We had the chance to interview, Guðlaug Matthildur Jakobsdóttir, Head of the International Office at Reykjavik University. Iceland is API’s newest study abroad location! You can learn more about spending a semester in Reykjavik here.
(API) Iceland is a new and novel destination for many Americans… what is it about your country that you think sparks the imagination of so many travelers?
Ever since the volcanic eruption in 2010 tourism in Iceland has erupted! The combination of wild landscapes (like no other on earth), northern lights, 24 -hour daylight in the summer, and the cultural scene in Reykjavik has been drawing crowds. Travelers today have changed, it is no longer about lying on beaches and chasing the sun. People want an experience to remember, different from anything else they have done before, or will experience at home, and Iceland delivers.
(API) What is the adjustment like for international students living in Iceland?
Before arrival students are a little worried about living in a new foreign culture (especially about the language!) but when our student arrive they quickly realize that everyone here speaks English and Reykjavik is a modern city with an ever growing migrant population. Our university is a small and personal community and students are in close contact with our international staff making them feel supported throughout the adjustment period.
(API) What brought you to RU? How did you come to be involved in the international education field?
What brought me to RU was a coincidence. A great coincidence in fact. I met the director of the office in a breakfast party at a friends house, we had a good conversation and one month later she contacted me and asked if I was interested to come in for a job interview. That was it and I fell in love with the university. For three years I was responsible for the outgoing exchange students and then I took over the position as the head of the office.
I have always been interested in different cultures. I was brought up in a guesthouse in a beautiful National Park called Skaftafell, now a part of the Vatnajökull National Park, in the south east of Iceland and it was the most normal thing in life to have a mixture of different nationalities at the breakfast or the dinner table when I was a teenager. I would wake up in the mornings listening to German, French, English or other languages while getting up.
(API) In your opinion, what is the profile of an ideal RU international student?
Our international students need to be open minded, willing to step out of their comfort zone and push their borders to develop themselves both personally and educationally.
(API) Describe the international community in Reykjavik and at RU.
“I’m going to study in Iceland!” This is not a very common phrase uttered around the world. Iceland is a very new educational destination, with only a handful of students coming here to study just ten years ago. The students that arrive at RU a very mixed community but have one thing in common that defines them: they are all strong individuals willing to step out of their comfort zone, stepping off the beaten path to reach their personal and educational goals. And they are not coming here for the weather!
(API) What surprises international students or visitors most when they arrive in Iceland? What do most say they didn’t expect?
As mentioned before many of our students are surprised at how well Icelanders speak English. They are always surprised by the weather. Many of our students from the USA are very surprised how approachable the university staff and professor are compared to the large institutions they have come from in the US. We are on a first name basis with our students and all professors are 100% approachable (well this is the country where you can knock on the Presidents front door).
(API) What are 3 things that any visitor to Reykjavik must do? (attractions, excursions, etc…)
For our students, the Northern lights are a must!! Usually beginning in October through to February, our students are always in awe of this amazing sight, which they are treated to many times during their stay. Then of course it’s the golden circle (Geysir and the Golden Falls) a short trip out of the city. In Reykjavík an “I Heart Reykjavík” Walking tour is a must. http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/ It’s a great way to get to know some of the gems of Reykjavík.
(API) What are your favorite “local” Reykjavik attractions (or cafes, shops, etc)?
Reykjavik is small but modern capital with plenty on offer for our students. The geothermal pools are a must and are visited regularly by locals. Sitting in an outdoor hot tub watching the snow fall is an unmissable experience. Many of our students recommend the lively music scene, Loft, Kex and Hurra are offering an active calendar of live music events and are a great way to get to know the icelandic music scence. Cafés like Babalu, Reykjavík Roasters and Mokka (on of the oldest café in town) are great places to drink good coffee and hang out. Bío Paradís is the home of the cinema lovers, showing indie flicks, older movies, cult films and a selection of new art-house productions, the programme offers something for everyone.