By Mark Norris
A 2007 graduate of the University of Iowa with a degree in linguistics, Mark Norris studied abroad for a year on the University of Iceland Exchange program in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Iceland has changed since I was there in 2005-2006. Financially, of course, things have changed a lot due to the kreppa (recession). There are also new buildings under construction, older buildings that burned down, and many shops that have transformed since I left. For example, my favorite coffee shop does not exist anymore, and the old lýsi (fish oil) plant by my old apartment that was abandoned when I lived there has finally been torn down.
There is a lot that I remembered that stayed the same, though. People still love going to the thermal pools and heitir pottar (hot pots, or hot tubs), and so do I. They are still willing to speak to you in Icelandic if you wish to practice, but they're as good at English as they have ever been. The Icelanders that I got to know when I lived there have changed (as all people do), but one thing has stayed the same: they love their little island. One of my favorite things about spending time in Iceland was developing a personal connection to a place that so few people have a connection with. Especially in terms of study abroad destinations, it is off the beaten path, but it is my second home.
When I go back there, it feels like home, and the people and places I grew so accustomed to are still there. Well, except for that coffee shop, but I found a couple good new ones. Some people enjoy their time so much that they never leave. Several of my "foreign" friends (one from Canada, one from Hungary, one from Bulgaria) have not left (more or less) since 2005. It's a really easy place to fall in love with, and you feel a little bit special when you do, because it's not a thing that many others can say.
Overall, the trips I took back there this summer (I was there for two separate weeks) gave me closure from my 8.5 months there so long ago. When I first left, I was heartbroken, I was desperate to return-- I never thought I could be happy anywhere else. Going back, I spent a lot of time reflecting on all the fun, the challenges, and the growth I experienced when I was there. I had a wonderful time in the world's northernmost capital (in case you're worried, Reykjavík is a very exciting city for its size with a very active nightlife and arts community).
I think what I took away from the trip is that I was happy in Iceland, and I always will be when I return, but I'm also happy where I am now. In truth, there is no way I would be where I am now, a PhD student in linguistics, doing research on Icelandic sentence and word structure, if it weren't for that year I spent in Iceland.
Take a chance and go somewhere different (like Iceland). You'll be really glad you did.