A Maturing Nation (JB)

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Júlíana Björnsdóttir's picture

Life in Iceland has changed so much in a relatively short period of time. Nowadays, the young, and with the young I mean the generations in their early twenties to early forties, are advancing further and further into the great wide world like never before.

Despite the fact that our current government, at times at least, seems to support isolation from the international community of nations, Icelanders themselves have embraced the freedom to travel and explore the world.

As a teenager in the mid to late nineties with an immense curiosity, I knew very few people who traveled extensively.

One of my role models though was my dad, who as a soccer player traveled to places such as the Soviet Union in the age of seventies communism to play. He was very encouraging upon realizing my passion for travel and has always been my greatest supporter.

Many of my classmates from high school immediately pursued education and later a career, had children and assumed the traditional responsibilities of adulthood in their twenties, and as a lifestyle choice, it’s as valid as any. But for the curious traveler in me, it was simply not an option.

My family understood my need to establish a life for myself and to become the person I am, despite the oddity of my choices. Not many pursued travels in this manner at the time, as traveling trends such as backpacking and other independent travels came late to us in Iceland. My guess is that isolation played a large role in the limited availability of budget travel for a long time.

But now, less than twenty years later, it has become commonplace to hear young Icelanders talk about exotic travels, studies abroad and overseas work experience. My 12-year-old niece is already planning an academic life in a far-away country. She simply wants to travel and see the magic this world has to offer.

The twenties is the time to establish a life for oneself, the time to study or work overseas, and either come back or not. The choices are seemingly endless for a creative mind.

Some come home later in life with a partner of foreign descent, some with a fellow Icelander as a partner, and even. Our society is colored in beautiful shades of cultural diversity because of this development.

For other twenty-somethings, a life in Iceland is what they mean to establish, but it doesn’t mean the curiosity to explore is not as thrilling as it is to those who choose to relocate to new lands. Both sides travel for the same reason and what separates them is only their attachment to the homeland.

Parents to twenty-something ‘children’ today are accustomed to their international ways, and rather embrace the new lifestyle that the international community offers to the young today.

My generation, now entering our early thirties, inherited the notion that traveling and studying abroad is certainly an option.

My uncle and aunt lived in Denmark for several years as students with my cousin who is only several years older than me. They came back but the experiences of their time away certainly stayed with them. They were among many who pursued part or all of their education overseas, and I know instances of people who stayed away for well over a decade before returning, while others simply didn’t.

But the kind of alternative travels, the ones you enter with an urge of recklessness and excitement, were not the norm, in particular for those living in Iceland until the 1990s. So, within the scope of my childhood experiences, independent travel such as backpacking, was an extraordinary discovery I devoured with the kind of thirst I never knew before.

It was my rite of passage, my path into adulthood, and my passion. I loved everything about the lifestyle and the beauty to which I was exposed and the community of travelers to which I now belonged. To begin with, I had one Icelandic friend with whom I could share this passion at the time, and we met through the AFS international exchange organization. Traveling came naturally to us both and together we explored the world.

We weren’t the only ones of course. Several other friends I made after my exchange year in Brazil have done quite a lot of traveling. Some have traveled by academic means while others like myself, chose to explore the world with an open agenda.

It is my opinion that young Icelanders today, are mature beyond their geographical reach. While many will continue to make Iceland their home, they are very much open to travel further than holiday resorts and European destinations.

We organize our holiday plans, we take more time off to explore new horizons, we move to new parts of the world to study, work and play. We are hooked to a new world order, one of unity, same as the rest of the world.

This great development is cheerful news to me and it gives me great hope to see my little island society mature in this positive manner. Iceland has become a beautiful multicultural nation and as I’ve said many times before, blends in beautifully with our quirks.

Whatever the future brings, one thing is for sure, the wealth of languages we acquire in our travels and residential encounters with other regions of the world, earn us a place as individual players in the vastness of the great international community.

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – julianabjornsdottir@gmail.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.