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ich war hier: IslandEB1

Reykjavik University, Iceland, Wintersemester 2018/19

When I decided to go on Exchange as part of my International Business and Economics program, I wanted to go somewhere unique and that I would normally not have the opportunity to visit, and that would also give me the opportunity to earn a Double Degree. Reykjavik seemed like the natural fit: one of the most exotic sounding places in the world (especially for a Mexican), intriguing but also tremendously exciting. I was not wrong in this first assertion, as both culturally and geographically it is very different from anything I’d ever experienced before.
I was very nervous before my mobility period: I faced many challenges preparing my departure from Germany and arrival in Iceland, most of all legal, that ended up delaying my arrival for a week. I was used to the German bureaucracy by then: many requirements and many deadlines, but overall somewhat effective. Iceland is a different story, requirements vary person to person and no one really had a clue on how to deal with my residence permit, since I have one from Germany where I’d lived for over a year, but I still am a Mexican national, and the requirements are abysmally different for each country.
In the end a middle ground was found: I was to comply with the monetary, “criminal” and health insurance requirements as if I was Mexican, but I was not forced to undertake a medical examination or do an interview at the immigration office (only had my picture taken), like if I had a German nationality.
One of the things that bothered me the most about the visa process was that I was forced to purchase an additional health insurance, even though my German public insurance policy was perfectly valid in Reykjavik. This, and the payment of the visa procedures (with all the certified translations, expedited letters and purchase of government documents, both in Mexico and Germany), ended up taking a substantial financial strain on me: my mother even had to travel to Mexico City to acquire a letter from the National Security Council to verify that I had never been convicted of a crime in Mexico, even though I had a letter that said exactly the same from the local government of Jalisco that Iceland refused to validate.
In the end, in a hurry and a week late I was able to turn in all the documents and get a visa to travel to Iceland and finally enroll at Reykjavik University. Ms. Verity from the International Office was very helpful in the process and told me everything I needed to do, since I missed the orientation days due to the delay in my visa processing.
Then I was faced with one of the biggest challenges of my life: my housing situation. Before I went to Iceland I joined several Facebook groups for Housing in Iceland, one moderated by RU and the rest by private individuals. I was told that rentals are usually advertised fairly late and that I shouldn’t stress about finding a place too far in advance, but I was contacted by a man via private message and he told me he had a room for me in Reykjavik, close to the university, with all the services included (heating, electricity, internet and laundering facilities) and with a private toilet and other amenities separate from his own apartment. He mentioned he was a host to other students and had a second room rented, which all seemed fine until I arrived. The room was not what he had advertised, and I was stuck in a rental agreement of 4 months in a tiny attic room with no own toilet and a psychopathic landlord.
The staff at RU helped me get out of a situation that was growing increasingly dangerous and frightening and let me stay in a faculty member’s home until I found a suitable room to move into. They even covered the legal fees of a lawyer, in hopes that I would get the money back from the landlord, as I had paid 3 months in advance.
All in all, I would recommend future RU students from Schmalkalden to be very careful about the places they rent, as I heard from colleagues and other students of similar sticky situations, where the places were falsely advertised, or they were harassed by their landlords. I would pointedly recommend finding student houses (WGs) or renting full apartments with other students, instead of renting a single room from an Icelander’s apartment or home, as I later found that sharing homes with other students is safer and overall better.
I met my two student tutors a couple of days after arriving, Tomas and Gudrun. Since I had missed the orientation week I didn’t know how to get many of the things I needed for my stay, like a bus pass and a gym membership. They told me how those things worked and even gave me a ride to the main bus station to get my bus pass. During my entire stay they were both really helpful and nice to me, and even helped me with coursework and research when I needed it.
I had two coordinators that were responsible for my time abroad, Ms. Verity from the international office and also Ms. Johana from the school of business, who took care of all the academic aspects of my stay in Reykjavik University. She is the one who explained how the double degree partnership worked, what is expected from me for the thesis and how I should go about defending it.
Overall both coordinators did a splendid job, and I am very happy with their counsel.
I did not have the opportunity to visit the courses before I enrolled, since I had already chosen my subjects and the period to make changes to the schedule was fairly early in the semester, and most of the block classes hadn’t happened when the change period closed, so I was stuck with the first ones I chose, but I am happy with the classes. They were all taught in English and I was surprised to see that most of the students participating in them were in fact NOT foreigners, but local Icelanders. This is almost always never the case in other schools where the courses are taught in English, because they are tailored for foreigners. The fact that so many locals took classes in English or a whole degree in English is very telling about the level of internationalization of Iceland. Everyone speaks English or is at least willing to try; which makes for a super welcoming space for foreigners.
The level of the lessons varied from class to class, according to the teacher and I don’t think there’s a standard level in the University as the coursework and the style of teaching make a huge difference. The only thing that I believe most classes had in common is that they all had a great amount of teamwork, which is not something that I was accustomed to from my experience in Germany, where presentations and projects tend to be more individual or at most pair work.
The classes I chose were very different: Strategic Management, Creativity, Human Resources and Marketing. Because of that I think I got to meet very different people in each class and assembled a good number of good professional and personal contacts.
The schedule was created according to the classes I had chosen, as the classes are only offered once and not several times throughout the semester, so the student can’t really choose the timetables. I was not awfully unhappy with it, but I definitely did not like the fact that classes were only taught during the weekends (Friday through Saturday, sometimes Thursday afternoons as well), because the masters’ degrees in RU are meant for working professionals. This meant that I had a lot of free time during the week, but then I couldn’t travel on weekends with my friends because I was busy at school.
The university organized many extracurricular activities for the students, like conferences, parties and clubs but they didn’t really have a sports offer, which is what I was most interested in. I love playing sports in my free time and I struggled to stay active during the semester, since I do not really enjoy going to the gym.
The university offers three food options, a regular canteen (Málid), a coffee house (Te og Kaffi) and a mini supermarket (Haskolabudin). I would definitely recommend the coffee house, although it is quite expensive. The canteen offers a daily breakfast and a daily lunch and you can buy 10 passes of each in advance to make it cheaper and that is quite affordable, but I did not like the food at all the couple of times I ate there. They do have a salad bar that is ok but overall kind of expensive.
The classrooms are very beautiful, and all have easy connections to plug in computers and electronics. There aren’t really many rules, and I often saw my classmates eating and drinking inside the classrooms during breaks but also while the session was active. At first I thought this was odd, but it was a common occurrence.
If I had a question about the University, I would go to different people according to what the question was. In general I relied heavily on my friends from class, or directly on the teacher. Professors are very approachable and always eager to help the students which I appreciated and liked a lot about the school. If the question was academic or about the course load or the program, I would ask Ms. Johanna. I only ever asked Ms. Verity questions that had to do directly with the Erasmus program.
As I mentioned earlier in the text I spent the first two weeks of my stay in a renter accommodation that was falsely advertised and a complete nightmare. After that, a member of the faculty (Executive Director Johana Vigdis) let me stay in her home while I found a new suitable place to rent. I ended up renting a space in a shared house of other students and foreign workers in Iceland. There are 8 girls living in the house and we share kitchen and bathroom, and I find this alternative infinitely better than sharing an apartment by myself with someone else.
The accommodation is completely furnished, and the rent is hot, meaning all the services (excluding cleaning) are included in the price.
Rent prices in Iceland are extraordinarily high, especially compared to Schmalkalden and other parts of Germany, where sharing a house with friends is the cheapest way to live. Each month cost me 85.000ISK, which depending on the conversion rate is anything between 800 and 750 euros. Considering it was a single room in a shared house, outside the city center this is quite a lot of money, but the house is in a very good location, close to the bus hub Hlemmur and many grocery stores and other amenities. I did pay a deposit of 30.000ISK.
Reykjavik is about 50 minutes away from Keflavik Airport, so getting to and from the airport is a challenge in itself, since you have to hire a shuttle bus that costs about 23.500ISK, or 20 euros. First you have to get to BSI bus central to catch it, so there is a fair need for research to be done before travelling. When I first arrived in Iceland I used a full shuttle service, which means that the bus took me from the airport to the bus station and then a smaller vehicle took me directly to my final accommodation, since I didn’t know how the bus system worked or how I would go about in the city.
My first accommodation was a brisk 15 min walk away from the university, but then when I moved to Skipholt the distance grew considerably. I have a buss pass which means that I can take bus n5 from Hlemmur station to School and it takes about 10 minutes. However the bus system Straeto is almost always running late, so I have to take an earlier bus than necessary almost always to make sure I am there on time, which is a waste of time in general.
A very important aspect when I chose my second accommodation was the people living in the space. I went to see a couple of apartments before I decided on Skipholt, and ruled against most on the case that they were apartments I would have to share by myself with the tenant, I did not want to be in a vulnerable position again and wanted to live with a bigger number of people.
It should be noted that while on my hunt to find a new place I was harassed by possible landlords that were friends or acquainted with my first landlord (the one whose home I vacated in a hurry) and the general experience was unpleasant for me, but I hardly think this will be the case for other students. I would even recommend to go to Reykjavik and book a hostel for a week or two and hunt for an apartment directly there, instead of making rental agreements and paying places that they haven’t seen personally and haven’t met the landlords.
Most places in Iceland have reduced fares for students: bus companies, theaters, museums, gyms and even coffee houses. I took full advantage of these type of discounts and tried to enjoy as many things from the Icelandic culture as I could, with the help of many wonderful local friends.
Overall I would say the immigration office of Iceland has a good calculator of monthly expenses for the city, which are about 1450 euros a month. This is a lot of money, especially for a student, but there are many part time jobs available in Iceland for students that need extra money. I would say that the best option is to save money before going to Iceland, because the university course load can be quite challenging, and to me it is not worth it to fail a class to get extra money. They have to account for up to 800 euros a month for rent, about 350 for regular groceries and the rest for eating out, using public transport, going to the gym and paying entrance tickets to cultural activities.
The infrastructure of the town is okay. It was very interesting to see that only downtown and in shopping areas there are sidewalks, and in many parts of the city the highways are the only way to go places: walking is impossible. The bus system will get you anywhere but a single ride can be fairly expensive at 450ISK or about 4 euros. Students can get a 6-month bus pass for 24.000ISK like I did and use it throughout the stay without a worry.
There are many touristic attractions in Iceland to visit, and most of them are more readily accessible during the summer, rather than the winter since many roads and places are closed due to the bad weather. I would say the entire Golden Circle route is a must-see, as well as the southern coast in places like the Solheimajokull glacier, and the Reynifsjara beach.
Overall I would say it is quite challenging to make Icelandic friends if you are a shy person, because they are too. Everyone is extremely friendly and agreeable, very nice “gentle giants” I would say, but very shy as well. They are not the most likely to strike up a conversation with someone but will be very friendly if you speak to them first, and extremely welcoming in their homes. I made a number of excellent friends that offered everything from rides, to meals in their homes, to road trips and shots in nights out. I think meeting the wonderful Icelanders has definitely been the best part of my experience abroad.
The evaluation methods are very different from Germany, since most classes have only partial or midterm exams, as well as projects, reports and in class participation to get grades from. It has been quite challenging to adapt to this new form of evaluation, since it requires a lot of effort and work throughout the semester, rather than only during the month or so that finals take place in Germany.
At the time of the writing of this report my stay in RU has not been fully completed, as I am participating in a Double Degree that requires me to write a thesis for both Schmalkalden and Reykjavik, with the help of a counselor in both schools.
I do not think I would move to Iceland permanently to work or undertake a PhD but I think it is a wonderful place to spend shorter periods of time.


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