What it means to visit back home

by María Erian Guðmundsdóttir

Like the many Icelanders who decided to leave Iceland to try to live elsewhere, most of us to pursue our studies or to find work, returning home even for a short stay is almost always a cause for a joyous occasion.

This year marks my fifth year of living in Denmark, in a city located on the east coast of Jutland called Horsens. The city´s location allows for easier travel to nearby cities such as Aarhus and Vejle. And on those occasions when my family and I travel to Iceland, we drive to Billund Airport which is a short forty-minute drive away. From there, we fly directly to Keflavík International Airport. The travel time usually takes less than three hours which is the perfect amount of travel time. I can comfortably watch a movie, take a quick nap (if I really need it!), and watch some tv-series before the plane lands in Keflavík.

For me though, the return home already starts whenever I am greeted by the cabin crew as I enter the airplane. The words, “velkomin um borð” (welcome aboard), partnered with a warm smile hit it home for me. I feel at home already and it gives me a cosy feeling that only people in the same shoes like myself would understand. Living in another country means learning a new language and speaking that language the majority of the time, and so there is a sense of security with the familiar- it is warm and welcoming. Just to hear Icelanders talk with each other is very comforting. It also means giving the brain a little bit of a break from anything that requires language skills. The air that is so unique only to Iceland greets you as you exit the airport lobby. It is very refreshing. A gust of wind might hit you in the face and that is ok. It is normal in Iceland and a reminder of something that I miss less of. However, there are rare moments of nostalgia that accompany such windy moments in Denmark.

Icelanders might dispute on a lot of things back home. For us living outside of Iceland, however, we can agree on a lot of things that we miss most about living in Iceland. My husband and I can have long discussions on those simple things we miss but took for granted while living there. Aside from the obvious which is the natural beauty of the country, our wistful thinking are more towards the casual and homey.

We miss the food. Yes, Icelandic food, or the lack of it sends my mind wandering at times. My love for fresh seafood makes my trips to Iceland more enjoyable and unforgettable. Whenever I travel back home I know for sure that I will be eating excellent seafood. This yearning for one´s food is so strong that I sometimes find my husband scrolling through a Swedish website that sells Icelandic food- looking at them and finding ways to justify paying the expensive price tag! So it´s no surprise that whenever we are home, the only food that we want to eat are fish, lamb and chocolates (with liquorice, too!). All are locally sourced and made. Simply delicious!

Another common thing in Iceland but what we consider a luxury in Denmark, is owning a bath, or a bathtub and using it daily. It is so common in Iceland that one can easily find it everywhere inside people´s homes, outside in pool areas and even within the raw and untouched lands where Mother Nature has graciously provided. The very practice of bathing constitutes rituals of relaxation, replenishing the body after a day´s work, or even to meet friends for social meetings. The hot water penetrates, quite literally, through one´s body and mind. It is the best way to unwind, to have some peaceful moments, and in some days when the temperature drops, only a warm bath and immersing in it will do. Luckily, almost all homes in Iceland have baths and Icelanders understand (but often take for granted!) the importance of it. We get to enjoy it in our family and friends´ homes when visiting. For us, this simple thing of bathing has become a luxury to which we look forward to when visiting Iceland.

Whenever we travel back to Iceland our most fun times are often spent with family and friends. Story-telling of memories spent together in the past, laughing and connecting are often partnered with food. I miss it dearly. I love this act of reminiscing stories and preparing food together. I enjoy getting to know my friends´ children but mostly I am surprised at the rate of them growing. Time has a way of just passing by…quietly most of the time. It is bitter sweet. I feel that I am missing out on a lot of important life events.

Living abroad has its perks but it can also be lonely too. One loses the comforts of home to try to make a new home elsewhere. To live away from home means adapting to a new way of living, all the while still holding Iceland close to one´s heart. It also means missing out on family celebrations, and when friends gather there is always one person missing from the group. Our absence from Iceland has taught us to love the country more, to enjoy the food that is seldom available to us and lastly, for many of us who no longer reside in Iceland, our visits home become a little bit more special every time. 

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María Erian Guðmundsdóttir

María Erian Guðmundsdóttir

María Erian Guðmundsdóttir is a self confessed life student, always eager to learn and try new things. Philippines-born and Iceland-raised from the age of 16, she now lives in Denmark with her family and their small dog, Louie. She recently graduated with a bachelor degree in International Sales and Marketing Management.

Her hobbies include reading (a couple of books together!), writing, going for walks in the forrest and making healthy smoothie drinks.

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