Photo Credit: Neo Khumal
The Black Expat: 'Edinburgh, Scotland Is A Lot More Diverse Than You'd Imagine'
Neo Khumalo never thought she’d end up in Edinburgh, Scotland. Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, she has enjoyed calling several other places home. From Cape Town in her native country to Berlin, Germany and the Swiss cities of Bern and Geneva, the communications manager, freelance writer, and academic researcher is no stranger to the expat life. Still, she vowed never to live in the UK, renowned for its bad weather.
Nevertheless, that’s exactly where Neo’s most recent move brought her. She relocated to Edinburgh, Scotland in March 2020 along with her Swiss husband of five years. The couple married after an eight-year, partly long-distance relationship that began in Cape Town.
They decided to move to Scotland when Neo’s husband secured a post-doctoral position at the University of Edinburgh.
Because she had lived in several international cities over the years, Neo’s friends and family were not shocked to hear that she was moving to yet another country. They were, however, surprised by the destination.
“It raised a few eyebrows, probably because of the weather. I’d always said that I would never move to the UK, meaning England, because of the weather. And then, lo and behold, I moved to Scotland, which is colder and grayer than the south!”
But despite the less than ideal weather, and despite arriving a week before the first lockdown of the pandemic, Neo has enjoyed calling Edinburgh home. After completing the paperwork and administrative items, which she says were quite easy in comparison to others she’s experienced, Neo settled right in.
“The cultural similarities to South Africa and the absence of language barriers made integrating easier (we have many similar products in the supermarkets, drive on the left, use the same spelling and similar vocabulary). My experiences with people I have interacted with have also been delightful. People are a significant factor in making a place feel like home, and Scots are generally such open, warm, and polite people. I have never felt like I stick out or like I don’t belong. In fact, Edinburgh has been the most welcoming place out of all the ones I have lived in, including those back home.”
As a South African (part of the Commonwealth), Neo was able to vote in the recent elections, which further led to her sense of belonging. In comparison, her Swiss-national husband was not eligible to vote. The roles had usually been reversed in continental Europe.
Some of Neo’s favorite things about Scotland are its safety and its natural beauty. The country’s numerous lakes, mountains, hills, and greenery make for one gorgeous rugged landscape. Scotland is also home to around 1,500 various castles and castle ruins.
The city of Edinburgh, however, has truly stolen her heart. Like most of Scotland, it is uber green with lots of parks. One is never too far from greenery or nature, with various hills and Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcanic peak, located right in the city.
“The city is an architectural feast for the eyes. The old town and the castle are a firm favorite; it looks incredibly amazing covered in snow. I love the size and pace, as well. It’s big enough to feel like a city, but small enough to be walkable and not too overwhelming. The city is also home to various creative festivals, such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Edinburgh International Festival, and the Edinburgh Art Festival.”
“Edinburgh is a lot more culturally diverse than you’d imagine, probably thanks to being a university town. The shops and restaurants reflect this diversity, which I enjoy coming from super diverse South Africa. Some of the many cultures represented here include people from the ex-colonies of the British Empire. There aren’t as many Black people as one might find in England, but there are communities. I didn’t even struggle to find a Black hair salon!”
The country’s infrastructure includes a safe and reliable public transportation system, an easy and reasonable tax system, and superb healthcare that is 100% free.
Neo has been enjoying exploring Scotland and recently made a trip to the Isle of Skye and the Highlands, where she got to see some famous Scottish landmarks, including Glen Coe Valley, Ben Nevis, Loch Ness, Loch Lomond, and plenty of castles. She is looking forward to seeing more of the country, as well as taking advantage of its convenient location to travel to more of continental Europe. However, she says she and her husband will likely move again.
“Edinburgh, Scotland won’t be home forever, and we’ll probably move again to another destination that is yet to be confirmed. With that in mind, I am improving my German-language proficiency and learning French to make things easier at the following location. For now, though, I am pleased to call this country home.”
You can follow Neo at @zulu_fondue on Instagram.