Changes (JB)


Júlíana Björnsdóttir's picture

I grew up in the 1980s when powerful business women featured in films such as Baby Boom and Working Girl. The protagonists were strong women who graduated from elite universities, or climbed their way to the top in their professions.

They had money, power, respect, and no obligations other than to work long hours. They traveled in style to beautiful places all over the world. They had it all.

I wanted to be just like these protagonists; to rule the world and live in New York City.

Then in 1994, the first episode of Friends aired and I was sold on the idea of living in the big city. I adored Rachel and her hair, her fairytale with Ross and that amazing first kiss they shared. I loved how she found her own success without making sacrifices in her personal life.

I was already hooked on the idea of spending my life globetrotting to all corners of the world.

I lived in Akranes, a village-size town where there was very little to do for an adventurous spirit. Physically, I was in Iceland, but in my mind, I was long gone to bigger and better places.

At the time, Reykjavík was not the busy international port city it is today. The selection of bars, cafés and restaurants was nowhere near what it is now, even though it had improved greatly from previous decades, such as the seventies.

In the seventies, there was very little to do. For young people working in the city center, the only restaurants were expensive and well beyond the means of students in summer jobs. The only option was a bakery with sweet and savory pastries.

As a teenager in the mid-nineties, living in a small Icelandic town an hour and ten minutes away from Reykjavík, I loved coming to the city. At the time, there was a ferry traveling from Akranes to Reykjavík several times a day.

The ferry was called Akraborg and I grew up traveling from the port in my town to the port in Reykjavík. We’d take the ferry to go see a movie in the old cinema on Hverfisgata on the weekends, have ice cream and go to Café París, which is still in the same place it’s always been on Austurstræti.

After graduating from junior college, I moved abroad as I had dreamt of as a child and teenager, meeting my future husband.

When I moved back from London in 2007 with my South African partner, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had no plans of staying permanently in Iceland and after years of living on my own in the U.K., France and Greece, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Like so many of us who move to new faraway horizons in our early twenties and then return to our country of birth to live as an adult, the grass seems greener from afar.

We return with high hopes and animated ideas about how things are back home, expecting everything to be different.

For most of us, we find our ideas a little less animated than we expected and our hopes squashed every now and then. Because we’ve changed so much and grown in the process; we want the people from our past to see the change in us. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.

In my case, I returned to a city much smaller than the city to which I had become accustomed and yet a city that had changed so much.

Since returning to Iceland in 2007, so much has indeed changed in the city of Reykjavík. The city center has expanded vastly and become a melting pot. The flora of languages that fills the air is music to my ears.

Types of food that didn’t exist in Iceland when we first came in 2007 are available now thanks to returnees and new residents.

Young people have high hopes of experiencing the world and living in different parts of it. Their desire to expand their horizon is in my opinion a natural consequence of the growing multiculturalism in their environment.

To see and live in the outside world is not a bad thing.

Some return to Iceland while others will choose to stay in their new homes or explore the world to an even greater extent.

Reykjavík is a far cry from the raving madness of London. My neighborhood Vesturbær next-door to the city center is more like a vibrant country village, London’s Hampstead Heath, without the gigantic city embracing it all around.

Reykjavík is a charming little city.

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – julianabjornsdottir(at)

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