Expat Life in England: An Interview with Marilla

By - June 21, 2010 (Updated: December 1, 2014)

Left to Right: Moi, Marilla and Megan. I assure you, it's juice in those glasses.

Left to Right: Moi, Marilla and Megan. I assure you, it’s juice in those glasses.

For the third installment of my former roommate expat interviews, we meet Marilla in Newfoundland, Canada. Marilla is the only one of us who has repatriated back to her home country with her new expat husband. I wanted to get her perspective on life abroad as well as what it’s like to return home.

Marilla was the only one of us who wasn’t a King’s student. She attended our neighbouring university, Dalhousie. Marilla was a friend of Megan’s, from Newfoundland, who found her way into our little group. As soon as we discovered the dry, sarcastic wit, hiding under her quiet exterior, we decided to keep her.

Marilla is also the only one of my former roommates I’ve been lucky enough to meet up with since we all moved away. She and her husband Alan, came to visit us for a weekend in Brussels, before they moved back to Canada. I was eager to see how they were both adjusting to life back in Newfoundland.

Tell us a bit about how you came to be an expat.

Basically I needed a change.  England was easy because I had family to live with, and I didn’t need a work permit.  It was easy to get a job teaching, so off I went.  One year turned into two which turned into six.


Marilla seeing the sights in Rome

Marilla seeing the sights in Rome

What challenges did you face when you first moved to England and how did you resolve them?

One of my biggest challenges was learning to drive on the wrong side of the road.  I spent many anxious moments lost, or petrified.  I knew one route to school and stuck to it.  I’ll never forget the day when I had to divert due to road works.  I ended up stuck in traffic on a big roundabout seeing exit signs for the M25.  Panic stricken I called my mother in Canada which of course was little help.  Eventually I became more comfortable with driving and have covered every inch of the M25, driven to Wales, and have acquired a Sat Nav.

Did you experience ‘culture shock’ in England? How different is it from Canada?

I can’t really call it culture shock – just took me a while to work out what was different.  Apparently you buy rounds of drinks, you don’t tip the bartender, and if people casually ask ‘are you alright?’ – you don’t look ill, they are just saying hello.  You don’t order a two piece fish and chips because one piece of cod is more than enough, it’s saveloy not a big wiener, and you can get a curry almost anywhere.


Marilla back home in Newfoundland

Marilla back home in Newfoundland

You are now living back in Canada. Was it difficult to repatriate?

It is very odd to have two homelands – I think I felt my most Canadian whilst living abroad – or at the very least was more outwardly patriotic.  I had a Canada Flag on my car antennae, a rather large Canada Flag Umbrella, a Canada Flag towel, and the list goes on.  Now that I am home, I am a rather more subdued version of my patriotic self.  It wasn’t difficult to settle back into Canada, though I no longer feel quite as unique and as Canadian as I once did.

You’ve married a Brit and brought him back to Canada. How has this changed your perspective on your home country?

I am now the defender of Canada and of all things wonderfully Canadian!  Yes dear, car insurance here is too expensive, however isn’t it nice to see moose on the side of the road?  Yes dear, these drivers don’t indicate and cut you off, however there is no congestion.  Yes dear, there isn’t as much to do in town, but look how much space there is.  Yes dear, the cell phones are leap years behind Europe, but do you see everyone texting every minute of the day?  And so on.  I have not, however, been able to appease his overall feeling that he is stuck in the 80s.


Marilla and Alan, married in Newfoundland

Marilla and Alan, married in Newfoundland

What are the challenges and benefits of your multi-cultural marriage?

I don’t consider it a multi-cultural marriage.  For starters, my family is English, so we’re not from two very different worlds.  Our biggest challenge is the 14 hours it usually takes us to return to the UK thanks to Air Canada (fingers crossed our direct summer flight stays.)  The benefits?  Well, my husband’s lovely and wonderful and I wouldn’t be without him!

How do you define ‘home’ and where is that for you?

Home is wherever I’m sleeping, though these days it is where the cats are!  Now, it is as if there are two homes – both familiar, both with routes and routines, and both with favourite places.

What do you love and hate about Canada and England?

My feelings towards Canada change with time and with place.  When I was away, I was in love with the idea of Canada.  Now that I’m home, I simply love Newfoundland – I love the space, the clean air and the relatively small number of cars on the road!  I feel more relaxed in Canada – and less pressure to be “on the go.”  I don’t think I could use a strong word like ‘hate’ however my frustrations with where I am I think come mainly from the limitations of geography – it is difficult to travel from Newfoundland, the biggest centre isn’t really that big, and it hasn’t proven an easy place for my husband to find work.

Alan and Marilla

Alan and Marilla

My feelings towards England have also changed as I did.  I love London and everything there.  In my first year, I went into London every weekend – it was great!  There is just so much of everything!  I love pub quiz nights – they are great fun!  I love the countryside and the villages that are exactly how anyone would imagine England is if all they know comes from American TV England or from Hugh Grant movies.  I think my greatest frustration with England is the lack of national cohesion – there is to me a big sense of ‘the other’ and national pride is somehow not politically correct.

What did you learn while living in England?

I learned about football, and rugby and that I don’t much care for cricket.  I discovered Dr. Who, New Tricks, Gavin and Stacey and other quality shows.  I learned I don’t always understand British humour, and that no one knows anything about Newfoundland.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

Who knows.  Hopefully somewhere interesting.

Huge thanks to Marilla for her insights on England and repatriating to Canada! Next week, we’ll hear from our forth and final roommate LeeAnn who’s living the high life in New Zealand. Then, we’ll turn the tables a bit and the roommates get to interview yours truly. What have I gotten myself into…?

Are you enjoying the series with these interesting ladies? Leave your comments below.

Looking for more resources for expats living abroad? Check out our Expat Resources page.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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  1. Comment by tez

    tez June 28, 2010 at 11:16

    You know, I still regret never getting to go to Newfoundland when I lived at home. I’ll have to bring Phill out there for a visit… that and so he learns how to pronounce “Newfoundland” properly!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison June 28, 2010 at 11:25

      I know! I still haven’t gone either… well other than the airport 🙂 Nobody ever pronounces Newfoundland correctly… we’ve started giving classes on how to speak Canadian 🙂

      • Comment by tez

        tez June 28, 2010 at 11:32

        Yes. I remember the classes you all gave me in how NOT to speak like an Upper Canadian… I too had to learn how to pronounce Newfoundland! 🙂

        • Comment by Alison

          Alison June 28, 2010 at 12:31

          That’s true! But eventually we learned you 🙂

  2. Comment by Megan

    Megan June 28, 2010 at 15:12

    Yay! Now everyone on the Internet can know why we adore Marilla!

    Seriously, it would have been terribly difficult to go to school without her. We had originally planned to go to King’s together, but Dal was an acceptable second best. We’d been dear friends since I moved down the street from her in the middle of high school.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison June 28, 2010 at 15:18

      I love how her sense of humor comes through in her answers 🙂 She hasn’t changed a bit 🙂

  3. Pingback: Happy Canada Day! | CheeseWeb: Travel, Photography and Expat Life in Belgium Blog

  4. Pingback: Expat Life in New Zealand: An Interview with LeeAnn | CheeseWeb: Travel, Photography and Expat Life in Belgium Blog

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