Now that I’ve completed a semester abroad, I feel like I must have acquired some wisdom about the whole studying abroad thing that I am able to share. So, here goes…
Take every opportunity possible
“I have time to do all the things I want to do here” is something you will maybe try not to say, but will come out with anyway, probably after spending a whole weekend eating popcorn in bed after enjoying the Reykjavik nightlife a little bit too much on a Friday night/morning. (Bars/clubs open till 5am here, just saying.) I feel like I am allowed to say this more because I’m here for two semesters while most of the other exchange students are only here for one.
I would justify not going on trips all the time by one truth that applies to most students – it’s not financially viable. So, I’m not saying go off on trips every single weekend or day off – especially not in a country as expensive as Iceland. But look up cool trips and find out what’s available. Sometime it’s about taking initiative and suggesting a trip and other times it’s about talking to other students and joining their existing group plans. If you have an idea of the things you want to do, you’ll be more proactive about doing them and can also be better prepared budget-wise to invest in travelling a bit.
Things to consider
Iceland is actually bigger than England, so it’s not possible to make every trip just a day trip, or to do things spontaneously/with very little planning.
To take the ring road around the whole country, people generally suggest that you allow at least 10 days for the road trip. So that’s a trip you seriously need to plan for and think about since there’s really only time to do it before starting the exchange (I know some people who did this) or after finishing it – especially since some of the roads will be impassible at certain times of the year.
Trips to the Westfjords or Akureyri, I have been told, are worth taking 2 or 3 days to do. I have yet to venture very far north, but I hope I’ll get the chance this semester…
Trips to South Iceland can vary. I went on a spontaneous excursion to Vik with a tour company when I first arrived here and that was only a day trip. But for that to work, a big part of the day is spent in a car or coach. I would say that a trip that going any further than Vik requires more than a day to be able to actually enjoy it and see more of the area.
For example, I went on a group trip where we (accidentally?) followed in Bieber’s footsteps across Southeast Iceland, and then some, which we did over a weekend.
On the Saturday we travelled from Reykjavik to Fjaðrárgljúfur (the above location), then to Skaftafell for a short hike to see the waterfall and get a good view over the glacier – and we managed to see everything within daylight hours, just. That’s not such an easy thing considering there’s less than 6 hours of sunlight a day at that time of the year, and the sun never rises very high. This photo here looks like it was taken at sunset; it was actually around noon.
The next day we went on a trip that I was really excited about – an ice caves and glacier tour. We started off by driving to another Bieber music video location…
….then donned some helmets, headlamps, and crampons and headed off into the caves and onto the glaciers.
WARNING: if you do decide to come to Iceland, which you should, then do not try to visit glaciers on your own. Go on trips with professional guides who know the area and know what they’re doing.
Everything we did was in Southeast Iceland, so we needed the two days to see everything plus the long drive. But there’s lots of trips closer to Reykjavik that can be done in a day. Those are the easiest to take advantage of and tend to require little or no planning.
Since this is a ’round up’ of my first semester, I should probably include the less fun aspect of exchanges:
The mere mention of finals is usually enough to stress me out. Compared to Glasgow however, I have to say I felt more relaxed.
Exams are quite different here, which initially worried me. One of my classes didn’t even have a final exam, just a final group essay and presentation about that essay to the class.
Another class had an oral final exam where I had to discuss a random topic that was selected on the day. That was nerve-racking but something you should expect if you come here – two of my finals this semester will be oral exams. On the other hand, my last exam was to be done ‘at-home’, meaning anywhere with an internet connection.
I can confirm that an exam is a lot less stressful when you spend the majority of it in bed and can take a break to go to the supermarket.
Another benefit of studying at a smaller university is that all exam results are returned within 1-2 weeks of the actual exam, meaning I didn’t have to stress about results over Christmas. No matter how I thought some of my exams went at the time (I think I briefly forgot how to speak in the oral exam), I was happy with how my first semester turned out.
As always, any questions about exchanges or Iceland can come to me at 2085739M@student.gla.ac.uk