Wednesday, January 26, 2011

London

My friend and I spontaneously bought a plane ticket to London. We fly out Friday morning and return on Monday. Don't worry, I am only missing 1 class and it's easy.
Iceland Express offers cheap flights on short notice. If you can leave the island for less than $300 it's rare. So, we jumped on it. I have a friend studying in London and we plan on staying with her.
I am so used to the lack of civilization that Iceland offers that I feel once I get off the plane I will be in shock. Almost all stores in Iceland close at 6 pm. (this includes grocery and liquor stores). Reykjavik is about the size of Topeka, but feels like the size of Wilson sometimes.
Kansas Day is Saturday and I am going to have to eat some fast food in celebration.
I will update with photos once I return.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

School is difficult because no homework is actually due. I am used to being motivated by due dates and grades. It's different in Iceland because the people here actually want to learn. Teachers don't assign homework to make sure you are doing the homework. Instead, they assign practice problems because they know you care about the topic and want to learn more. The final is usually a written exam and is around 70% of your grade. The other part of the grade is based on your presentation on a certain topic to the class. Besides school being difficult to adjust to, I have been noticing some other odd things about this country.

There's geothermal energy, but then everyone drives a huge car or Hummer. Also, recycling is still unheard of. There's a lot of pride in traditional Icelandic meals, but there's still a very strong American food influence. When most people go out to eat they will go for a hotdog, hamburger, or pizza. We went to small hamburger place the other night. They were delicious and fairly cheap. Here's a not so appetizing photo of the burger.

It doesn't look as good as it tastes.


Handball is one of the most popular sports in Iceland. The world cup is in Sweden this year and games are played about every other night. Iceland lost against Germany yesterday, but play Spain tomorrow. I have not been able to see a bracket or understand what kind of ranking we have, but I am told that we have a good team. The bars project the games on screens and the downtown area is packed. It's an exciting game to watch. 

One of my goals when coming here was to get good at making fish. Here's my first attempt at making fish and chips. Again, it tasted better than it looks. Fish and lamb are about the only meat that's safe to buy in the stores. Most of the meat is questionable because you aren't sure where it comes from or how fresh it is.

I've been here for three weeks and haven't traveled as much as I hoped. It's hard to get anywhere with the sun only being around for 4 hours and rainy every day. It's getting better because 5 minutes of sunlight is added to each day. Today it was very exciting to go out at 4 pm and the sun was still out. Also, there was a small glimpse of blue sky. The weather has been making me feel down and homesick, but keep reminding myself that soon there will be sun, nicer weather and green scenery. The weather isn't cold, just rainy. Today I went out with only a sweatshirt on and was comfortable. The gulf stream warms Iceland more than one would think. I got invited to a cave trip next weekend so that post will probably more exciting than this one. Thanks for check in.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lambday

My buddy came to pick me up yesterday to go grocery shopping and go to her apartment for lamb. We had sweet potatoes, lamb, and salad. Oh my goodness, it was so delicious. Her and her boyfriend are excellent cooks. I told them I would prepare them a typical American meal. Any suggestions? 



After dinner we talked about US and Iceland relations. They talked about the presence of the US military in Iceland and how it influenced their traditions. They said that once the Americans came they were importing gum and tons of things that weren't necessary for survival. They said that they could tell people changed. The American dream was influencing Iceland and they were convinced money could buy happiness. The US left in 2006 and still has a bad reputation in Iceland. There was a term developed in Icelandic "kanamella" that was used for women that slept with American soldiers. It translates to something like American slut. It's frustrating to be from a country that is hated by everyone. I can't defend the US's foreign affairs because it's not something I completely agree with. Obama has helped our reputation, but it seems unlikely he will be reelected. 

Next we watched the Handball World Cup where Iceland played Austria and won! Apparently Iceland has a good handball team and are expected to do well. We play again on Thursday and I am pumped! I had never even seen a handball game before. It's kind of a mix between basketball and soccer. It was fun to watch because it was only an hour and it was a close game. 

Classes are going well. I haven't had too much homework yet, but I need to do some catching up on reading. Well, I'm off to geochemistry. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hike and Feast

January 17 

Today a group of exchange students went on a hike near Hveragerði. A bus dropped us off at the gas station in this town and then we walked along a road for an hour.



Group of exchange students walking.


The horses here are pure bred and have been around for 1,000 years.  Icelandic law does not allow horses to be imported from other countries and if the horses from Iceland leave the country they are not allowed back.

We hiked along a road for an hour before we got to this gate. That's when the going got tough.




Boiling water.


Mud pot.







The hike was a lot more treacherous than we anticipated. 


The hike was well worth the beautiful scenery.


We were told we were going to go swimming in a hot spring. We hiked for about 3 hours and finally made it to this river. This wasn't even our final destination it was warm enough to stick your feet in. It was getting dark so we headed back at this point. Most of the other exchange students continued the hike. I hate to think of hiking that in the dark.


The weather was perfect. A light jacket was almost too warm.


Beautiful Iceland.
Hitch hiking is very common and acceptable in Iceland.  We didn't have to wait more than 5 minutes before we got a ride back to Reykjavik.


Tonight we had a gathering in the attic of the dorm. Each person was to bring a dish from their home territory. I kept it simple and made Kansas Dirt (oreo and vanilla pudding dessert). It was a huge hit and was all eaten. 


This is cured shark. Somebody brought it to the feast. In some process it's fermented and then hung to dry for 4 to 5 months. It is a very typical Icelandic dish. The smell, taste, and texture were pretty awful. It wasn't as bad as I was expecting though.


When you eat the shark you have to take it with a shot of this Icelandic schnapps. 
Now I can cross eating rotten shark off my list. I don't think it's something I will have to do again.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Frozen Sheep and Classes

It's 10:30 am and I survived the first week of classes. Typically I would have another class at 1:20 on Friday, but we don't start lab until next week. Here's a look at my schedule.

Three of my classes are 1.5 hours and have about a 10 minute break somewhere in the middle. I have a lab for volcanology and environmental geochemistry. Disability, Inequlity and the Welfare State is only on Tuesdays and lasts 2 hours and 20 minutes. It will count as an upper level political science course and will make me 2 classes shy of a political science minor. So far the classes seem difficult, but very interesting.
In April we will go on a field trip for volcanology and in May we will go on a two day field trip for glaciology. I am excited to for these.

On Tuesday I went out for a beer with my Icelandic buddy. We talked for about 3 hours and had a really nice time. I am eager to hang out with her again soon. On my walk home I think I saw the Northern Lights. I tried to take a photo, but it was very cloudy and hard to see. I ran back to the dorms to get my friend Sarah to show her. When we got outside we were just looking around and saw smoke by the Natural Sciences building. We ran over and saw that it was rapidly growing. Neither of us had cell phones, but cars quickly started coming and in about 45 minutes the fire department came. I never heard anything else about it. The fire became more entertaining than the faint green streak in the sky.

Fire rapidly spreading that nobody seems concerned about.

On Wednesday there was a party to meet your Icelandic buddy. There were so many people there that most people didn't even have the chance to meet their buddy. I met some people, but I don't think I made any lasting friendships out of the deal. We left around 12:00 am to get hotdogs. After hotdogs we went to 1011 for more snacks.
Cool American chips. Not as good as Cool Ranch.

Big Kat

This eventually turned into digestive cookie and chocolate milk cereal.

Oh, what is this head in the freezer?

OMG it's a sheep. I guess people eat these. Seems like it's been around a while. Maybe we should just plant it.


I slept most of the day on Thursday and made a delicious mexican rice burrito. In the evening we celebrated Erika's birthday. 


Blowing out the invisible candles on her cake.


Plates are limited. Take what you can get.
When we arrived to the dorms the kitchen was absolutely disgusting. The coffee pot was full of mold, the microwave looked like it had never been cleaned, the refrigerators were full of old food, there was rice stuck in pots, and the whole place smelled awful. On Saturday we had a cleaning party and established some rules. Each week somebody will be on kitchen duty and is responsible for putting dishes away, taking out the trash, and maintaining cleanliness. I volunteered for this week. Sometimes you just have to establish rules. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

First day of class

If you click on the photos they will appear larger.

This is Gamli Garður where I am living for the semester. I'm told it turns into an over priced hotel during the summer. 

The main university building. This year actually marks the 100th anniversary for the establishment of the university.

Student union. 

Nordic House to the right with the blue roof. The natural sciences building is slightly behind it and is mainly glass. That's where all of my courses are. 

Map of campus. The dormitory I am staying in is just to the right of the half circle. It's outlined in black but is not labeled. I am happy for the location because it is quite difficult to get up for 8:20 am classes when it is completely dark outside.

Classes began today. I had quaternary environments at 8:20 this morning. It was tough to get out of bed, but I managed. Room assignments for classes are still changing. The room for the class changed and I didn't know so I found myself in a class that was all in Icelandic. I got the courage to leave after 5 minutes. The professor sent out an e-mail and still doesn't know where class will be on Wednesday. This really makes me appreciate the organization of universities at home. I slept for a few hours then went to my second class, environmental geochemistry. I think it will be a cool class. The teacher talked for about 20 minutes and then let us leave. I went to the bank and got my debit card and bought a notebook. Now it's time to buy books.

When you apply to the university you have a choice if you want to have an Icelandic buddy or not. I jumped on the opportunity and was assigned my buddy today. We are going to meet tomorrow. Woot!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Candy and Geothermal Pools

Saturday night there was karaoke at the Nordic House, which is just a building on campus. Björk hosted the event for something she was filming. It was funny to see her just mingling and casually playing music like she was no big deal. 
Anthony going for the candy at 1011. 1011 is a gas station that is open 24/7.
In Iceland they love candy and every Saturday is 50% off gummy bars. There are gummy bars in pretty much every gas station or grocery store. A gummy bar is like every candy store in the mall, but only more convenient. We went to get candy after the Björk experience. I finished all of mine by the time we got back. Gummy bar visits will definitely be a frequent thing for me. Iceland has a reputation for candy lovers and a lot of people say that the older people have missing teeth because of candy. I have not met or seen enough old people to prove the validity of this, but stay tuned for an update in a few months.


Tonight we went to a geothermal swimming pool. This one was all out doors, but some are indoors. Icelandic pools have very small amounts of chemicals in them so it is required to shower naked. After you are done showering in a room full of strangers you jump in your swimming suit and run in the freezing cold to a pool. There is a lap pool, leisure pool, and hot tubs. The hot tubs all differ in temperature. I first tried the medium pool and then went for the hot one. I have never been in anything so hot before! My goodness, it felt like my legs were going to fall off and I was going to faint. Needless to say, I did not stay long. There is also a steam room near the pools that you are welcome to use. I think I enjoyed the steam room more than the hot tub. Something about sitting in a room dripping in your own sweat was very nice for me. It is difficult to breathe in the steam room, but it is one of the most relaxing things I have ever done. They also have rooms with lights for those with seasonal depression. I don't think Iceland would be the place to go if you needed the sun since you see the sun for about 4 hours every day in the winter. It hasn't bothered me yet, but I have only been here for a week. Because of the high cost of alcohol, it is very common for Icelanders to use the pools instead of going out. It's a very naturally relaxing experience. 
The hot tubs are to the right and are not visible in this photo.

I love this study abroad trip because it's is not about looking at famous man made objects and getting drunk, it's about understanding the beauty of the Earth and becoming familiar with a unique culture. I arrived exactly one week ago and am excited to see what the next five months bring. Classes start tomorrow and I've got to get a decent amount of sleep. Good night world.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Weekend

Last night we went out to Icelandic Fish and Chips. I ordered haddock and it was absolutely amazing. I could really get used to eating fresh fish. The restaurant was cute and it was reasonably priced.

After that we decided it was time to experience Reykjavik night life.  We were all planning to head out around 11 pm. The students that lived in the dorms last semester laughed at us and said nobody would be on the streets until at least 2:00 am. We left at 1:30 and the bars were pretty empty. I ordered my first legal beer. It was a little exciting, but I just felt guilty that it was so expensive and gross. We went to three bars. I got extremely tired at 4:30 am so a friend and I headed back home. Most bars here close at 6 am. It's wild.

I got up and went to the flea market with a few other friends. I somehow lost a scarf on the journey here and found one there for only 200 krona. Wahoo! They sell also sell veggies, fresh fish, lamb and cured shark at the market. 

The photo is of a pond in between my dorm and the downtown area. It's finally completely frozen!  People typically buy skates from the market and then skate around on it all day. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Home, Sweet Iceland

Sunrise out my window at about 10:30 am.
I arrived at Iceland at 6 am on January 2nd. I have spent the week running errands, enrolling in courses, and figuring out how to connect to internet in the dormitory. I have been told it usually takes international students at least a week to get internet. I feel quite lucky that I got internet in 5 days. Classes start on Monday and timetables were finally finished today. However, most instructors do not know the location of the course. It is frustrating to me, but I am learning that everyone is very relaxed and no body seems concerned. I am having to reselect courses because of scheduling conflicts. I just hope it will all work out. All my courses will be in english. So far there is a conflict with volcanology and environmental geochemistry. Other than that I will be taking glaciology and politics of sexuality. I am excited for classes to start.

With the beautiful scenery and isolated location comes expensive prices. Since the legal drinking age here is 20 I looked into buying some alcohol. I found all the prices to be at least 4 times as much as in the US. I found $22 in my coat pocket so I took it to the bank to exchange it for Icelandic Krona. The lady at the bank giggled and told me it might buy me 1 drink at a bar. The currency conversion is about 113 Icelandic Krona to 1 USD. I have found the people to be very helpful and nice looking. Everyone I have encountered knows English, but I have been learning Icelandic to better understand the culture.

When I first arrived at the dorms there were very few people here. More and more people have been arriving and things are getting more exciting. There are lot of Canadians and Americans in the dorms. The wind has been blowing about 50 mi/hr and the weather is freezing. The sun rises around 11 am and sets at 4 pm. It is very difficult to get up in the morning and once the sun sets all you feel like doing is eating.
Downtown Reykjavik
Our dormitory is about a five minute walk to downtown. Downtown is along the ocean.

Famous hotdog stand. She knew I was from America and was excited to show me that Bill Clinton had been there.

Little taste of Kansas in Iceland.

My dorm room.

The rooms are small but luckily they each have a sink. Showers are communal.