The Exchange Student’s Survival Guide

The academic year is well underway and if you are an exchange student at Háskóli Íslands, then you are probably starting to notice the subtle ways in which Icelanders do life (and school) differently. With help from students who hail from countries far and wide, I have compiled a list of tips to help you cope with the inevitable culture shock of being an exchange student at Háskóli Íslands.

1) Stand your ground
Icelanders, according to many foreigners, have a stubborn inability to queue. Have you ever stood in line at Stúdentakjallarinn or Háma, turned your head for just a moment, only to find a group of five, six, or seven Icelanders suddenly standing in front of you? You are not alone! Forming straight, orderly lines is not an Icelandic specialty, so stand your ground, remain alert and politely assert your place.

2) Be social…in the right circumstances
Many exchange students at HÍ also report that Icelanders seem shy, cold and unfriendly, especially at first. If you plan on living in Reykjavík long-term, then you must forget about having chats with cashiers at grocery stores and stopping in the hall to engage in cordial conversation with an acquaintance passing by. Icelanders aren’t generally rude—they are direct, blunt and honest. Don’t take their stoicism personally. Instead, propose to spend time with them off campus, at a bar, a concert, or a club. In the right environment, Icelanders’ icy persona quickly melts away and you will soon discover that they can be some of the warmest, kindest people you have ever met.


3) Skip the formalities
You might have noticed that Icelandic professors are a breed unto themselves. Some words of advice from fellow exchange students: don’t waste time writing lengthy emails filled with pleasantries and formalities to your professors. No matter how detailed and specific your message to them becomes, you will almost certainly receive a curt reply of about one to two sentences (usually several days later) that only partially answers your questions! However, despite their frankness (bluntness), Icelandic professors are ridiculously accomplished and refreshingly flexible, kindly extending deadlines in cases of emergency or difficult circumstances.

4)      Make friends, not enemies
A lot of exchange students find that networking in Iceland is absurdly simple. There is quite literally a “cousin on every corner”, and everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows Björk. It is also imperative that you don’t make enemies in Iceland, because you will probably see them on a regular basis as you are walking around town! Instead, take advantage of the close-knit nature of the Icelandic community to expand your social circle and professional network for the future. You will be glad that you did.

As you can see, studying abroad in Iceland is an experience like no other. If you keep these few helpful tips from experienced exchange students in mind, then you will not only survive but also thrive during your studies at Háskóli Íslands.