Andrea Pomrenke’s story offers a look into what some kids and adults feel when they come from a bicultural or immigrant family, particularly if a large part of their family still lives abroad.
Where do you currently live?
In Northern Virginia.
What are you currently doing?
Working at a spa as an esthetician while getting my Masters in Nutrition.
How do you define “home”?
To me, home is where you have a sense of belonging and a strong, almost spiritual, connection. I have struggled with this definition for a very long time because, for most of my childhood, I felt as though I had two homes.
My mother is from Iceland and my father is from Germany but I grew up in the U.S., because that’s where they met when my dad was in the Air Force. However every summer of my childhood was spent abroad in Iceland, so I was never able to grow strong roots to my home in Virginia, or even develop long lasting childhood friendships since I was gone nearly every holiday.
What do you consider your “home”?
As a 25 year old, I’d say that up until I was 23 I still considered Iceland my home, and America as simply the place I lived. Almost all of my family still live overseas so I was actually a little jealous of my American friends because they could visit family on a whim, whereas I would have to catch a plane and go through that whole ordeal to do so.
The geography of the country is like no other in the world. There is something so raw and almost alien like about the land that gives you such a sense of wonder and curiosity.
I felt very complacent and stagnant when I was in America- and that always bothered me. It wasn’t until I found “my calling” in my professional field that I began to feel more at peace, and was able to finally call America my home.
How many countries/places have you lived in?
Two. I grew up in the U.S. but went to 10th grade in Iceland.
Do you think of yourself as an expatriate?
It’s tricky to say I’m an expat since I do have dual citizenship, however I would have to agree that yes, I am. Since I’ve physically lived in America for longer than I have in Iceland, I see all the benefits of a European lifestyle (walking distance to shops/school, fresh local food, public transport, rich culture, access to nature, etc.) and have always identified more with that.
I do grow restless when I have been in the States for too long and always feel like I need to get out – maybe it’s just the romantic ideals of a more relaxed lifestyle.
Particularly since I’m still trying to establish myself in my twenties, while also dealing with the stress of northern Virginia.
What impact do you think moving/living abroad has had on you?
This is a tricky question too! I think that bouncing between countries actually really slowed down my development in general because both societies are so vastly different. Life in Iceland is a lot more free flowing and almost bohemian, whereas things I experienced in the U.S. were much more orderly and strict. These themes clashed as I was growing up and I think it made it really hard for me to figure out what I was supposed to be like, and what types of goals I needed to establish for myself.
Do you have any regrets about how you grew up?
I wouldn’t say I regret anything about how I grew up because it’s brought me to where I am today, and I’m quite happy with that.
However, I do think it’s important for kids to grow up with a solid place to call home.
I think it’s really neat when someone can say they’ve had a friend since first grade, or keep a large group of elementary school friends in close contact. I guess, if anything, it makes me cherish the friendships I have today.
What is the most outrageous question you’ve ever been asked about the country/countries you’ve lived in?
Everybody ALWAYS asks: “Isn’t Iceland green and Greenland, icy? And didn’t the Vikings do that to trick people?” And the answer is, yes!
When you went back to your native country did you ever feel like a foreigner?
I sort of touched on this before but yes, I definitely felt like a foreigner. It was probably a longing for the familiar, but usually it was me just missing Iceland.
What is the coolest/craziest experience you’ve ever had?
The coolest experiences I had while in Iceland would probably have to do with backpacking. Three years after the huge volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajokull (the eruption that shut down a bunch of Atlantic flights), my brother and I hiked that area. It was pretty beautiful, as the entire ground was still buried in ash, but one day in the hike we had to climb up a steep mountain to reach camp on the other side. The weather was getting increasingly bad and ice was beginning to pelt our faces as we came up to this deep glacial gorge. The pathway was muddy and only about a foot wide, with a comforting look straight down into the river below. Once we crossed that we had to climb this mountain which was also covered in ash. I’m just going to recommend to all of you that climbing an ash mountain in the wind and rain with a raging glacial river below you is not advisable. We made it up safely but I was definitely in shock.
We’ve also gone ultralighting around the Reykjavik (capital city) area which always has fantastic views.
Do you think other people should have the same experiences? Why?
I wouldn’t say others should necessarily have the same experience of growing up abroad, but I do think traveling abroad a couple times is important. Learning about, and accepting other cultures makes for more understanding people.
If you could change one thing about the world today what would it be?
While this might be similar to world peace, I think acceptance of different cultures is very important. Iceland is a country with a very homogenous population, and I think anything new to them is a little bit scary.
Fearing the unknown is a natural human response, but it is a habit we need to break. Our world has become so globalized, and cultures are interacting in ways we never thought possible hundreds of years ago. At the same time I still think keeping individual cultures alive is a very good thing – but we need more acceptance!