04 Jul Glasgow to San Francisco
Stephanie Heckman is the executive director of the international
charity organization “One World Children’s Fund”
1) Where did you grow up and at what age did you leave Scotland?
I grew up in the south side of Glasgow and then moved to Troon when I was about 11 years old. It must have been 1994 when I first left Scotland. I returned to study for 4 years in Edinburgh and then left again in 1999. I didn’t consciously make the decision to leave Scotland forever and only recently realised how long I have now been away.
2) Why did you leave Scotland?
I always felt like there was a lot to see of this world and was excited to move overseas. Keen to meet interesting people, find exciting work opportunities, and learn about other cultures, I packed my bags and left without really thinking about what that would mean in the long term.
I certainly did get the opportunity to do all of those things, but have been left with an unsettling feeling of never quite knowing where I should be. My mother also left her home country, the United States, when she was in her 20s and made Scotland her adopted homeland.
I suppose, I now have a better appreciation for what that really means. And for her courage – an American surrounded by Glaswegians, brave woman!
3) What is your job/sector and how many countries have you lived in?
I am the executive director of an international charity that is based in San Francisco, California, One World Children’s Fund. Before taking on this position, my work and volunteer experience has given me the opportunity to live in France, Guatemala, Rwanda, the United States, and the UK. I love my job and the sector that I work in.
To this day, I continue to meet fascinating people and learn of wonderful things that are going on across the world to help every child have access to education, healthcare, and a safe place to call home.
4) Do you sometimes visit bonny Scotland? If yes, how often?
Yes! Often. Scotland is my hame. I think it always will be. Edinburgh is a stunning city. It is so sad to see the mess of Princes Street just now, but I still enjoy every minute that I am in Edinburgh. That is where I spend most of my time when I go to Scotland these days.
Even the rain and cold can’t put me off. I probably go back to Scotland every year to visit family, friends, the pubs, the bakeries, and auld reekie.
I have two children now, a boy and a girl who are just 2 & 1 years old. That is a big part of why I go back so often. Now that I have American children, I feel the need to make Scotland part of their childhood. My daughter has a wardrobe full of tartan and I have been known to make them listen to the Corries and the Proclaimers. Poor kids! No doubt it will backfire on me in years to come as they thrust their hand in my face and yell “whatever mommy” as I recite more Burns and make them stomach some more haggis.
5) Do you celebrate Burns night?
Speaking of Burns, no not yet. Just started to think I should due to my connection to the ‘shire and my teenage years in Troon. Problem is, my birthday is the day before Burns night, so I have often been too hung over to face a plate of haggis and a whisky on Burns’ birthday.
6) Has living abroad changed the way you think about Scotland?
Absolutely. The people of Scotland are phenomenal (actually change that to some of the people). The peace and quiet in the countryside is beautiful. The atmosphere and feel of Scotland is something that cannot be experienced anywhere else, no matter how much tartan and whisky you add. “ Here’s tae us an’ wha’s like us, damn few an’ the’re aw deed”.
7) Where would you like to spend your retirement?
I’d like to spend 6 months of the year in Arran and 6 months somewhere else, somewhere near my kids wherever they may end up.
8) What about the independence referendum coming up? How will it affect you and Scotland’s international image?
I am too far removed from Scotland’s politics and economic situation to know what the implications would be for everyone living in Scotland. I would have to talk to my friends and family to really get an idea of what it means to them. From an international perspective though, it would save me having to answer all those annoying questions such as: “Where in England is Scotland? What’s the difference between Scotland and Great Britain anyway? Is Scotland really a country?”
Still would leave us with “Do you speak English in Scotland? What clan are you? What part of Ireland are you from?” and “My great grandfather was Scottish, do you know a John MacDonald?”
So at the end of the day, independence for Scotland, maybes aye, maybe naw.
9) What has been the biggest change for you since you moved abroad?
The biggest change that happened in my life abroad was having children. It made me realise how Scottish I am or at least hope to be. Family life is different here. There is a lot of pressure, rigorous scheduling of extra-curricular activities, professional parenting, and a general competitive soccer mommentality.
I hope Scotland is not going down that path as well. I remember my childhood fondly and hope that I can create that environment for my children as well.
10) Do you have any plans for living in Scotland again and have you got a message for Scots back home?
Perhaps in a few years, so that the children can be educated in Scotland. We are undecided though. Once you establish a home and a family, it’s not so easy to pack your bags and head off unprepared. However, I definitely see my husband and I spending some quality retirement years at the Kinloch pub in Blackwaterfoot.
A message for Scots back home: Dinnae change! (Unless you’re a ned )