If you’ve tuned in to the Perspectives of an Expat guest posts before, then you already know I created this series so to learn more about the views and experiences of expats all over the world. I found Natalia of Natalia Swiader Photography on Instagram and became OBSESSED with her photographs! Natalia is a family, engagement, portrait and lifestyle photographer who just happens to be a Polish expat living in SCOTLAND. Seriously, Scotland. I have been eyeing that beautiful country for a long time and I can’t wait to make the trip and meet Natalia in person later this year.
Find out more about Natalia’s journey from Poland to Scotland and learn more about her, her photography work, her views on the most important thing about travel, and so much more below. More importantly, make sure to visit her website and be sure to follow her on IG. I promise you won’t be sorry!
Where are you originally from?
I was born in the Masurian Lake District in Poland, a place very close to my heart, also called the Land of a Thousand Lakes. It’s an incredible place and my two grandmas still live there, I visit them every Christmas.
I lived in a few different cities in Poland – I went to the university in Torun (gingerbread capital of the country) and then moved to Lodz, third biggest Polish city, as I was offered a corporate job there after graduation. My closest family now live in Warsaw though.
Where do you currently live and what led you to move there?
I moved to the UK three years ago. I met an Englishman when still living in Poland and we fell in love and decided to live together. At that time, I was living in Leeds for almost two years and when he got a job offer in Edinburgh I moved again.
It didn’t work out though and soon after moving to Scotland I was on my way back to Poland to be surrounded by loved ones.
After I moved to Warsaw, I discovered that I didn’t like it at all. I enjoyed being around my best friends, being able to see my family much more often, but I was missing Scotland immensely. I realized that I was idealizing my country a lot when living abroad so the whole experience of returning to my home country was very disheartening, especially because of the political aspects.
As cheesy as it sounds, I felt like I had left a piece of my heart in Scotland. It was really weird, especially since I had only been there for a while. But I wanted to come back so badly. Although I was so scared of starting over and building a new life in a new place again, all by myself, without a job and not knowing anyone in the city, I decided to do it. It was scary as hell, but I knew that if I hadn’t done it I would have regretted it. I had to give it a try.
Was this a temporary or permanent move for you?
I knew that when I decided to move I was going to stay here for longer. Now I know that I want to stay here forever, it’s my favorite place on this planet.
What are some of the differences you see between where you live now and where you are originally from?
Scottish society is definitely more open-minded and supportive of diversity. It’s a place where it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what your sexual orientation or skin color is, you will never feel excluded because of that.
It’s amazing and liberating, I love it about Scotland.
I wish Poland was more like that as well, but it’s still a very, very long way to go for the Polish society to accept peoples’ differences, and understand that for instance who you sleep is not anyone’s business or that your skin color doesn’t have much to do with who you are as a person. Of course not everyone is judgmental and narrow-minded to think this way, but a lot of people are.
What have been some of the biggest obstacles that you have had to overcome after relocating?
It felt like the stars aligned, I was extremely lucky. I found my first job after a week, I met one of my now best friends after a few weeks as well.
My English is pretty good as well so no language barrier was involved.
Scotland was very welcoming.
Although – Scottish accent can sometimes be quite difficult to understand and the pronunciation of some Scottish words can be tricky. I still struggle with understanding Glaswegian accent.
Also, people would make fun of me when I pronounced some of the words wrong – and when people make fun of you here it means that they like you, haha.
What do you love about where you currently live?
First thing – the people.
People in Scotland are incredibly friendly and kind. I feel like it’s not difficult to make new friends here – as least for me it seemed surprisingly easy.
I felt very lucky that I met a few people who quickly became a part of my life – I found some amazing friends who I can count on and share my thought and worries with.
Also, Scotland is a magical place and offers breathtaking views – whether you’re in Edinburgh’s city centre or in the highlands. I work as a photographer and I always feel like I’m spoilt for choice with so many beautiful locations around me.
There are plenty of great restaurants and cafes as well. I’m a total coffee snob and a pizza-addict so I’m very happy to have access to such a great food scene as the once in Edinburgh.
What’s the most valuable thing you learned from living abroad?
I learned that you can only grow and achieve great things if you let go of the fear. Or at least accept that fear will always be there when you step into the unknown.
That great achievements require great risks.
A few days before my move to Scotland I became paralyzed by fear and I was freaking out – should I do it? Why am I doing this? What if it’s the worst decision of my life?
But I still decided to have faith in my intuition, listen to the voice inside my head telling me to be strong, that life’s too short to be a pussy. I learned to live with fear and do things that scared me anyway. I learned that you should always listen to your intuition, your gut always knows what’s right for you and what you should escape from. Often, I still ignore it, but when I do I always regret it.
Nelson Mandela said ‘may your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears’. And that’s one of the things I try to never forget about.
What would be the number one thing to see or do that you would recommend to someone visiting that they would not be able to read about in a guide book?
My advice for someone traveling to Edinburgh would be – get lost in the city. Every time I just walk around in the city without purpose I discover something new.
Where is your favorite instagrammable spot where you live?
I love the area of Stockbridge; it has a vibe of a little town. I would definitely have to go for Circus Lane in Stockbridge – the loveliest street in Edinburgh. I’ve photographed a few couples and secret proposals there, it’s a magical place. It recently became very popular but hasn’t lost its charm.
Outside of where you live now, what’s been your most memorable travel destination? Why?
Barcelona. I’ve been only twice, but I would love to spend some time there every year.
There is something about this city that I don’t feel anywhere else, like a combination of freedom and inspiration on every corner. You are surrounded by art, iconic buildings, you can visit a museum and have the most delicious lunch in the city centre and then head to the beach to admire a beautiful sunset.
I love Gaudi’s architecture style, atmospheric cafés and restaurants, quirky shops, sunbathing topless, I love Spanish cuisine and how much is happening there no matter when you’re visiting.
The last time I visited Barcelona I attended a paella cooking class, went to explore the city by myself, I photographed a destination wedding in a vineyard and it was one of the most beautiful weddings ever. And one of the best holiday in my life. Barcelona is great if you need to spend some time by yourself.
Also, there are so many picturesque locations within and outside the city so as a photographer you have so many opportunities to create something amazing.
How often do you travel outside of where you live?
Every couple of months. This year so far I’ve been to Lisbon, Ireland, I visited my family in Poland. Two adventures are still ahead of me: Iceland in May and Amsterdam in August where I’ll be celebrating my 30th birthday.
I also love traveling around Scotland as I feel like there is always so much to explore. Isle of Skye, Isle of Arran, Isle of Harris and Isle of Mull are still on my list.
What do you love most about travel?
It changes your perspective on things quite often, especially if you have an open mind. When you travel you learn about the world more than would learn from books.
The most important thing though is: don’t compare. Treat visits in every new place as a new experience, it doesn’t have to be better or worse than what you know and like, or are used to. It’s simply different and learn to respect it.
Tell me more about your website/blog.
As I work as a wedding and portrait photographer in Edinburgh, my website showcases my work: mostly weddings, elopements but also some travel photographs.
When I post photographs from a shoot I always try to say a little bit more about the people I photograph or a place I visited.
I like to add something personal in my blog posts, I love when couples share their stories – about how they met and how they fell in love. What I find very inspiring are stories about how two people built something amazing together, although it wasn’t always easy. Because love is never easy. We live in the times when we want to get everything right here and right now, in the world where real love is something really unique and beautiful.
A lot of people have a sense of entitlement, like they’re owed the love of their life without putting any effort in it. They don’t understand that love is not just a feeling, it is a choice and it requires hard work. Great relationships, whether in love or friendship, are to be built and not found. Because all the great things in life require hard work.
And real commitment is something invaluable.
It’s been incredibly rewarding to work with people who share my views on that.
Anything else you’d like to share.
I love how many incredible people I met thanks to my job as a photographer and online platforms such as Facebook or Instagram.
We talk so much about how technology and the never-ending swipe culture changes our world for the worse, but I never forget how much I have gained by being able to connect with people who I otherwise wouldn’t have met – thanks to the online world.
I have photography clients from all around the world and now I also have friends from so many different places. It’s amazing.
I might complain about some aspects of my life but overall I think it’s pretty fucking great.