By: Kaitlin Davis
Moving is always a scary, but exciting time. Whether you’re moving to a different state for work, school or a job, it never gets easier and the emotions that come along with moving are generally the same. However, coming to the United States from a foreign country for schooling or other reasons, comes with a lot more emotions, struggles, experiences as well as excitement.
Egill Karlsson, a graduate student in the Reed College of Media here at West Virginia University, originally came to the United States from Reykjavik, Iceland. Iceland, as Karlsson describes it, is a “cold rock in the middle of nowhere,” and many individuals from Iceland have this strong desire to move out and go into the real world while they are still young.
Naturally, when Karlsson came from Iceland to the United States, he experienced various culture shocks. Iceland is a bit Americanized and is more westernized, but there are still some differences when looking at the U.S. and specifically the Morgantown, W.Va. area.
It is important to note that in Iceland, typically students stay at home and commute to and from school, which is what Karlsson did when he attended the University of Iceland. There isn’t really a campus environment like that of many colleges here in the U.S. “[In Iceland] It’s not a campus environment really,” said Karlsson.
“We all have a positive view of America. We all have this vision of American and we all want to try it,” said Karlsson.
One culture shock that Karlsson experienced occurred his first week here at WVU. The first week is full of parties, activities and just general busyness as students get settled in to begin the fall semester. More specifically, Fall Fest, a concert that is put on for students, occurs the first week of the fall semester.
Between Fall fest and fraternity row on High Street, Karlsson felt like the downtown area was “something out of a movie.” Greek life, especially, is something that is absurd in the eyes of foreigners, “It’s nothing that is negative, it’s just so different and it’s really interesting to see,” said Karlsson.
Another culture shock that Karlsson experienced when coming to the states was the difference in political and religious ideas. “You kind of have to adjust to being open about what other people think about certain issues. It’s kind of a different world in terms of ideas that people have about the world and how the whole setting is a small town in west Virginia, it’s a different world, but very charming and nice,” said Karlsson.
Within the U.S. and the Morgantown area, citizens are often polite and open, with strangers going out of their way to help you while also opening their social circles. Iceland, according to Karlsson, is closed off. Icelandic peoples stick to their friend groups, so this shift in behavior was very different for Karlsson.
But what about the university’s international culture? WVU has a very rich international culture, with many students who are living somewhere on campus or at the International House, located on Spruce Street.
“We have people from all over the world. We have the international house here, which is kind of the heart of the international culture. There are other students living in Arnold Hall, University Place and other places,” said Karlsson.
Often times at the international house, there are cultural nights which include a short lecture on the specific culture for the night and dishes from the particular culture also.
In additional to the international house, there is the Office of International Students & Scholars, which handles the paperwork and any issues that international students may have while here at WVU. They “strive to strengthen, enrich and advocate for international education and cultural exchange by anticipating and responding to specific needs and concerns of this international community,” according to their website.
Though we do have a rich international culture here in Morgantown, Karlsson is the only Icelandic student. “I’m pretty much an island,” said Karlsson. There is one Icelandic couple here that he has had the opportunity to get to know, but aside from that, he is the only Icelandic student on campus.
“People come here and make friends with all the international students because we are all in the same position. I mean I’ve made a lot of American friends, but you know it’s also important and fun to meet other people who are on the same journey as you. It’s a pretty vibrant international community here,” said Karlsson.
Morgantown isn’t the only place that Karlsson has been, however. His first trip to the states was with his family when he visited New York City as a teenager in 2007. He then attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tn., for a semester during his second year at the University of Iceland. In the summer of 2014, Karlsson became a flight attendant for Icelandair, where he had the opportunity to visit many places in the states. He has has traveled to Florida, Chicago, Seattle, San Fransisco, San Diego, Boston and more.
“I’ve tried to travel a bit when I have the chance,” said Karlsson.