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Cat Gundry-Beck, Reykjavík

Who are you?

I am Cat Gundry-Beck, a photographer from Ireland.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I moved to Reykjavík, Iceland in April 2018 because I wanted to fully immerse myself in Icelandic culture and to discover the country’s beautiful nature.I emigrated from Ireland in 2011 when I was 18 and have since lived in Norwich, Cambridge and London in the UK and Bergen and Tromsø in Norway before moving to Iceland. When I first landed in Reykjavík, I remember disembarking the plane and thinking, ‘I do not know one single soul in this country’.

What challenges did you face during the move?

The first challenge was finding a home and a job. I met a few other expats and got the advice to join Facebook groups to find a home but everyone warned me that it was really tough to find one. I was really lucky to meet a girl who needed a housemate, so after about 20 days of staying in hostels I moved in.

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I worked for a month in a hostel while I built up contacts and in June I took the plunge and now I focus only on my photography, videography and graphic design work.

Are there many other expats in your area?

There is a vibrant expat community here – I joined some Facebook groups who have meet-ups and also an entrepreneurial women’s networking group so I have met a lot of lovely expats through that. I have also started co-working in The Space: a place for creatives to come and work on their laptops for the day. This has allowed me to connect with incredible creative people: both locals and other expats.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

It has been a challenge to meet local people but I find that once the connection is made they are very welcoming people. I went to a water-colouring evening and asked if I could sit with a group of girls. They were instantly so inclusive, teaching me so much about Iceland and sharing stories about their lives. I felt so welcome and involved even though they had all known each other since they were children.

What do you like about life where you are?

One of the things I like most about Reykjavík is how creative it is: every night of the week there is live music on somewhere and the city has this energy that makes me feel like anything is possible, while also being quite a small place with a sense of community.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

When I first got here it was quite frustrating to make contact with people – I found this pattern kept happening where I’d have some communication with someone and feel like I was getting somewhere and then I’d be suddenly ignored and never hear from them again, even after I’d gotten in touch a second time. I’ve heard this is a common thing to happen here which is quite tough!

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

The Icelandic people have some similarities with the Irish (it’s said that the Vikings picked up the pretty Irish ladies on their way here so they have some Irish ancestry!) and I’ve noticed their sense of humour can be quite similar.

But a huge difference that I’ve seen is their attitude towards personal space. Many times I’ve noticed how at the self-service checkout when one person is paying and packing their bag the next person would come and put their basket at the till and start their transaction immediately when the other person takes the last item from the checkout area. In Ireland, England and Norway the next person would always wait in the line (at least a metre or two from the till) until the person in front had completely finished and left!

What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?

The Icelandic food is interesting – I quite like the kleinur which are kind of like donuts but am definitely not a fan of the dried flaky fish! I think it tastes like fish-flavoured cardboard but maybe once I’ve tried it a few more times I’ll grow to like it.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

My advice to anyone who’s wishing to move to Iceland is to not get discouraged if things are tough for the first few months. I wondered if this was the right place for me because things didn’t seem to be flowing, but I kept going and now have some wonderful friends and am really enjoying photographing the Icelandic landscape.

What are your plans for the future?

My future plans are to continue exploring Iceland and learning as much as I can about this country and culture. I’m also planning a photo project where I’m going to try to go to a volcanic island in Italy without seeing any photos of it first: this means I can’t do any online research on how to get there as a photo might pop up! I will be creating a photographic blog about this journey.

You can keep up to date with Cat's adventures on Instagram.

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