What makes Iceland an enticing study abroad destination? Is it the prospect of studying in a sparsely populated country? Maybe it is the allure of taking a closer look at its amazing energy generation system that makes use of renewable resources. Perhaps it is simply the idea of staying in a place rich in Viking culture and history. And the cherry on top of this mega-cool study abroad cake? You can study in Iceland in English. 🍒📚🇮🇸
If you're still on the fence about whether or not to call Iceland home as an international student—and the (ACTUAL) Northern Lights aren't enough to convince you—read on to answer the question: "Why study abroad in Iceland?"
6 reasons to study in Iceland
1. Clean, Delicious Air
Iceland still relies on fossil fuels for energy but not for powering its cities. Icelanders use fossil fuels for transport and agriculture. Their cities, however, are powered solely by renewable energy. Almost 75 percent of electricity generation comes from hydroelectric plants, and the rest from geothermal plants.
Icelanders owe the nation’s cleaner air to Iceland's unique geology, which allows for the continuous production of renewable energy. Two of these renewable energy sources, stem fields near volcanoes and glacial rivers and waterfalls, are abundant in Iceland.
Air pollution still exists, however, because vehicles and fishing vessels use imported fossil fuels, but this is about to change. At present, there are moves to shift from fossil fuels to hydrogen, which is renewable. The first step among many is the Ecological City Transport System (ECTOS), which involved three hydrogen fuel cell buses and one fuel station and ran from 2001 to 2005.
2. Healthier People
Icelanders are a healthy bunch. Recent development surveys found that over 75 percent of populations sampled reported being in good health. This wonderful fact is due in part to Iceland's use of cleaner energy sources, add to this environmental consciousness and a low population density and Iceland has a sure-fire formula for healthy citizens.
Of course there might be other reasons for this golden age of health for Icelanders, including the fact that all of them are covered by a government-administered universal health care system that appears effective. So effective that visitors shouldn’t be surprised to find hardly any private hospitals or health care providers in the entire country.
3. Smoked Lamb, Anyone?
A study abroad trip isn't complete without tasting the local cuisine. Food in this northern Atlantic country is mostly comprised of lamb, fish, and dairy. The dish students must try during any study abroad trip in Iceland is the Þorramatur, a buffet usually served at midwinter festivals. The buffet includes a wide selection of cured meat and fish served with dense, dark, sweet rye bread and flavored spirit called brennivin. Truly an Icelandic tradition that can’t be missed while you study in Iceland in English!
If you're considering study abroad in Iceland, there’s one downside to remember: as your Instagram feed fills up with shots of green-streaked night skies, explosive geysers, and fluorescent-blue hot springs, you may be accused of posting fake photos. 😉
4. Deep Creative Cultural Roots
Iceland's culture is both deep and rich, which is readily apparent in its literary heritage and traditional arts, like weaving, wood carving, and silversmithing. Painting and sculpture are fields not to be taken lightly in the nation either. The work of sculptor Asmundur Sveinsson that adorns the main building of the University of Iceland in Reykjavik or the paintings of Johannes Sveinsson Kjarval and Einar Hakonarson clearly illustrate Iceland’s artistic roots.
Icelandic literature, particularly literature of the medieval times are without a doubt a source of Iceland's culture. Eddic poetry, Skaldic poetry, and Sagas poetry all of belong to medieval Icelandic literature collections. Iceland enjoyed a literary revival in the 19th century and produced some of the country's best pieces of literature, including Gunnar Gunnarsson's Guest the One-Eyed and Ships of the Sky.
Who hasn't heard of Bjork? This eclectic singer and composer from Reykjavik has been nominated for 13 Grammy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, and one Academy Award. She even won a Best Actress Award at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival for her work in Dancer in the Dark. Needless to say, Bjork is among the best musicians Iceland has produced.
Another Icelandic singer who deserves mention is Emiliana Torrini. If the name doesn't readily ring a bell recall the "Gollum's Song” part of the soundtrack for Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Torrini is the recording artist of “Gollum’s Song.”
5. Personal Growth
One major perk from studying in Iceland is the ability to see yourself in a foreign land. If you're anything like me when I first studied abroad, I had never been in a new country by myself—without the buffer of my parents. Study abroad in Iceland will be a time for pushing your comfort zone, staying open to new experiences, and working REALLY hard to be intentional about the way you spend your time. Yes, that means actually studying while abroad, but that also means doing personal reflection and goal setting to ensure you're maximizing the benefits of the experience.
Pro tip: Being thoughtful about your self-development while abroad makes conversations in future job interviews about your study abroad experience MUCH easier.
6. Other-Worldly Landscapes
Iceland's hot springs, geothermal pools, and volcanic activity make for great recreational opportunities. There are dozens of waterfalls—the kind worth chasing—not to mention black sand beaches, giant glaciers, fjords, and... puffins! Just remember that you'll be studying just south of the Arctic Circle, so packing warm clothes and waterproof gear is a must must must.
Where else can you find green hillsides dotted with slightly squat horses, adorable Nordic churches, and the aurora borealis? No where.
Next steps to Iceland study abroad
Don't pack your kilt juuuust yet. There are a few items on your study abroad to do list you should check off first.
Study Abroad in Iceland in 5 Easy Steps
1. Decide where to go. Figuring out where to study abroad in Iceland isn’t easy. The gorgeous highlands? Somewhere in the capital? Don't let the Kæstur hákarl (fermented shark) hold you back—choose a place that's right for you.
2. Your major courses or something more fun and experiential? You don't only have to take classes that pertain to your major back home (though it never hurts to knock out some credits towards graduation). Look at your course options and decide what combination of required classes and just-for-fun-or-because-you-want-to-learn-it classes are out there. Choose from earth sciences, business, ecology, psychology, and more!
3. Choose from the best study abroad programs in Iceland. Pay attention to past participants’ reviews, program/university reputation, location, and your ease of getting credits. Some schools or providers may even provide contact info for student ambassadors or past international students if you want the REAL dirt. Here’s our guide to choosing between study abroad programs in Iceland.
4. Plan your finances. Sort out funding before you go to afford daily essentials and splurge in travel (in addition to program costs and airfare). Do your research to have an idea of how much your study abroad program will cost.
- 5. Talk to your home university. Getting all your ducks in a row is largely dependent on what your home university requires. Talk to a study abroad advisor or the equivalent at your university to see what choices are available to you.
Study abroad—Iceland, we're coming for you!
Are you ready for one of the most exciting chapters of your life? We think so. And we think Iceland is the perfect antidote to a lackluster college semester. Your future is bright if you opt to take a leap of faith and study in Iceland!