From the 7 hills of Edinburgh to the 7 hills of Rome

From the 7 hills of Edinburgh to the 7 hills of Rome

Virna Tomaselli works in Strategy in the Defence Electronics



1) Why did you leave Scotland?

The company I was working for in Edinburgh was acquired by an Italian company, and as part of their integration process I was asked to move to Rome to take on a 1 year placement. 6 and a half years later I’m still in here!


2) Where did you grow up and at what age did you leave Scotland?

I was born in Edinburgh but during my younger years we lived in Sicily and then Perth, Australia before moving back to Scotland. I grew up in the Shandon / Polwarth area of Edinburgh – a place I still love and miss.

I have fond memories of cycling and dog-walking along the union canal and into Colinton Dell or up to Craiglockhart Hill. My favourite spot is a bench at the top of Craiglockart hill.

I left Edinburgh to move to Rome when I was 29.


3) What is your job/sector and how many countries have you lived in?  

I work in Strategy in the Defence Electronics sector – I’ve always had a fascination for the high-tech solutions that are developed in this industry and the talent that it cultivates – not only at industry level but also in Universities and High Schools.

The company I worked for in Scotland, with support from Scottish Enterprise, placed a huge emphasis on developing Scotland’s Science and Engineering capability through relationships with schools, universities and setting up apprenticeships.

I’ve lived in Italy, Australia and had working holidays in the US.


4) Do you show pictures of the Loch Ness Monster to the locals?

I’m sure I saw it once! I was on a boat on Loch Ness and something very strange was going on under the surface. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera so no pictures to show to the locals. However, Ted Danson has done a pretty good job of convincing the Italian’s it exists!

Haggis on the other hand – I’ve got a group of ready and willing Italians to take Haggis hunting. They’ve even been prepped on which direction to stalk them – given that their legs are shorter on one side…


5) Which citizenship do you have and which languages do you speak?

I’ve got a British passport. Apart from English, I speak Italian (with a distinct Scottish twang) and I have a few choice words in Gaelic – and some other languages come to think of it!

6) Has living abroad changed the way you think about Scotland?

It’s definitely made me more proud to be Scottish – as one of my friends says; I’ve become a professional Scot!

So many of the things we take for granted today were invented/discovered by Scots, or people working and studying in Scotland. I become especially passionate when I enter into the ‘who invented the telephone’ debate with the Italians.

It’s easy to keep a Scottish identity here as we have a lot of Scottish events in Rome, such as ceilidhs, whisky tastings, and pipe band concerts – and of course every two years we lose the rugby to Italy.


7) Are there any Scottish products you would like to be able to buy?

Macsweens, Haggis, Turnips, Deans Shortbread and Highland Park 15 year old. Being able to buy them in Rome would save me a lot in airline baggage charges!


8) What about the independence referendum coming up? How will it affect you and Scotland’s international image?

We need to have the debate and I think the referendum will force Westminster to sit-up and take notice. Although I voted No in the devolution referendum, I do think devolution has been positive for Scotland and Alex Salmond has been the best ambassador we’ve had so far in promoting Scotland’s interests abroad.

Politicians, both North and South of the Border should take the interests of Scotland more seriously – I have a particular issue when our better politicians choose to stand in Westminster instead of Holyrood. As someone pointed out – there are now more Pandas than Tory MPs in Scotland!

That being said, I’m not convinced by any of the For-Independence arguments and given the sector I work in I’m worried about the consequences Independence could have in Defence and Science/Engineering.

The Defence Sector alone generates over 5 Billion per year for Scottish companies and the industry employees around 40,000 people, not to mention the research it generates in Scottish Educational Institutions.

I worry that, if the Scottish Government isn’t able to answer some tough questions, then a potential Yes vote would impact negatively on this industry, leading to an even larger ‘brain-drain from Scotland to other countries (including England!).


9) Have you ever had problems or found that people treat you differently because you are Scottish?

When I tell people I’m Scottish I’m usually rewarded with a big smile. As a people we have a very good image abroad – and it’s certainly helped me get out of some sticky situations.

The Italians generally love Scotland and my Italian friends are always wanting to learn how to ceilidh, the best way to drink Whisky (no ice, with a splash of room temp water) and it’s amazing how many of them have given up a sunny Italian summer to drive around the Highlands.


10) Do you have any plans for living in Scotland again and have you got a message for Scots back home?

I’m lucky in that I’m near enough to visit Scotland regularly. It will always be in my heart and I can’t imagine not returning to live there again one day.

Slainte Mhath!


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