I am a second-year Master degree student studying Sustainability Science and Solutions at LUT University. This report will give a glimpse into my exchange studies at the University of Iceland which is academic home to around 12,500 students from the fields of education, engineering and natural sciences, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences.
I have been lucky to be able to study abroad during my earlier studies in both Ireland and Budapest. I also worked in the United Kingdom as an au pair at the beginning of my engineering studies in 2013. So, considering my previous living-abroad experiences, it was not a hard decision to try for the possibility of having another home and a new adventure.
I ended up applying for an exchange to the University of Iceland due to an interesting and versatile course selection the university had to offer. The uniqueness of Iceland’s nature was the second biggest driver to go explore the land of fire and ice. After the acceptance letter was received, the flight tickets could finally be bought alongside my excited state of mind.
APPLICATION PROCESS AND THE FIRST WEEKS
Application process was a simple process with both my home university and the University of Iceland, which included filling out a few forms and a learning agreement, as well as writing a motivation letter. The University of Iceland does not provide or guarantee housing for students, and on-campus housing is limited. This means, that many students end up living off-campus, as I ended up doing myself. I found my apartment via rentmate.is website, well before the final acceptance letter from the University of Iceland was received. Being an early bird usually pays off regarding housing. After staying in a hostel for the first week, it was time to move into the apartment I had found for the upcoming semester, wherein I had a flatmate from China and could properly start my student life in Iceland.
The orientation programme included organized walks, reception events and practical information about studying at the University of Iceland. Unfortunately, I had to skip these orientation days due to work duties and got started with studies right away. However, this was not an issue at all, and the semester was able to start smoothly with the generous help of the university staff and fellow exchange students.
If one is not from a Nordic country or is studying or living in Iceland for more than one semester, the Icelandic ID number (called a “kennitala”) is essential to living and working in the country, since it gives, among other things, access to social security, public health care and the ability to open a bank account. The university provides help and instructions for application for this ID number. Because I am a Nordic citizen and staying in the country only for one semester, my first task, instead of applying for a kennitala, was to request an access to the university’s intranet, called “Ugla”. In Ugla, one is able to modify course selections, get an access to university email and see course timetables.
The initial plan for my exchange studies was to complete my minor studies entirely abroad. Luckily, this plan was accepted by my home university in Finland. Therefore, I ended up selecting the following courses, worth a total of 30 ECTS: Environmental Microbiology (6 ECTS), The Arctic Circle (4 ECTS), EU Environmental Law (6 ECTS), Climate Change (6 ECTS), Management of Protected Areas (6 ECTS) and Ecological Economics (2 ECTS).
Environmental Microbiology introduced the importance of microorganisms in nature and their possible environmental applications. The course was strongly based on lectures but also included site visits, practical sessions, written assignments, and a required final presentation about a selected topic. Examination was held in the middle of the course. The Arctic Circle course was built around the convention of the Arctic Circle Assembly, in which students of this course were able to participate. The final assignment was a research paper of 3,000 words on an interesting topic discussed at the assembly. EU Environmental Law is a graduate level law course that consists mostly of lectures. The course also included one group work about a selected case law, an individual research paper, and an oral exam. This was the only one of my courses that had an actual exam during the final examination weeks. Climate Change covered the topic from several different angles and required a vast number of written assignments and presentations. Final work was “a story” of five pages regarding climate change. Management of Protected Areas was an intense course build around a five-day field trip in South and Southeast Iceland. At the beginning of the course, several lectures were held by speakers from various institutions. Accommodation and most of the food costs were covered by the students themselves. This was an interesting, memorable, and time- and energy consuming course. Ecological Economics was an intense course as well, held during one week at the end of the semester. The final assignment was an editorial on a controversial topic of the student’s choosing.
LEISURE TIME ACTIVITIES AND SOME RANDOM, GOOD-TO-KNOW STUFF
Reykjavík as a city is charming, small-ish, and full of different events, almost all within walking distance from anywhere. Living expenses are high, especially in terms of renting an apartment. However, most of the food products were reasonably priced and the cheapest grocery store, Bónus, seemed to be the best friend of students. There are a few places on the university campuses that offer meals, but many students either brought their own lunch with them or had lunch at home due to high pricing. The University has its own gym, choir and pub that are considerable options for spare time use. It is also easy and possible to apply for a library card for the university library. Mount Esja is reachable by local buses and is a good and popular day hike destination.
My free time was filled with cultural events, lindy hop classes and social dance events, spending time with international friends, relaxing in the public geothermal pools, and studying. If I were to suggest a few things to take with to Iceland, I would go with a swimsuit, waterproof clothes, hiking boots and a camera. Also, please remember to try out some of the ice cream places Reykjavík is full of. I also enjoyed going to the comedy club called “the Secret Cellar “whenever possible. Of course, exploring the Icelandic nature was also an important part of free time activities. Renting a car in Iceland is affordable, and it is easy to find oneself travel companions - either amongst the two million tourists passing through Iceland every year or fellow exchange students who also have an urge to travel around as long as the full timetables allow one to do so. It really is beautiful out there.
In a nutshell, living and studying in Iceland was a remarkable and unique experience. Studying abroad, once again, generously provided me with increased academic knowledge from the field of engineering and natural sciences, as well as new experiences, skills, and many great new people I get to call friends. Still, many beautiful places in this country were left unexplored, which means that there certainly is a wonderful excuse to go back.
I cordially thank LUT University, NORDTEK network, Maa- ja vesitekniikan tuki ry (eng. support association for soil and water technologies), and my family for making this adventure possible. Finally, although I would recommend Iceland as a great exchange destination, I wish more generally to simply encourage each and every person to experience a student exchange anywhere at all if they get a chance. Happy travels!