I arrived at the Olafson’s farm in North Dakota in August 1998. Being a 16-year-old boy from a little town in Iceland, I had no idea what to expect in the country of dreams and opportunities.
There were several reasons I chose to go to the States. Since I was a little boy I have always wanted to live there, I don’t know why but that had been my dream.
Also, I did want to expand my English vocabulary. I had learned English in school and from movies and TV shows, but I wanted to learn it better and the way to do that, I think, is to live in a country where you have to talk the language all the time.
I didn’t have a family to stay with when I walked into the plane in Keflavík airport. But AFS, the student exchange program, told me that I would get one. When I arrived in New York I heard about a family in North Dakota who would let me stay for two weeks until I found a permanent family. That was on the Olafson’s farm, Curtis Olafson and his family near Mountain, North Dakota. When they met me, they decided to keep me for the whole year.
The first thing I noticed at the farm was a pile of corn almost as high as the outbuilding near by and a big machine which I soon learned they called a tractor. Don’t get me wrong. I know what a tractor is but the size of this thing was almost double the size of the tractors in Iceland. And that was the case with everything else. The combines, trailers, the trucks, the fields, everything was really big. The farm is probably as big as three average farms here in Iceland. I learned more about the machines when school was over in the summer 1999 when I helped a little on the farm and got to know farming in the States better.
Thrilled by the size of all these machines, I was excited about getting to know the people at the farm and the farms and towns around it. I went to Thingvalla church just down the road from the farm. There I met some of the people from the area. They were mainly older and what surprised me was that they greeted me in Icelandic. All of them were really excited about talking to the boy who came from the country of their ancestors. I enjoyed talking to them about Iceland and hearing the stories about the people who moved from Iceland to North Dakota.
The older people were friendly and so were the kids from the school. Everyone accepted me really well and I have never felt as welcome anywhere. There was nothing I would rather do then take part in the people’s everyday lives and try to blend into their culture. I went to church every week, something we don’t do in Iceland. In fact, I never go to church in Iceland except around Christmas. But I felt that going to church wasn’t only to listen to the priest, who was really funny and interesting, by the way, and pray but also as a gathering of the people after mass in the church basement. This was something I really enjoyed.
School was fun. I did my best and it showed in my grades. I was kind of competing with many good learners at the school and I wanted to follow them in grades. Also I played basketball for the school. I enjoyed the practices and the games and also seeing other schools when we went there to play a game. I went to a prom which is something I had only seen on the TV. I still tell people about the prom and that I had the opportunity to go to one. I still have my prom picture, of course.
What needs to be said is that people in North Dakota are really friendly. Everything is big compared to my little Iceland and the culture, though similar to the culture in Iceland, is something I really enjoyd witnessing. The day I will be there again, for visiting or living, who knows, won’t come soon enough.