Thursday, October 13, 2016

That Iceland FAQ You've Probably Been Waiting For

Hi, internet! I thought I'd post a preliminary Iceland FAQ as a little thank you present for those of you who have been following my life's little journey lately. Especially since, ya know, it's been nearly two months so I'm a total expert now and I'm definitely fluent in Icelandic and I know everything. And I'm hoping that you've detected the sarcasm, because I'm laying it on pretty thick. Although, for the record, ég tala ekki íslensku but also ég þekkja...some words. I really put the "enska" in "íslenska" and if you get that, then you're probably just about as familiar (or way more familiar) with Icelandic as I am so far. We'll make it through. Solidarity.

Speaking of Icelandic, our first question is...

1. Are you learning the language? It seems IMPOSSIBLE!

Jæja, já. I'm trying, at least! Luckily, the courses I've selected are taught in English, but Icelandic is spoken frequently in the field and (obviously) it's spoken everywhere else around here. There are a few Icelandic courses offered through the university, but I've opted to self-educate, at least this semester. There are some great modules available online but I've mostly been using my favorite language-learning app: Memrise. Shoutout to my fellow expat Shannon for sharing this tip with me last year in Belgium! I've been chugging away at German for the past year via Memrise, and now I've added Icelandic to the list. I go slowly; I do a few words each day and eventually, I can start understanding grammar and sentence structure. Turns out,  Icelandic, English, and German (duh) are all Germanic languages so it's interesting to see where they converge and diverge. Also, all three of these languages are frequently spoken in my life right now, so it's been really helpful to slowly learn but then have the opportunity to actively listen to and engage with my peers. They're great help!

2. Can I come visit?!!!??!?!????

Uh, YES. Bring ranch.

3. No really; I know that you're busy with school, but I've been thinking about Iceland for a while and I wondered if I could come visit?

Uh, YES. Bring ranch. Although...Margy has already been by and brought cans of pumpkin and a bunch of ranch, so I'm set! Right now, I'm missing bigger things like the Appalachian mountains and my car, so if you could bring those, that would be rad.

In all seriousness, you're always welcome. I'm happy to provide airfare tips if necessary, as "getting there" has never been easier! As per my landlord, I can host you free of charge for up to five nights in Reykjavík. I live in a downtown flat just up Njarðargata from Hallgrímskirkja with two Germans, two Frenchies, one Brit, one Fin, and a Spanish guy. We also have two Icelanders in a separate basement flat. However, you're going to want to get out of town and go on some adventures. As beautiful as RKV can be, it's not the only thing you'll want to see! I can come on adventures with you if you want and as my schedule allows, but it's all up to you. And speaking of my schedule, it's surprisingly flexible! Turns out, taking a few days (read: weeks) off of work is completely normal, and sometimes even encouraged as a valuable act of self-care. Let's hear it for Scandinavia! 

Depending on how you plan your trip, you can either use RKV as a home base and do trips from there and come back, or you can move every few nights. It's really up to you, and I'd be happy to help you plan your stay and provide some tips based on what I've seen. Keep in mind; I've been in Iceland a total of 9 weeks over my life, and I haven't been on holiday that whole time so I certainly haven't seen everything; not even close! But hopefully, some of you will be able to come around and we can take some of those adventures together!

4. Your pictures are amazing; are you really traveling that much, or are you just posting a few pictures every day?

Hah, you got me. I try to get out of town as much as possible, but of course, I have to do things like go to school and do my research...and laundry! Some of my research and coursework requires that I leave town because I've picked a field that is so hands-on. This is really new for me (because, ya know, astrophysics) and I've really liked this so far!

But, most days are spent in sunny (hahahahahaha) Reykjavík. I've joined some student groups that allow me to get out and hike in other places, and I have an amazing grad school adviser that has driven me around south Iceland and shown me some cool things, but I spend most of my time in RKV. While I'm out of town, though, it's impossible to just take one or two photos. I usually come home with hundreds, and spend the next couple of weeks posting favorites. I'm not much of a photo album gal anymore; I've tended to gravitate towards posting one or two per day and I let Instagram organize them into an album for me. It's a little showy of me, I know, but it also allows me to give proper attention to some of the amazing things I've been fortunate enough to see, and it gives you all a glimpse into my life, one snapshot at a time! Although, it is annoying having to manage my Instagram schedule to accommodate the fact that most of you are four to seven hours behind me so...speed it up, North America. #firstworldproblems

5. Your pictures look a little too good...I'm skeptical. should be. Instagram has some built-in magic that helps me get the lighting and color just right...duh! But out of another vein, there's no way that even my spruced-up Insta photos can even compare to some of the scenery around here. It's a stunning combination of light, color, fire, ice, sunlight, steam, and sheep. Also, norðurljós! The northern lights here are actually ridiculous. So ridiculous that even long exposure photographs don't do them justice, which is a new concept for me. When we'd photograph northern lights in the Badlands, for example, they were always far more structured and colorful than what we were able to see in real life. But, that's about 20 degrees of latitude south of where I am now, and up here in the auroral oval, northern lights are no joke. You can actually see the red line emission, you can see structure, and you can see motion. It's incredible, and I have to stop talking about it now so that I don't get overly emotional and keep this run-on sentence going for several more lines and then probably start crying and laughing at the same time and then have to take a nap. Yeah, they're that good.

6. What do you eat? Is food really that expensive?

It depends! In short, we don't eat out. Or rather, we eat out on very special occasions like birthdays or the end of exams or during a festival. To be fair, restaurant costs can vary from what our "normal" is in the US, to high-end prices for a mid-range restaurant experience. It just depends. Also, are you in RKV or outside of RKV, what is the tourism industry doing to the economy, etc. etc. etc. 

Grocery stores here close pretty early (like 6:30 PM) but those are the ones that don't really have extortionate prices. There are a few stores that close later at 9 PM, 11:30 PM, or are open 24 hours, and they tend to jack up some of the prices. But if you're early with your shopping, you can find prices that are basically normal. UNLESS...

...unless you want chicken or beef or shampoo or vegetables that aren't grown in Iceland. You will not catch me buying a tray of chicken breasts, for example, because that will put me out $20. Generally, bell peppers run just under $4, and a fresh head of broccoli is just about the same. But, Icelanders grow carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumbers, potatoes, even bananas...etc. so a slightly modified diet that includes these local foods is necessary in order to save. But of course, this isn't a big deal. And frozen veggies are also a thing, so calm down, you can still get broccoli for a reasonable price in Iceland. Discount brands are just as common here as they are in the US; EuroShopper is basically the GreatValue of Europe, and it has become my best friend. 

Additionally, my flatmates and I have embraced that Street Rat™ culture and I've learned that if we're just resourceful enough, we don't have to buy bread. And by resourceful, I mean learning the locations of the bakery dumpsters and going on nighttime raids. These have proven to be fruitful and frugal, and I absolutely love it.

Finally, RKV has a running indoor flea market every weekend, which doubles as a fish market. So, I get some gorgeous, fresh, fairly priced fish from the weekend market, and that lasts for the week at least. So basically, just like anywhere, one has to learn the local eating culture and embrace it!

And finally...

7. Are you happy? Do you think you'll ever come back to the US?

I am happy. I am purely off-the-charts happy with my life here in Iceland. And of course I'll come back home, but now "home" has a broader, more global meaning. Frankly, I think that it always has for me. And since you know that I'm all flight, it may not come as a terrible surprise to hear that I have no immediate plans to return to the states permanently, but it just depends on my educational and professional pursuits. For now though, we are all aware that the US has had a rough year, and Lansing has had a rough year, so for my own mental health and healing, I think that it's perfectly fine for me to stay abroad for a little while. There is a societal calm and emphasis on life balance here that I haven't seen before on such a broad scale, and anyway, it's my privilege under the US constitution to have this freedom to move around. It's a privilege for which I'm very thankful, and my life here is possible because of a foundation of grace and generosity from my friends and family. With that, I'm happy to be doing well, to be making friends, to be climbing again, to be hiking whenever I can, to be exploring new corners of nature, and to be learning new things about the Earth. And of course, I'm happy to welcome you any time. Seriously, come on over any time!