There is a cacophony of barking as Sarah Ashley opens the door.
She half laughs in greeting and motions for me to follow her into the kitchen. The two furry culprits bound up to me, their tails wagging in delight.
“We rescued them from Texas, they’re living their best life here,” grins Sarah, before checking the baby monitor.
Her youngest daughter, Ophelia, is miraculously still asleep and we settle in the lounge.
“That’s the good thing about an old house, the walls are so thick that the noise doesn’t travel,” says Sarah, tucking her legs beneath her on the sofa.
Her hair has been styled into loose waves, and the two dogs, Lily and Gracie, lean into her knee as she strokes their ears. A large white folder sits on the coffee table.
“This is my bible, it contains everything I need to know,” she says.
The mum of three has an important role to play, after moving to Cults three years ago.
She is president of The Association of American Women of Aberdeen (AWA).
The group was started more than 30 years ago by six US women, and word quickly spread.
It now boasts members from around the world alongside locals, and raises thousands of pounds for charity.
Many of the women who join the group are expat wives, and refer to themselves as “trailing spouses”.
Sarah, who grew up in Canada, had never left her home town before she met her husband, Stephen, who is a British expat.
“He’s an engineer and he was working in Canada on an assignment when we met,” she recalls.
“It was exciting to be with this British guy who could be asked to move at any time.
“Our eldest child, Finnley, is eight.
“We moved to Houston where we had Elowyn, who is five.
“Ophelia was born in Aberdeen.
“I’ve given birth in three different countries, and home birth is way more accepted here than in Texas.
“I’ve fallen in love with the north-east.
“I tell Stephen that I want to be buried underneath the cherry tree outside this house.
“Most expat families rent, or they get given a property by the company they work for.
“We decided to buy; our house was built in 1900.
“Canada is only 150 years old, so that blows my mind.
“The kids go to the local school, which is fantastic.
“But when we first moved, I was the most depressed I had ever been in my life.
“It was so hard trying to get settled and stay strong for the kids.
“I went to my first meeting of the group – I was hooked.”
AWA currently has 80 members, with some women renewing their membership despite moving abroad for a new posting.
As well as Americans, members hail from Trinidad, South Africa, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Ukraine, Korea, Brazil, Australia, France, Ireland, Germany, Singapore, Poland and all over the UK.
“I’m so passionate about the group because it enables expats to connect,” Sarah explains.
“When you’re an expat, you have no choice but to make connections fast.
“We’re transient, we don’t know how long we are going to be here.
“My husband could come home tomorrow and say he is getting sent to another country.
“I think I have one more move left in me, but I want to stay here with the kids for a good few years yet.
“My son has lived in three different countries and this is his fifth house.
“I often wonder where my children will call home.
“Their accent is this brilliant mix, they add in a ‘y’all’ because of Texas.
“Canada will always be home to me, I grew up in Calgary right by the Rockies.
“That was the first thing I noticed about Aberdeen.
“The air is so clean and the forests remind me of home.
“Life is slower here, calmer.
“I can buy Dairy Milk chocolate whenever I want, it’s hands down better then chocolate in the US, and maybe even Canada.
“I used to ask my in-laws to bring suitcases full of it when we were living in Texas.”
The group holds regular meetings with guest speakers, and also offers dozens of activities.
There is a book club, walking club, golf lessons and even a mum’s night out.
“This group honestly saved my life.
“I’m not doing something for my husband or my kids.
“I’m doing it for me.”
The group’s chosen charity is Friends of the Neonatal Unit.
“We supported ARC Hippotherapy the previous two years, and raised £21,000 for them,” explains Sarah.
“It enabled them to install a hydraulic lift, making the work they do more accessible to children and adults who need it.
“We hustle all the time and our big fundraiser is a craft fair, which we hold in November.
“It attracts roughly 100 businesses from across the north-east.
Sarah believes that AWA also provides vital support for expat families.
“We’re a sisterhood, we help each other out.
“For the majority of women, there isn’t a granny they can call on for help.
“If you’ve just had a baby, there’s a team of people of rotation.
“They’ll organise a meal train so you don’t have to think about what’s for dinner.
“I really believe in the power of community and that’s what AWA is.
“These women are amazing, they’re all so different and have a vast array of experiences to offer.
“They’ve lived all over the world, they are the smartest, funniest women.
“I’m hoping to make AWA more accessible and raise our profile.
“Our Instagram page and Facebook page is now public, and you can also try two of our AWA events before committing to a membership.
“We welcome anyone.”
Fellow member Jessie Burns is no stranger to the north-east.
The mum of three first came to Aberdeen when she was 14, as her dad worked in the oil industry.
Jessie attended the International School, where she met her husband, Blake.
“We dated and then we ended up returning to the US to go to university,” said Jessie.
“Blake works for a drilling company, and we moved to Brazil for a couple of years.
“That was a totally different experience.
“My mum was a member of AWA, and I couldn’t believe it when Blake announced that we would be returning.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for the north-east, and I signed up to the AWA before we arrived here last December.”
The family lives in Kingswells on the outskirts of Aberdeen.
Kennedy, who is seven, and Luke, who is six, both attend Aberdeen International School, and three-year-old Lyla has just started pre-school.
“I love the fact that my kids go to the school where me and Blake met,” said Jessie.
“I’m the hospitality chair for the group, meaning I welcome new members.
“I attended a few events when my mum was a member.
“It’s a lot more diverse now; back then, the expat group was largely American.
“Now there are people from all over the world, it’s a brilliant community to be part of.”
Jenny Hays couldn’t agree more, after arriving in Aberdeen 40 years ago.
Despite travelling the world due to expat life, Jenny repeatedly found herself returning to the north-east.
She joined AWA in 1988 and believes the group has changed for the better.
“We first came here when my son was only nine months old, it must have been 1979,” she said.
“Then we got sent to Houston.
“There was a stint in Stavanger before we returned to Aberdeen, followed by Oslo and then Aberdeen again.
“I’m from New Zealand and I left when I was 22, because I wanted to see the world.
“I met my husband in London. Expat life is a choice, but it doesn’t make it easy.
“You have to be resilient.
“When I joined AWA, it had around 200 members.
“The women would get dressed up to attend the meetings, with shoulder pads and their hair done.
“The meetings were held in a function room at Kippie Lodge, it was always packed.
“In those days you’d struggle to get a membership at Kippie Lodge, that’s how popular it was.
“There was resentment against those who were in Aberdeen for oil.
“We were blamed for putting up house prices, it was more expensive to live in Aberdeen than London.
“There was a real antipathy towards us.
“There was only one shopping centre, plus E&M which was a super department store.
“Union Street looked far nicer than it does today, there were some lovely shops.”
When Jenny joined AWA, there was a quota for non-US members.
“There was this big discussion as to whether people could join who weren’t American,” she said.
“I’m so glad it has changed, it’s a much more diverse group and it’s also informal.
“I think AWA has done an awful lot of good over the years.
“The most important thing I would say to any expat wife is that the first six months in a new place are always tough.
“It gets easier after that.
“And when the sun shines in the Granite City, everything sparkles.
“The north-east has become home.”
For more information or to join the group, visit http://awaaberdeen.org
Christina Hill moved to Aberdeen from Houston four years ago and is mum to twin girls, Claire and Sophia.
She loves the north-east and is vice-president for charity outreach for AWA.
“I’d stay in a heartbeat, there is so much green space here,” she said
“I can’t stand the heat, so the north-east is perfect.
“There’s no poisonous spiders or fire ants either.
“Everybody helps each other out in the group.
“In the US, you can’t get away from someone getting shot and you wouldn’t go to the grocery store after dark.
“That just doesn’t happen here.”