to get into (same with meditation) but I guess you start grasping at these kinds of things when you’re at a low point and feel like you don’t know what else to do to cope.

  • Y’all really have made the most of your time in Aberdeen, and I guess that the silver lining really is that it’s not forever! I love that y’all hosted an 80’s party and that you got a little bit of the Scottish culture with a Burns Night! And it sounds like you’ve made some great friends as well!

    • I’m officially making the 80s party a tradition in ever place we live! It’s so fun and our friends really got into it. It was great! Thanks 🙂

  • I know someone who just moved back stateside from Aberdeen (they were in Morocco before Scotland) and it wasn’t her favorite city at first either but she wind up loving it and was sad to leave it. So there’s hope! 🙂 #wanderfulwednesday

    • Yes I know it can happen! I moved to Edmonton, Canada a few years before we left for good. It was known as “Dead-monton” so we had low expectations and in the end, we loved it and if we ever were to move back to Canada, I’d be going there (even though we have no family and only a few friends there).

  • Taste of France

    Well, when I lived in Brussels (similarly bleak weather, maybe a tad better than Aberdeen, all said and done), I went to Africa every February for a little sun cure. I lived in Kenya for several years, and either went “home” or to new lands. Africa is always a good idea.
    There is a big difference between being an expat and an immigrant. In my previous life, I was an expat–ready to move anywhere at all, as my employer requested. Now, I have a home and a business and a European-passported family and I have no interest in moving, which, I think, makes me an immigrant in France (yup, in the south, no less, much better weather than Paris). That really changes the equation of what one does and how. But it isn’t insurmountable!

    • The south of France must be divine and yes, I complain about the weather here but Paris had it’s grey and rainy stretched although it did get warm enough during the summer to compensate. I haven’t been to Kenya but searching for sun is exactly what we did this past January when we went to South Africa for safari followed by a few days in Cape Town. We didn’t want to leave! Thanks for the comments 🙂

  • Friends abroad is definitely important. I had friends when I first moved to Germany and it was fun, but they’ve all since returned home and now I’m the last. So now I actually have to make friends with native Germans, which is quite hard as they don’t get my laid back sarcastic California sense of humor and I actually find most Germans (esp the women) to be prudes. My bachelorette party was a complete disaster because they didn’t want to drink much and left by 10! Therefore, the last 2 years has been the hardest to continue living here, because going out and making friends is hard. I try to make friends with our coworkers, but my coworkers are typical Germans who dont like to hang out with coworkers. It’d probably be easier if we lived in a bigger city. #WanderfulWednesday

  • Rebecca

    The title alone made me chuckle!! Glad you’ve been getting into Scottish life, ceilidhs and kilts and all that. But with the 80s party etc sounds like you’ve brought the fun to Aberdeen!!

  • you should definitely explore many Scottish castles and the nature:)

  • Isn’t it funny that Scotland sounds like a total dream to me to live there?? But of course I just visited Edinburgh and the Highlands in August, so, maybe I’m biased. And while Budapest is no Paris (although I think it’s been called the Paris of Eastern Europe, but other places have) I bet moving from here to a small, quieter city would be a shock too! Glad you are making the best of things 🙂

    • We loved Budapest when we visited! And Edinburgh is amazing as is the Highlands. Aberdeen is a good jumping off point to discover the area… as a city, it doesn’t compare to Edinburgh. I suppose sometimes the smaller, quieter city is a nice a change.

  • You really are embracing it! I’m all up for making your own fun with friends, with a good group of friends, that can be done anywhere 🙂

  • Sounds like you’ve made the most of a “not-so-perfect” situation! I’m loving all the positivity and we really all could learn a lot by remembering to be grateful for what we have everyday. I love that you start the positivity over breakfast, because then it just reflects into the rest of the day. You also give some great ways to get used to expat life, even if it is somewhere that you want to be! Transitioning to a new place is never easy, and these are some great ways to hop right into happiness wherever it is you end up 😀

    • Thanks so much! I appreciate the feedback. And yes it’s “not so perfect” but then again, live never is! 😀

  • Love the last point! The first year I was in Scotland (especially in Stirling) was so hard…I mostly hated it, I’m not gonna lie. And I tried to be positive in all the ways you said. Tried to make friends, tried to go out and have hobbies, did LOADS of local travel across Scotland, try to be fully aware that I have a good life and that living in Scotland is a chance on it’s own. I have to say I would never advice expats to live anywhere else than Edinburgh (and perhaps Glasgow ;)) which is a bit sad, but a true reality. I’m not going to lie, all your activities does make it seem like you’re making the most of living in Aberdeen!xx

  • You look pretty on these pistures! Seems you guys had a wonderful time in Scotland, inspite the fact that sometimes you had an akward situation. I`m going to fly Scotland next year, hope to spend time with positive mood!