Beyond Borders: Some things are just different in Iceland
We are starting a new series where students talk about their experiences abroad. Our first story comes from akduell-editor Daniel Veutgen, who is currently on a student exchange in Iceland.
Iceland is often referred to as the Land of Fire and Ice. During my student exchange, however, I mainly came in contact with the latter. Since January I’m studying at the Reykjavik University (RU, Háskólinn í Reykjavík in Icelandic), the smaller of the two universities in Reykjavik. I experienced bike-rides in knee-high snow and winds so strong that you have to walk backwards – Yes, going to university can be an adventure up here.
Sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed if you know it’s going to be dark for the next four hours. At least this was the feeling in the beginning of my stay in January. And it gets even harder with the knowledge that you have to spend the few hours of daylight inside the university. Don’t get me wrong, not every day is dark and full of snow. When the days got longer, I really began to enjoy my rides along the coast with a beautiful view over the snowy mountains, sun and a cloudless sky.
The RU is often just called “the fancy one” by locals. I guess, the new campus, which opened in 2010, with its metallic front and corridors named based on the solar system contributed to this nickname. Since I came from Duisburg-Essen University with more than 42.000 students to the cozy RU with only around 2.800 students, my workflow has changed a lot.
Of course, there are some things influencing it in negative ways. As a student in Iceland you don’t get a bus ticket, so you have to ride or walk to university no matter what weather conditions. Unless you buy the bus ticket for half a year, which is around 230 euro for students. And there we get to the next point. Nearly everything is expensive – really expensive. A hot menu at the canteen is about nine euro, a sandwich about five, so always be prepared and bring some food with you from home. Or leave the university hungry and earlier than you intended, because the little snacks you can get as a master student don’t hold long. But at least there is a 50 percent discount on sweets from Friday to Sunday in the small university shop. The cheapest food is also the unhealthiest, I guess that doesn’t only apply to Iceland.
Playing foosball in beach slippers
But let’s focus on the things I’m going to miss when I’ll be back. At the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE), I tended to study at home. The library was always full and in my opinion, the group workplaces were too loud. Here, it’s totally different. At the RU I got my own desk, a second monitor for my laptop and free coffee and tea. And if you need a break, you can play some foosball or table tennis in the university’s basement – how could I possibly stay at home instead of going to university for studying? Although, I might need to point out that I’m not really a regular exchange student, since my exchange mainly had the goal to work on a research project in the School of Computer Science at RU, which got me the table and monitor. Tea, coffee and little snacks are also just available for students in their master program. But it seems like I’m not the only one who feels comfortable being at university. Especially in the afternoon you can easily spot some students walking around in shorts and beach slippers.
The second aspect you really start enjoying when studying in a small university: You can’t get lost. With only three different corridors, keeping an overview is not difficult. It’s impossible to compare this structure to the confusing colour-system at UDE, where I’m still searching for rooms after five years of studying. Moreover, there are some Icelandic peculiarities that enlighten your everyday university life. For example, everyone is addressed by first name. No matter if it’s the employee in the cafeteria, your professor or the director of the university, which helps tremendously to break up hierarchical structures. It feels like working together with someone, not for someone.