Like A Foreigner In The Land Of My Birth - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Like A Foreigner In The Land Of My Birth

Like A Foreigner In The Land Of My Birth

Published March 30, 2012

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.

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