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Danny and Holly Marland are home for Christmas in more ways that one.
Elizabeth City is home for Holly, who is the daughter of retired physician Dr. Kurt Hunsberger and retired clinical social worker Bobbi Hunsberger.
But the Marlands didn’t just drive in from a couple of states away or even fly here from the West Coast.
For the past two decades they’ve taught English in Japan and now they’re back home in the United States for good.
Right now they are staying with the Hunsbergers until they determine where their long-term home will be given Danny’s new career in aviation.
Danny is planning to head home to Tennessee in January to complete the in-air portion of his certification as a flight instructor. He earned his commercial pilot certification in September and has passed the ground portion of instructor certification.
“We would love to stay in the Carolinas,” Holly said.
Holly’s mom, Bobbi Hunsberger, said that would be great, but she’ll be satisfied with anywhere on the East Coast. Even Puerto Rico, which is one other location Danny and Holly have considered, would be much closer than Japan, Hunsberger said.
The Marlands taught first at the high school level in Japan, then in junior college and university. Both have a longtime interest in international travel, international study and international work.
Danny worked in Japan and Korea before going to graduate school, spending 1993-95 in Korea and 1997-99 in Japan, teaching English at large institutions.
Holly studied in France during her senior year of college and served in the Peace Corps in the West African nation of Togo in 1996-98.
For Danny, the fascination with life in other countries goes back as far as kindergarten. He recalls receiving a globe for Christmas and taking it to school for show-and-tell as his “favorite toy.”
“That would be the first inkling,” he said.
While in high school Danny visited Germany as an exchange student.
His father was in the furniture business and was a private pilot who flew frequently.
“I grew up around airplanes,” he said.
Danny also earned his private pilot’s license when he was younger, and got his commercial pilot’s license in September. His noted that his grandfather also trained flight navigators in World War II.
Now Danny is transitioning into a career in aviation.
“It has been a wonderful experience,” he said of his training to become a commercial pilot.
Holly grew up in Elizabeth City and Danny grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They met in graduate school at the School for International Training in Vermont.
The Marlands said they are grateful to be back home in the United States — and Holly is grateful for being back in her childhood bedroom — yet there are some things about Japan that they miss.
Holly mentioned how enjoyable it is to soak in hot springs, which is a popular Japanese practice.
They said Christmas in Japan is a very festive celebration, especially in the larger cities.
KFC is especially popular on Christmas Eve in Japan, they said, noting that the fast-food eateries switch over to baked chickens for that one night and sell those — and only those — to customers to take home and enjoy a festive family meal.
Danny said there are long lines at KFC locations in Japan on Christmas Eve. Life-size figures of Col. Sanders outside the KFC restaurants in Japan are decked out in Santa Claus caps and red jackets for the occasion, they said.
“Christmas is actually a pretty big deal in Japan but it’s purely a secular, commercial event,” Danny said.
The beginning of the Marlands’ “Japanese adventure,” as they sometimes call it, was their wedding ceremony in a Japanese tea garden outside Chicago. Although they describe it as a meaningful ceremony, they didn’t meet the residency requirements for an actual marriage ceremony in Illinois so their actual, legally recognized wedding took place in Elizabeth City.
Holly said that working as teachers helped the couple become part of the culture in Japan.
Holly said that since she has returned home she has enjoyed talking to strangers.
“In Japan it was often just quiet,” Holly said, referring to the low volume of public conversation.
The Marlands said they enjoyed Japan, and one of the things they really appreciated was the sense of harmony, peace and tranquility there.
Danny said that in Japan there is a value placed on not drawing attention to yourself and not causing any kind of disturbance.
The Marlands moved back to the United States in February of this year. While they were teaching in Japan they would make it home for Christmas about once every two years.
Bobbi Hunsberger said she is thrilled to have her daughter back home.
“I am just so grateful for my parents,” Holly said.