A Tale of Small Towns and Big Cities

Often ranked as one of the best places to live in the world, Melbourne is the second most populous city in Australia. It has a moderate oceanic climate; an efficient public transportation system; and plenty of exciting cultural activities going year round. So when Melbournian Maria-Nicole Miriklis moved to the small Ontario town of Petawawa to live with her Canadian fiancé – now her husband – she was nothing short of culture shocked.

“I moved in January, meaning I left the heat of summer in Melbourne, and landed in Ottawa during a snowstorm – it was -30 outside. Once we were on the road driving from Ottawa to the small town where I was to spend the next year my impressions were: cold, excitement, and I thought it was just like a fairy tale […] I knew, then, that moving to Canada was going to be an adventure,” she recalls.

A future military wife, she settled in a military town. Although many of the people she met knew little about Australia and had a hard time understanding what she was trying to say with her thick accent, she did enjoy some of the perks of her new life.“Even though we had much snow and freezing rain, I loved watching how the local kids played in the snow mounds. We lived in a row of townhouses that formed the community of military families and I loved seeing how close-knit this community was. After many bruises, I also learned to cross country ski and enjoy the new climate I now lived in,” she says.

The next spring, Maria began looking for work, but soon realised that her skills, education and experience from Melbourne didn’t mean much to local employers. She interviewed for the few available positions within her field of media and communications, but she was consistently passed over for any jobs. Eventually she started working at a call centre, and later began to clean houses within the military community. “I actually really enjoyed my cleaning job. It gave me an opportunity to meet veterans and military families outside of my immediate circle and become more acquainted with the new lifestyle that I found myself in,” she says.

Maria-Nicole got married in the fall, but because she didn't have permanent resident status yet, she had to go back to Australia as her visa expired. During the time she was away, her husband began preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, so when she returned to Canada, she decided to move to Toronto - mostly because in her months on the military base she was unable to find a fulfilling life for herself. “So much about my life had changed in a really short time, and I craved the city to use my skills and to gain more control over my future in this country,” she says.

Even with a new job at a corporate head office for a Canadian retail company, the transition to the big city wasn’t easy. “I had to deal with the emotions of my husband fighting in a war – and not be surrounded by the military community through this time. I didn't find much support for that experience in Toronto, and largely went through that on my own. I did, however, have access to the city. I was able to explore my new surrounds, meet people, go to see bands, movies, authors readings at the library and have engaging, fulfilling experiences constantly,” she explains.

After living in Toronto for year and half, she found an entry-level job in her field, met others with similar immigration experiences, and made good friends. Now, almost five years since she first came to Canada, Maria-Nicole looks back on the whole experience and describes it as a rollercoaster of emotions.

If she could have the best of both lifestyles, she would love to live in a close-knit community of a small town with the open mindedness and access to amenities of a big city. “I think it's hard to find that balance for many people, but as a military wife and an immigrant, it's certainly something I'm still searching for. We may be posted to other parts of Canada in the next few years, and I'm sure I'll have another opportunity to find my ideal place in this country. With the knowledge I have gained through my personal struggles in the first few years here, I'm finally able to realise making memories makes somewhere feel like home. I will always miss my family, the landscape and the lifestyle I had in Australia, but if I hadn't challenged myself and stuck out the hard times I've had here, I wouldn't be as happy without the love of my life, or as proud as I am of myself,” Maria-Nicole concludes.

This story is from the "Immigrating to a Smaller Community" InfoBlock. To read more stories on this topic, click here.