This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Erasmus programme, which promotes student exchanges all over the world. The Reykjavík branch of the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) formed five years ago by the International Students’ Association at the University of Iceland to help foreign scholars to study over here.
Led by Sigrún Gunnarsdóttir—affectionately known as Garfield by her committee colleagues, as she says “If anything goes wrong, I get the claws out”—ESN takes care of the new arrivals who numbered 420 this semester, fixing their membership discount cards, organising their parties, planning their trips, even doing the odd spot of cooking.
Most students arrived in town at the end of August and have by now gotten to know Iceland—and Reykjavík nightlife—through a full programme of parties and trips: a pub quiz, a traffic light party, quad biking, snorkelling sessions and even a weekend voyage to Langjökull.
We caught up with some of the students who have arrived in Reykjavík from across Europe and beyond to find out how they’re getting on so far.
Merete Bonde Knudsen
Danish born and raised, Merete is studying her BSc in Economics & Business Administration in Sønderborg.
How does RVK compare to your Sønderborg?
It is very similar in many ways. Reykjavík is a bigger city, but people are very friendly, open and warm. A larger city that seems very small—in a good way. I have really fallen in love with the city.
Have you learnt any Icelandic so far?
Not that much, but Icelandic is quite similar to Danish, so it’s a lot easier for me than if I was from Spain or China! But so far I only know bits of the travel vocab, like ‘takk fyrir’ (“thank you”) and ‘bless’ (“bye”)!
Have you been on any trips outside the capital so far?
I have been on a road trip with some Austrian and German friends to the West Fjords. I’ve gone river rafting, went on the ESN glacier trip, and did the Golden Circle. The nature is amazing: I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as the sunset when driving by the West Fjords.
What do you think of the nightlife here?
I like all the pubs around downtown, but Mánabar is a very important meeting point for all of us Erasmus students. The music scene in Iceland is enormous and I’ve never known anywhere that has as much live music as all the bars experienced so many live concerts on the different bars as in Reykjavík.
Nina is studying in Hildesheim, Germany, but originally comes from Lage, a town of barely 1,000 inhabitants in Lower Saxony.
Tell us about Hildesheim. Is it very different from Reykjavík?
I think they’re comparable in size, and both cities have a lot to offer. In Hildesheim you have the historic market place, the St. Michael’s Church, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site—and many other churches! There are some lovely half-timbered houses and lots of bars and restaurants. But I think the main difference between Iceland and my home country is the landscape. Where I live in Germany we have a lot of forests, but no glaciers or volcanoes. The waterfalls here are incredible—we don’t have really have anything like them.
So what made you choose to come here?
To be honest I never thought about going to Iceland before signing up to go through Erasmus. All I knew about the country was that Reykjavík was the capital. Not much else—sorry! Back home we partner with several other universities: I was thinking about it a lot with my friend Janna Homburg, and we thought Iceland could be a great place to go precisely because we didn’t know a lot about it, so we came here together. No risk, no fun!
Have you explored the city yet?
Yes, we’ve all been out a lot! We do a lot of pub-crawls… in fact I think I may have seen every bar now. I like Café Rosenberg, Kaffibarinn and Mánabar a lot. We don’t go out for dinner much though, as it’s a lot more expensive than at home.
Anything you’d like to try whilst you’re here?
I really want to go horseback riding, swimming in the Blue Lagoon or in a hot spring, driving through the Westfjords and doing the Golden Circle and other typical sightseeing spots. And I haven’t seen the northern lights so far, so I hope I’ll see them soon. I’ll have to try the lobster soup here, but I’m not sure I’ll try sheep’s head or whale meat…
Robin was born and raised near Amersfoort, a city in the middle of the Netherlands. He studies International Business Administration at the Rotterdam School of Management.
Is Reykjavík similar in any way to where you’re from?
In terms of size, Reykjavík is surprisingly similar to Amersfoort. This country however is very different to the Netherlands: you wouldn’t find the beautiful nature and the vast empty lands anywhere in my home country.
What brought you to Iceland?
I had to choose somewhere in Europe, and I believe you get most out of an exchange like this when you are placed outside your comfort zone and put into a different country, a completely unfamiliar culture. So since I’ve seen most of Europe already, Iceland was the perfect choice.
What about outside the capital? Have you travelled much yet?
I went to Langjökull with ESN—that was awesome! Last week a bunch of us rented a couple of cars and did a road trip to Jökulsárlón, stopping at several places on the way like Dyrhólaey, Seljalandsfoss and Svartifoss.
So what can you tell us about yourself so we can help you fit in?
Well, together with my twin brother I have a vinyl collection back home. And I’ve already found some really nice record stores in Reykjavík!
Hélene is a postgraduate law student from Paris, France.
Iceland must be very different to France. How does life in Reykjavík compare to Paris?
The capital is certainly much smaller. Reykjavík has no tall high-rise buildings, and it’s surprising just how close it is to the ocean. The city is very clean too!
What brought you here?
Actually I didn’t choose Iceland, I must admit. I wanted to go to Norway, but my university only sends undergrads there, not graduate students. So they sent me to Iceland instead.
Have you been speaking Icelandic whilst you’ve been here?
I haven’t learnt much so far, because everyone speaks English here! All I can say is ‘bless’ (“bye”), ‘takk’ (“thank you”), ‘góðan daginn’ (“good day”) and ‘SKÁL’ (“CHEERS”)!
So how are you finding life in Reykjavík?
I’m really happy here, especially because some friends and I found a huge music studio in the city which we can use for practically nothing! I like to play electric guitar, so I’m very happy I’ll have a chance to practice with other people whilst I’m here.
Originally from Hadersdorf in Austria, Michael studies Applied Science in Vienna.
Why did you choose to study in Iceland?
I had the opportunity to work on my master’s project in co-operation with Össur, an international operating company developing non-invasive orthopaedics, which has its R&D department here in Reykjavík.
Have you been out to eat and drink much here so far?
What a question! Of course I have been out many times. I love the fast food here in Iceland: there is no McDonald’s so instead you find many different burger shops with many different and delicious burgers. They may be bad for the health, but at least I can offset that with some exercise in the nice swimming pools. I also love to eat at the fish bars close to the harbour.
Have you learnt any Icelandic?
I must admit that I’m a bit lazy in learning Icelandic. I know a few words, but my favourite is ‘Þetta reddast’ (“it’ll be okay”), which is obviously one of the most important phrases here. Another slang word which I learnt is ‘skinka’ (“ham”); I’ve been told me not to say it to girls.
When you leave here eventually, how do you think you’ll remember Iceland?
Iceland was one of the reasons why my girlfriend and I broke up. I got my first real work experience here. I was at the best festival ever and I met people who have become great friends. I can definitely say that Iceland is one of the things I will never forget in my life—in part because of the beautiful country, and also because of the things happened that have changed my life. Thank you, Iceland!