The Faroe Islands has a population less than four times the size of Siloam Springs. This country is located about 4,000 miles away, between Scotland and Iceland. Despite these factors, there are a total of nine students from the Faroe Islands at John Brown University.
While junior Johannes Finnson has been here for almost three years, freshmen Kristina Arge and Torleif Joensen arrived only three weeks ago.
Most, if not all of the Faroese students, knew each other before they came to the University, explaining in part why this school of all schools would have a relatively large amount of Faroese students. A few years ago the first Faroese JBU graduate went back to the Faroe Islands and told friends about the University. Now information about the school is passed word-of-mouth to friends and family.
Although most university-seeking young people from the islands go to Denmark or perhaps the United Kingdom for their higher education, the United States has a draw for some of the Faroese.
Joenson met his JBU-bound friends at church.
“I wanted to come to America because I see it all the time on TV,” he said.
Joensen said he has not faced much culture shock because the Faroe Islands is similar in many ways.
“Of course, it’s smaller,” he conceded, “And more remote. We stick to old traditions and are easily separate from the rest of the world. We are a very intimate community.”
The Faroe Islands is a semi-autonomous country with allegiance to Denmark. The population is roughly 50,000, and the largest industry is fishing, followed by farming. Mutton, fish and whale are a part of traditional meals.
“We are very proud of our Viking heritage,” Arge said.
Singing plays a role in Faroese culture as well. Finnson explained that singing goes back to an old tradition called a “ring dance,” where everyone gets in a circle and stomps their feet while chanting the old sagas. It used to be common on dark winter nights, but now is usually reserved for weddings and the national holiday.
Arge was also born and raised in the Faroe Islands. She said her friends convinced her to come to JBU for a university degree.
“It’s about time I got back into school again,” Arge said. “I’ve been out for two years. My mom was really pushing me to go.”
One reason to come to America, she said, is that flights between the Faroe Islands and the United States are usually cheaper than between the islands and Denmark.
Arge said the Faroese are shy and kind people with a very family-oriented culture. Everyone should visit there once, she added.
Finnson said he came to JBU because he wanted an education in music from an English-speaking country.
“In the Faroe Islands, higher education has only become common in the last 10 years,” he said.
He also said the intermediate level of education, roughly equivalent to between lower high school and trade school or community college, was not common even 10 years ago.
Finnson did have some culture shock when he came to JBU a few years ago, but it was mostly related to university life.
“I was surprised by the punctuality and how assignments are given and done,” he said. “The Faroese are more laid-back. My own culture has a lot of good things to it, but I like learning the good things of the American culture too.”
Americans are good at organizing information, planning and having a clear vision, said Finnson. He wants to learn these traits.
When Finnson graduates, he hopes to return home and teach music in the Faroese public school system.