07 Jul Pertshire to Mountain View
Andy Walker works in the silicon chip business (USA)
1) Why did you leave Scotland?
I left Scotland in October 1985 to start a job at Philips Research Laboratories in The Netherlands. I had graduated from Dundee University and wanted to work in the silicon chip area but I couldn’t find anything closer to home. I had tried various UK employers including some in Dundee and Edinburgh but I never got further than an interview.
I had also applied to some universities to do research but as soon as I saw the Philips Research advert in the Sunday paper, I went for that.
2) Where did you grow up and at what age did you leave Scotland?
I grew up in Blairgowrie and Rattray in Perthshire. I left Scotland when I was 22.
3) What is your job/sector and how many countries have you lived in?
My work is still in the silicon chip business, now based in Silicon Valley, California.
Apart from Scotland, I have lived in The Netherlands and the USA. That’s not counting having been born in Pakistan since my parents were Church of Scotland missionaries at the time. I was 4 when we finally settled back in Scotland.
4) Which citizenship do you have?
I have dual nationality, UK and USA.
5) What do you talk about when you meet other Scots who live abroad?
I only meet other Scots rarely but when I do we usually talk about where they are from, how long they have been away and whether they will ever return. The answers are usually: not from Blairgowrie and Rattray; over 20 years; no since the family wouldn’t adjust to the weather.
There is one event per year where I meet more Scots and those of Scottish descent and that’s the Highland Gathering in Pleasanton, California. The story of my first visit to this needs telling since it was an amazing coincidence and the best warm welcome to this vast country.
I had arrived in Silicon Valley in 1994 and was out jogging in the August heat one Saturday. By accident I met another Scot who told me about this Gathering that happens every September in Pleasanton. By chance, it was the next weekend so I drove there since only 40 minutes away. Little did I know that Pleasanton had just been twinned (sister cities they call it here) with Blairgowrie! When I saw the huge banners proclaiming this, I introduced myself and was whisked away to meet the mayor and was given pride of place seating to see the 1000 pipers. I’ll never forget it. It’s quite amazing to see pipers in full regalia sweating buckets under the palm trees here in California! It was almost as if my Mum had organised it all.
6) Are there any Scottish products you would like to be able to buy?
One thing I do miss, would you believe it, is haggis. They make it here but I’ve never been able to find the one with the true taste. As far as I know, it’s still banned from being imported to the US. I remember when my nephew Alistair tried to bring in a tin of haggis from Scotland, he was asked what it was by a surly inspector. His answer of “you don’t want to know” was met with “oh I think I do”. It was thrown into a big confiscation bin.
7) Did you ever regret moving abroad?
I regretted many times moving abroad as I am sure most emigrants do. It’s a funny kind of regret though.
Let me take you through the various stages. I remember when I first moved away to Holland, I was young and felt really homesick. This homesickness would drive an insatiable interest in all things Scottish. Scottish history was of course the best, the most rugged, the most romantic. Scottish music was the most rousing. Scottish engineers and inventors were the most famous. And so on it went.
Of course, slowly, I learned about the history, the music and the famous men and women of my new country and found that they too were interesting and had claims to rival those of Scotland. Gradually, on visits back home (since it was still “home”), I would miss my friends and things back in Holland. The regret mellowed with age.
On coming to the US, I actually felt tinges of homesickness for both Holland and Scotland. I met my wife in Holland but she’s Brazilian so we were both new to the US. As the years have gone by, any regret weakened even further. Of course, the sunshine here helps tremendously.
So, yes, there is regret but it is more a nostalgia for those heady days of youth. I have learned so much about Scotland by leaving it. I even learned how to put the Declaration of Arbroath on a silicon chip: watch it here
8) What about the independence referendum coming up? How will it affect you and Scotland’s international image?
I follow the news on the independence referendum with keen interest. From a practical point of view if the vote goes for independence, I will change my dual nationality from UK/USA to Scot/USA.
My son and daughter, both born here in the US, also have dual nationality. I assume they too will be able to go the same route.
Apart from that, I don’t think such a change will have a big impact on my daily life. The referendum and reports about it are projecting Scotland into the forefront in international news reports. This exposure can only be good for the country since it gives the opportunity to show what it has to offer.
9) What are your three favourite things about Scotland?
My 3 favourite things about Scotland are: history, scenery and music.
10) Do you have any plans for living in Scotland again and have you got a message for Scots back home?
When I applied for American citizenship, I had to go through an interview. One of the questions put to me was, why do you want to become American? This was after my son had been born here. I said to him “My son was born here. He is American. The future is with him”.
My own words brought a tingling realization that I will probably never live back in Scotland. The nostalgia is still there but it is not regret anymore. My message for Scots back home is, look for opportunities to work or study abroad. Scottish men and women are welcomed everywhere. Your new-found knowledge and contacts can help Scotland to thrive.