True Story: I Moved My Family of 6 From Arkansas to Scotland

Want to pick your family and move across the globe? Alison did! This is the story of Alison, her family, and their move to Scotland. This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things.

Moving your family across the globe true story

Move Your Family Across the Globe

Tell us a bit about yourself! 

Hi, I am Alison Chino and I am a 40 year old writer/blogger from Arkansas, where I spent most of my days at home in the kitchen, keeping the cast iron hot and the soup pot full, because pretty soon four kids would be barreling through the door and friends were probably coming for dinner. I love a quiet afternoon with only my notebook and pen for company and I love to sit around the table with family and friends long into the evening until the last of the wine has been poured.

What’s your family like? 

My husband of almost 20 years and I have four kids, ages 16, 14, 12, and 7. My fourteen year-old is my only girl and she is great company on most days. She and I love to get a weekend away together, and once we even sailed the Mediterranean for two weeks alone. But usually we are right there amidst the boys, jumping across creeks and climbing trees. We spend most of our family vacations and weekends in the woods, hiking and camping.

What made you and your family decide to move to Scotland?

For years, my husband has dreamed of getting a PhD in theology, and the university programs in Scotland have been turning out world class theologians for centuries. A year ago, he finally decided to apply, turning dream into reality.

I know a lot of people fantasize about moving abroad but it can be so hard to wrap your head around the logistics. Can you take us through what you had to do in order to make this happen? 

Once my husband was accepted as a student to the University of Aberdeen, we just felt like we were supposed to pursue getting here until we either made it over or until all possible doors were closed on us. He applied for a student visa, and the rest of us were able to apply for visas attached to his. We renewed the kids’ passports and set about downsizing from a three bedroom house to three suitcases each. There was nothing easy about it, but we were guided all the way by a sense that this was just the next step we were meant to take in our lives.

How did you friends and family in America react when you told them you were moving? 

Our decision was met with varying levels of excitement and disbelief, but even those who were really sad about our leaving have been happy that we were able to do something that we’ve dreamed about for a long time. In the end, our friends and family joined in and helped with the expense of getting us here, which has made us feel so very loved.
 Moving your family to another country

How has your family been adjusting to Scotland? What have been the biggest challenges? The most pleasant, exciting differences?

There have been lots of logistical challenges like adjusting to a much higher cost of living and sharing rooms (and beds), but the hardest days are when one of us is really missing someone from home. However, it has been amazing how getting to talk to a cousin or a friend from home on the iPad can cheer you up and make you feel connected again. Technology has changed being far away so much, and though our teenagers pretty much feel like we ripped their hearts out by moving them away from their friends, they are still able to communicate on a daily basis with folks from home. Of course the double edged sword of social media also means that they see everything that they are missing. It’s hard to remember that Homecoming always looks more fun on Facebook than it actually is.
One thing that has been both a struggle and a joy is that for our first months here, we have only had each other to hang out with. On some days, this just means that I am breaking up a lot of fights in a small apartment, but on others, I get a glimpse of how this experience is making us closer as a family. We are spending more time together than we have in a long time. I expect this will change as we all make more friends over the next year, but for now, I am trying to embrace the togetherness.
Of course, we have been blown away by how beautiful Scotland is and we are learning to explore our newly adopted home country, no matter what the weather is. And again, since we have fewer social ties and commitments, we have been free to head for the hills of the Highlands at every possible opportunity. When we are hiking over a pass or through an old growth forest, my husband will look at me and say, “We live in Scotland!” It’s like we have to remind ourselves that it is real.

How long do you plan to stay in Scotland?

Our visa is for three years, and that is how long the PhD should take as well.

What advice would you give to other families who are interested in moving abroad?

Go for it. I know that sounds really simple, but living abroad is something that anyone who does not mind a big shake up can do. Obviously, it would be a good bit cheaper to look for a job and go on a working visa rather than a student one, but either way, a lot of perseverance will get the end result of living outside your home country for a season. We have talked a lot at our house about how in order to make something big happen, you kind of have to get obsessed. So start obsessing. And then start downsizing and saving money.
Thanks so much for sharing, Alison!  How many of your guys have moved abroad?  I lived in Taiwan for a year and a half teaching English and in New Zealand for a year and a half for graduate school.top photo by whitney loibner

24 Comments

Sarah M

We are moving into Canada this summer. So, abroad–sort of (but not really). 🙂 We moved across the country last year and my husband commutes into Canada every day for work. It's not too bad of a commute but working there and living here is eating tons of money! Just in exchange rate we loose hundreds of dollars a month.
Sarah M

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Jamie Kulovitz

I love this story and admire Alison and her family. I moved from New York to Chile five years ago and have been down here ever since. But I'm single & childless so instead of obsessing, I just jumped in without too much thought and it all worked out. Whatever works!

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Jessica

Two years of living in Japan. Living in Japan taught me a great deal. One of the things I can to appreciate most when I went back home was that I was able to read everything and understand all the subtle nuances of language again. I knew some japanese – not nearly enough – and it felt like a battle at times.

I've also travelled extensively for ten years, mostly in Asia.

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Sarahf

I'm in Japan, too. I've been here for 8 years now, which is pretty hard to believe. The language barrier can be a hard one to deal with, I can speak but I can't read, and doing simple housework paperwork can take hours. I miss the food, I didn't even eat a full English breakfast that often when I lived in the UK, but now, I miss it like crazy!

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Keys4Education

Oh wow! Alison! I am sooooooo envious! How exciting! I have dreams of moving across the world and possibly returning to school. I always worry about the financial piece of it though. How does one support one person much less a family AND return to school? Any advice would be AWESOME.

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Alison Chino

You are right about the financial piece being a giant hurdle! Since we are older (in our forties) we did have a house and two cars to sell, and while we're not thrilled about blowing through all those funds and having to start over when we get back, we feel like the experience will have been worth it! My husband has (so far…taking it a year at a time) managed to raise the money for his tuition b/t donors and scholarships, but that does not cover living expenses. Free healthcare though… 🙂 Would be happy to process more with you or just be a cheerleader if you want to email me. 🙂

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DebinNZ

I moved to South Korea a year after I finished my undergraduate degree. Stayed 3.5 years and threw in a year in New Zealand in the middle there. In 2011 I jumped ship and moved to New Zealand and now have residency here and a Kiwi husband. It is scary leaving home the first time, but the travelling is exhilarating and it's so much fun to explore new cultures. I also went to Oxford University as an exchange student during my undergrad years, it was amazing and most likely what gave me the travel bug way back when.

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Michelle

Love this story, and my goodness your family is beautiful. So heartening to hear that someone has done this sort of thing with an entire family; it's inspiring for someone who just plans to do it alone!

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Michelle K.

Great story! I can definitely relate to the teenagers in this family. My parents moved our family of four around quite a bit: my parents are Polish and emigrated to Canada in 1980, I was born in 1988, my sister in 1990 in Canada, we stayed there until I was 10, then we moved to 3 different states in the USA in a total of 5 years, moved to Brazil for 1 year when I was 15 (worst thing ever!) and then moved to Switzerland when I was 16 (again, worst thing ever!) We've been in Switzerland for 10 years now 🙂 Everything seems so horrible when it's happening and of course, my teenage life was OVER when I had to leave my friends and "boyfriend" but you can learn so much from living abroad – culture, language, etc. I'm definitely a better person because of it all, and it makes you that little bit more interesting 😉 x
http://www.lipsticksandchocolates.blogtspot.com

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Alison Chino

This is so great to hear. I tell myself all the time that our kids will appreciate it more later. It's definitely stretching them…even more than we had anticipated!

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Jenny O

Alison, I remember when you were on the Network of Nice! I don't know how helpful my advice about Scotland was but I am still so, so impressed by the dedication and work you and your family put into this amazing move. I hope you all are enjoying your new home and best of luck to your husband for his PhD!

And to answer the post's question, obviously I've lived in Scotland! I'm from the US and I've been obsessed with medieval history since finding The Pillars of the Earth in my parents' book shelf at about age 12. I spent four years studying at the University of St Andrews – including taking many medieval history classes in an actual medieval building! I also studied Italian language and history, and spent three months in Italy when I took a year off between my second and third years of university. (Plus, I grew up in New England and now live in Georgia, which *feels* like a different country sometimes!)

I feel so lucky that I got to spend time in different countries and cultures. I know it's influenced how I think about art, politics, culture, history, and so much more.

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Alison Chino

Aww! I so appreciated all my Network of Nice responses! They were great little bursts of encouragement while we were in the thick of figuring it all out. We love St Andrews and now our oldest son really wants to go there for university! We'll see. 🙂

And YES! I think the Deep South and New England are super different from one another as well! 🙂

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Anonymous

Hi Alison,
My Husbend and I have for a longtime wanted to move to Scotland HIghlands(Inverness or Portree)
But there are so many things that we are thinking about,
Is it hard to find a job , when your not from UK? We are from Finland.
And I have tryed to find here in Internet familys that I can ask and speek whit about moving..
Thank You for Your ansvers in advance 🙂
Marika

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Margaret

I think it would be wonderful to get an update on this story! I’m moving to Canada this year and I’m looking forward to all of the changes, although I’m very familiar with the country.

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Pindar Gardner

You mentioned one of your children is 16 when you moved to Scotland. Can you give some advises on moving from us school to Scottish school system. My daughter is 16, studies in an American international school and we are thinking of moving her back to Edinburgh.
Thank you

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