If you don’t know Gulla (pronounced Gudla), you should. She works at the Icelandic Embassy in Washington, DC, in the consular services section. Her duty is to help Icelanders in the US solve their problems, which may range anywhere from passport renewal to emergency situations we should all try to avoid. She also assists US citizens interested in Iceland-related topics, such as visas, business and trade and others.
There’s another very good reason to know Gulla. For some forty years she and her husband, Ali, have helped the Icelandic Association organize and run its Þorrablót, June 17 celebration and other events. Their company is a proud sponsor of the Icelandic Association and occasionally donate wine to its festivities.
Guðbjörg B. Özgun was born in Keflavík in 1962 and lived there until she was 17. Her parents are Hólmfríður Jónsdóttir and Bjarni Guðmundsson. In primary school, Gulla was determined to become a chef or a hotel manager. But the Icelandic school system was changing at that time, and her educational aspirations fell through the cracks. When she graduated from compulsory school, she was too young to enter a culinary institution. So, she settled for a second best alternative and spent a year in a home economics school in Reykjavík. After graduation from Húsmæðraskóli Reykjavíkur in 1979, she was still too young to enter the school of her dreams. At that time, she got an offer to go to the US, where she stayed for a year with the family of Unnur Pétursdóttir and Snorri Þorgeirsson, who both worked at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
During her stay in the US, she befriended an Icelandic woman, Hrönn Pulak, who is married to a Turkish man. His cousin Ali Özgun and Gulla struck up a friendship that was interrupted when she returned to her home country. The two kept in touch through old-fashioned hand written letters. In Iceland, Gulla started her studies in business at the junior college in Keflavík (Fjölbrautaskóli Suðurnesja). In the meantime, her correspondence with Ali continued. After graduation in 1982, she decided to test the robustness of their liaison by spending some time with him in Washington, DC. She enrolled for a semester in the Washington International School.
Ali and Gulla tied the knot shortly after her return, but not before Gulla had laid down her conditions: the right to travel to Iceland any time and to unlimited long-distance calls to Iceland.
Soon after marriage the newlyweds started a construction company. In 1987 they moved to Iceland, where they both worked at the new airport terminal in Keflavík. After a year in Iceland, they moved back to the States where she and Ali own a kitchen and bath showroom in Lorton VA, called Capitol Design Build. Their company specializes in designing and building kitchens and bathrooms. It also imports carpentry from Europe, and constructs custom-made houses in Virginia.
Gulla and Ali are the proud parents of two daughters, Leyla Fríða and Dóra. They also have two grandsons, Noah, and Luke. All family members live in the same neighborhood, much to Gulla’s delight.
In 2009 a friend of Gulla´s who worked at the Icelandic Embassy alerted her to a temporary vacancy at the embassy. Gulla applied and was hired. Initially she thought of this as a short break from self-employment and did not expect to stay longer than a year. But she liked the job and when the ambassador, Hjálmar W Hannesson, announced the opening of a permanent position in 2011, she went for it. The current ambassador, Bergdís Ellertsdóttir, is her fourth ambassador at the embassy.
Throughout her stay in the US, Gulla’s ties to her home country have remained strong. She visits Iceland frequently and is one of the mainstays of the Icelandic community in the DC area. As they say, you can take the person out of the place, but you can’t take the place out of the person.