I moved from the United States to Iceland in February of this year, to a
pretty apartment in Kópavogur with its greenhouse-entryway that always smells
like freshly-cut flowers, to work as a contractor in a job that treats
me very well and which I enjoy, all in a land that I love. But to stay
in this land—to gain my atvinnuleyfi (“work permit”) to work as a salaried
employee and my dvalarleyfi (“residence permit”) so that I can get permanent residence status, I needed to first depart this land for two months.
Or should I say two months more. This has been an ongoing process. I started searching for jobs in Iceland last fall, after my second visit to the country in July. I had fallen in love with the place and was willing to take a huge leap with my life to relocate halfway across the Atlantic Ocean and start things anew. Iceland’s misfortune of a computer programmer shortage was my luck, and I quickly found a position. Soon I’d be living in Iceland! Or so it incorrectly seemed.
It took my new company over a month to begin the paperwork. I tried to ready what I could in advance, and shortly after they requested a litany of things for my application process, which I provided them. Time continued to pass, and by November, the company decided they didn’t want to have to wait and chose to employ me as a contractor. They flew me to Iceland for a week to learn their systems and meet my co-workers. The experienc e only served to endear me further to the country and to the concept of living here.
Back in the states, however, I soon got some unpleasant news. My police record, from the local police? Not sufficient for Útlendingastofnun (“The Directorate of Immigration”) to accept my application; it had to come from the FBI. After waiting to get fingerprinted, I then had to wait two more months for my FBI background check to come back clean, then another couple weeks before it was confirmed that Útlendingastofnun had accepted my application for processing. I flew into Iceland to start working (still as a contractor) and to settle in—and that I did, very much so. However, for my application to finish processing, it was required that I leave the country for another two months.
I did my best not to let anyone see me tear up as the plane took off.
It can sometimes be hard to explain why this was so difficult for me to leave, so let me try: I wasn’t just leaving a country that I love. That I identify with. Don’t get me wrong—I do love it dearly, from the shopping carts that roll sideways to the over-the-top streetlights, from the snows on Esja to the moss at Öskjuhlíð, from rúgbrauð to smjör and from the coffee shops to the trails and waterfalls. But I wasn’t just leaving Iceland. I was leaving friends. Co-workers. A job I actually enjoyed attending. My home. My plants. My language studies, half-done. A ton of important tasks half-done. I may not have settled in Iceland long, but I was now leaving what had become basically my entire life. And it was tearing me up inside.
I spent the next two days traveling: Keflavík to Boston, Boston to Chicago, Chicago to Cedar Rapids, Cedar Rapids to Houston, to stay with my family. And I tried not to let anyone see it, but I was struggling with depression—something that isn’t typical for me. I’m normally the stable one, the “up” one. But I was finding myself frequently just going through the motions, sometimes not being able to do anything but stop and cry. This world is so alien for me now. I feel like a foreigner here in the US. The environment is wrong, the weather is wrong, the people are wrong, the products are wrong, the language is wrong, the mannerisms are wrong. I don’t recognize this place. And I don’t want to. I just want to go home. But I can’t, not for two months. And that hurts.