If you’ve been following these students blogs or have any friends on Facebook who are off on exchange, you’ve probably seen many photos highlighting the fact that an awesome part of the whole exchange experience can be travelling to cities and countries beyond where your host university is situated.
As the SASA for Reykjavik, it’s worth noting two points in case they weren’t already obvious. There are no other cities (there are other large towns, but the Reykjavik area holds two thirds of the country’s population) and obviously no easily accessible nearby countries. Unlike many other places you can spend your exchange across Europe, there isn’t the possibility of just hopping on a train to Berlin or Brussels for a weekend trip. However, there are some uniquely awesome travel opportunities that are available while you’re studying in Iceland.
European travel is not so easy or as cheap as it might be if you were travelling from the UK, but flying to the US and Canada is cheaper than it would usually be for those of you based in Glasgow or the rest of the UK. I only utilised the Canadian flight routes since I have a bias towards Ontario where my boyfriend is on exchange, but if you can be bothered to get a US travel visa – please note I know nothing about this – then you can cross the Atlantic at a cheaper rate than you would get back home. Having now done the round trip to Toronto twice with them, I recommend Icelandair purely for the fact that they have a really good selection of movies and every seat has a USB port so you can charge your phone. Considering the length of the flight, these things are important factors.
I didn’t post a “back home for Christmas!” blog, because instead of heading back to Glasgow I spent three weeks seeing Canada with my boyfriend. And since the cost of living in Canada is significantly cheaper than it is in Iceland, I got to do something I hadn’t done in 4 months – shopping for fun. Also, not cooking. Both take out food and dining out is actually a manageable way to live most of the time. In Icelandic, eating at a restaurant is usually subsidised by a student discount or one of the Nova 2 for 1 deals (a very good reason to get a Nova SIM card in Iceland in addition to the fact that you get free Nova to Nova texts and calls), otherwise it’s mostly too expensive.
So, while you don’t have the same travel opportunities as those living on the continent, it doesn’t mean living in Iceland has to cut you off from the rest of the world. I had never been to Canada before December (and then I ended up visiting again in Easter) so I made the most of it and fit in as much as possible.
First up was Toronto:
We learned that Niagara Falls is more of a summer activity…
Next up was Kingston, specifically Queens University (another Glasgow exchange option for some of the arts students), for Christmas.
I didn’t get many pictures of Kingston in winter but the weather was a lot nicer when I visited a few weeks ago:
Our next stop during my December visit was Ottawa, home to the Canadian Parliament:
…but we still managed to visit Canada’s Formula 1 circuit and celebrate Hogmanay.
My point here is that any exchange experience, even Iceland, will open you up to more opportunities to travel. It will also make you want to travel more than before.
Home Sweet Home
I can’t help but point out that Iceland is also a very reasonably priced EasyJet away from Edinburgh, or WowAir flight from London. I didn’t spend the winter vacation at home, but since I’m only a short flight away, I’ve been able to visit a couple of times. Obviously if you go somewhere like New Zealand or Australia it’s unlikely you’ll be able to just drop home, so it’s nice that my location makes it possible.
Closer to home
If you have the time and the money, Reykjavik is also nicely placed to visit the Faroe Islands or Greenland. The flights were more expensive than I would have expected so since I wasn’t dying to go, I haven’t planned anything. However, when my parents visited they flew into Reykjavik domestic airport via the Faroes. So if you’re flying to or from Reykjavik, have the time, and don’t have about 50kg of belongings with you, then taking that flight path could be a good opportunity to take a stopover and see somewhere you normally might not consider going.
I’ve heard from a few Iceland-bound future exchange students, but if there’s any more questions about Iceland (or Canada, since I feel like I’m pretty knowledgeable about there too now!), my name is Jen and you can contact me at email@example.com