If you’re considering study abroad in Iceland, there’s one downside you should consider: 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. Iceland is so otherworldly it’s hard to believe it is real until you see it for yourself. Studying abroad on this tiny island in the Atlantic is sure to be an unforgettable experience, whether you’re touring renewable energy plants, puzzling out declensions in Icelandic, or tasting Kæstur hákarl (dried fermented shark). Grab your camera and come study in Iceland!
Just south of the Arctic Circle, the Nordic island of Iceland is home to vast expanses, glaciers — and puffins. Its small size lends itself well to exploration, and you’ll likely be able to visit several locations during your stay. If you’re not already an outdoor enthusiast, you’ll certainly be converted by the time you depart!
The world’s northernmost capital, Reykjavik is the country’s cultural and economic hub, as well as one of the world’s cleanest, safest, and most sustainable cities. About one third of Iceland’s 330,000 inhabitants call the city home, and many students choose to study abroad in Iceland here at Reykjavik University or the University of Iceland. Icelanders are quite welcoming to foreigners, and you likely won’t have trouble finding local friends for a quick soak in a hidden thermal pool or a visit to Laugavegur for a late night out.
Further afield is the town of Akureyri, located in the northeastern region. With a population of about 18,000, it’s Iceland’s second-largest urban area and is an important port and fishing center. The city is surrounded by mountains, helping to insulate it from cold winds and making it one of the warmer places to study in Iceland. Despite its size, the town has a vibrant cultural scene, and students can participate in folk dancing or check out the annual medieval festival.
On the Westfjords peninsula, Ísafjörður provides international students an opportunity to study coastal and marine management issues at the town’s distance learning center. The area is quickly becoming a popular destination for outdoor activities, and tourists enjoy hiking, skiing, surfing, and kayaking nearby. The adventurous can even explore the abandoned village of Hesteyri, which has sat empty since 1952 and is only accessible via ferry in the summer months.
When you study abroad in Iceland, don’t be too worried about the climate — it isn’t quite as cold as you’d think, but it’s unlikely you’ll be spending weekends sunbathing either. The southern coast, which includes Reykjavik, is warmer, wetter, and windier than other regions, and temperatures are generally mild. It’s a good idea to invest in a sturdy rain jacket before arriving to study abroad, as rain is common and unpredictable. Also important to keep in mind is Iceland’s northern location, which equals long, dark winters and nearly 24-hour daylight during the summer months. But don’t worry; there’s still much light to be gained from attending top schools for international students in Iceland.
Study Abroad Programs in Iceland
While Iceland’s hot springs, geothermal pools, and volcanic activity make for great recreational opportunities (and sometimes grind an entire continent’s air travel to a halt!), they also significantly impact how Iceland makes and uses energy. Along with its relative isolation from other nations, Iceland’s unique geology has contributed to its status as a world leader in environmental innovation and sustainable energy solutions.
For this reason, many students who choose to study in Iceland focus on topics such as the environment, renewable energy, and sustainability. These programs help students master and understand the uses of alternative energy technologies and acquire a deeper understanding of the role these technologies play in the country's socio-political climate.
Students often embark on field trips to expand their learning inside the classroom. With hydroelectric and geothermal power plants within driving distance, program participants are able to learn first-hand how Iceland harnesses renewable and sustainable sources of energy. These types of alternative learning environments also foster immersion and understanding of Icelandic culture.
Studying abroad in Iceland also introduces students to the Icelandic language, which remains nearly unchanged since settlers arrived in the ninth century. Language lessons are complemented with excursions to help students understand local culture and explore the surrounding landscape, gaining a better understanding of both its recreational and energy-related uses.
Classroom lectures aren’t the only style of learning in Iceland. With a focus on new ways of producing sustainability, many programs offer hands-on fieldwork. Sometimes paired with on-site accommodation, this gives students the opportunity to explore alternative ways of living and boost their understanding of the most up-to-date energy saving and sustainable living techniques.
Scholarships & Costs
When you’re living on an island in the middle of the ocean, prices are bound to be higher than you’re used to. That doesn’t mean that studying abroad in Iceland is out of reach, and with proper budgeting, it’s possible to experience life in Iceland without going in the red.
Costs for study abroad programs in Iceland typically include tuition costs, while some also provide accommodation. Fees for a semester of study vary between $15,000 and $20,000 while summer programs run between $5,000 and $10,000. Enrolling directly in an Icelandic institution will be less expensive. Generally, the cost of airfare to Reykjavik is not included. Meals may be included in homestay situations, but are most often the responsibility of the student.
It’s important to budget a fair amount for personal spending while in Iceland. A bus ticket in Reykjavik typically costs about $3, while a museum entry runs about $8. A casual lunch might cost around $15 and a half liter of beer is $9.
Before you start frantically looking for cheaper programs, consider that many universities and colleges offer financial aid or scholarships when participating in credit-bearing programs. This may help finance your time abroad. You can also search for study abroad-specific scholarships or raise funds yourself.
Accommodation & Visas
Where you’ll end up sleeping partly depends on the study abroad program that you choose. Some programs involve moving around the country, staying in housing that’s been pre-arranged. This could include homestays with Icelandic families, guest houses, apartments, or dorms. For students who plan on spending a semester or more in Iceland, your primary options are renting an apartment or living on campus. The housing market can be tight, so it’s best to get started looking before you arrive, if possible.
Determining your need for a student visa depends on several factors, including how long you’ll be in Iceland and the program you’ve chosen. A short-term study course may necessitate a different visa than enrolling in a Master’s program directly with an Icelandic university. It’s important to verify with your program what kind of visa they recommend and follow their guidelines. If you do need to obtain a visa, this must be done prior to arrival. More information can be found at the GoAbroad Embassy Directory.
Benefits & Challenges
Your sense of wonder just might get stuck in the “on” position while studying in Iceland, thanks to its blue-tinged glaciers, the eery northern lights, and steep, jagged fjords. This natural beauty, combined with the many ways locals are harnessing energy, are sure to impact your relationship with the world around you. Whether you return home as an avid hiker, climate change warrior, or eager scientist, Iceland’s unique environment will leave a lasting impression.
The environment isn’t the only reason to explore Iceland. You’ll quickly discover that Icelanders are friendly and open-minded, eager to exchange ideas and teach you about their culture. The arts are a big part of Icelandic identity and asking a local to teach you about their passion, be it traditional folk music, literature, or dance, is sure to provoke interesting conversations.
Depending on how long you’ll be in Iceland, it’s a good idea to put some effort into learning the native language. While learning Icelandic can be difficult, it does have Germanic roots and therefore some commonalities with the English language. Luckily, English is widely spoken around the island and you should be able to get around, even if you can’t puzzle out what stoppistöð means!
Iceland is an ideal location for students interested in studying the environment while immersing themselves in a beautiful landscape. It is truly a country like no other, and the invigorating combination of self-reliance, community, and culture is sure to make you consider life from a new angle.