My Expat Story: Rhonda Muir

My Expat Story: Rhonda Muir

An American expat living in Scotland’s Orkney Islands

At Global Living Magazine we want to connect with our readers. We want to know what you’re all about, what you love, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. The best way to do this? Hear it straight from you!*

Rhonda Muir is an American expat living in Scotland’s Orkney Islands. Communicating with local storyteller and historian Tom Muir when researching a book eventually led to the pair falling helplessly in love. Soon after, Rhonda had to break the news to her close-knit family that she was moving to Orkney to marry Tom. Three and a half years later, she still considers the move the smartest thing she ever did. This is her Expat Story.

Where have you lived around the world? Favorite places?

Until I was 50, I lived where I started out – in Western New York State, in a tiny, rural town about 60 miles south of Buffalo. My family never traveled, beyond the annual vacation – often to Disney World in Florida, which is definitely still one of my favorite places.

I was poverty-stricken for most of my adult life, raising four kids without the aid of their father. Traveling was never going to be an option … just a sweet dream.

Until, that is, my kids went to college and started traveling around the world as part of their schooling. They somehow managed to traipse all over on almost no money. That kind of super-budget travel was a new idea to me. I started wondering if I could do it, too. That’s when I first thought of going to Orkney, a place I had long loved from afar.

Travel is part of my life, now. From the Orkney Islands, my husband and I have traveled to Iceland, Shetland, Slovenia, America and many parts of Scotland together. Edinburgh is my very favorite city, so far, for its sheer beauty.

What is your favorite part of expatriate life?

I have to say, it’s kind of fun being the “exotic” one when you’ve spent your whole life in a place where everyone knows everyone. But it’s just as fun to meet so many new people from all over the world who have settled in Orkney. We’re all exotic, I guess.

I also love the kick that Orcadians get in explaining things to me that to them are nothing special. In explaining their way of life to an “incomer” they seem to bloom with a feeling of cultural pride. Historically, this was denied to them by those who wanted to mold them into an obedient peasantry. I’m happy to be helping to preserve a beautiful way of life by the work that my husband and I have begun in Orkney.

What has been the hardest part?

I may be unusual in not experiencing much homesickness. I suppose that’s because I feel so at home in Orkney. The things I miss are from the natural world, which I’ve always been more attached to than most humans, much as I love them. I miss crickets in summer, fireflies, heavy snows, autumn leaves … trees. (Orkney is mostly treeless.)

Especially at first, there was often a feeling of being overwhelmed by all of the micro-changes that were everywhere, every day. I wasn’t used to having to think so much about things that I’ve long taken for granted, like what temperature to set the oven at, measurements and weights that are all different, what different foods are called, even learning how to think in Celsius rather than Fahrenheit has been a bit of a challenge.

It was hard deciphering the Orcadian accent at first, too. I really had to train my ear. And SO MANY NEW NAMES to remember! I’m still struggling with that one after three years.

Where would you want to move to eventually?

Nowhere else in the world. I’m home.

What’s your sense of home?

I have my Orkney home and my home of origin. To me home is my people, wherever they may be. Home is also the windswept, rolling landscape and craggy shores that I’ve become attached to as much as I was ever attached to my beloved forests.

What advice would you give to first time expats?

Tread gently. Realize that your new people have lived in this place for a long, long time. They have their own way of doing things. Respect that. Get to know people, and let them get to know you, gracefully.

It will take more time to feel perfectly comfortable than you’d think, even if you’re in a place that you love and want to be. And that’s okay. Let all those wee rootlets take whatever time they need to grow.

What has been the most helpful thing in adapting to your home abroad?

For me, getting familiar with the land itself has been crucial. Spending lots of time in solitude, wandering, because that’s what I love. But also putting forth the effort to become part of the community in as many ways as I’m comfortable doing.

New relationships and becoming part of the new community can’t be rushed. But they can be gently courted. You have to find who YOU are in your new place. If you’re in a partnership, and especially if your partner is a native of your new home, it’s important to find out who you are – or want to be – in this new place, as an individual.

Share anything else about your expat life that you’d like us to hear!

My husband is a native Orcadian, a traditional storyteller and a historian. We’ve begun a website together about our home, which is a great way to get to know a place, too! I would invite everyone to have a look at our website, and consider a trip to our beautiful islands.

Find out more about Rhonda and Tom and life in Scotland’s Orkney Islands on our online Orkney travel guide website: www.orkneyology.com. You can also follow them on Pinterest: www.pinterest.co.uk/orkneyology and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Orkneyologycom.

*If you’d like to be featured on our ‘My Expat Story’ section, send an email to Alison at alison@globallivingmagazine.com and tell us about your experience as an expatriate by answering the above questions. Don’t forget to include a picture of yourself, the URL for your website/blog, and/or Twitter/Instagram handle so we can help you connect with other expats from around the world.

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