The University of Iowa

“You are not in Iceland for anyone else but you”

September 18th, 2014

Samantha Rust is a senior from Ramsey, MN majoring in English at the University of Iowa. Sam is currently studying abroad on the University of Iceland Exchange program in Reykjavik, Iceland.

By Sam Rust

“You are not in Iceland for anyone else but you.”

Right now, I’m sitting on an 8x8m slab of hardwood flooring. I just did some yoga, I’m listening to music and browsing Facebook-- essentially nothing different than I would be doing back home. Yet there are little things that remind me that I’m actually nowhere near home: I have to bring my own roll of toilet paper to the bathroom, and the water in the shower is scalding and reeking of sulfur so I know it’s authentic Icelandic geothermal water.

The combination of my regular routine and the elemental stank confirmed the surreal: I’m officially moved into Reykjavik, Iceland.

 A view of the hot springs and surrounding mountains the first night of my study tour at Landmannalaugar.

My geology course started right away Monday morning, and I was still winded from getting swept up in the storm of geological jargon thrown around by my peers and instructors. A five day “study tour” spanning the southern coast of Iceland – surrounded by thirty students with foundational backgrounds in geology and geography – left me feeling pretty inferior (as I study English at the University of Iowa.) I honestly can’t complain too much, though. I learned about lava fields while standing on lava fields, and instead of reading about the current seismological activity of Barðarbunga I just looked at it while an expert in the field dumbed it down for me. It was the epitome of “hands-on experience.”

The first night all forty of us shared two massive bunk beds in a quaint “mountain hut” situated at the edge of the Laugahraun lava field in the highlands of Iceland at an area called "Landmannalaugar". I was embarrassingly unprepared for an extended camping trip and only had a sheet for warmth, and let me state the obvious here: Iceland is actually pretty cold.

I can confidently say that that first night of cuddling didn’t foster any hatred for anyone in my group (phew) and instead, the necessity of warmth shattered any personal bubbles that may have existed. All of us skipped the small talk and became pretty dang comfortable with each other that first night. There really isn’t any better way to make or break a new friendship than cuddling up with a bunch of strangers after sharing a long day of hiking, eating barbequed lamb, and relaxing in the hot springs while a ribbon of Aurora Borealis streaks across the sky. It sounds fictional, but that first night in Iceland was too surreal for me to fabricate.

A spectacular view of the Reykjavik sunset from my apartment window.

With that being said, I’m currently holed up in my room by myself while a substantial portion of my group is at a fellow classmate’s collaborating to create a dinner after a day at one of the many geothermal pools scattered around Reykjavik. Yesterday, the group went to the Penis Museum (yes.. Iceland has a legitimate and esteemed phallus museum) and then went bouldering at the local gym afterwards -- an agenda I was fairly interested in, yet I also politely declined and instead toured the city by myself and enjoyed a plain bagel with raspberry jam for dinner.

Details aside, the gist of this post is that despite the advice of study abroad veterans, making best friends with a surplus of people from around the globe and “never saying no” isn’t the bread and butter of a study abroad experience. As my best friend and boyfriend reassured me, “you are not in Iceland for anyone else but you.”

And those are the words that I needed to hear. I am consistently amazed by the friends that I have made in Iowa City and those friends and family I’ve continued to be close to in Minnesota -- they are beyond supportive of everything I have chosen to do with my life, and for this I could not be more grateful. It took me three-plus years to forge and trust these friendships and expecting a similar result after a semester in a new school abroad is practically destined for bummersville. The goals that I’ve set for my semester abroad are wide-ranging and realistic, and they include sharing stories, experiences and memories with new friends and classmates. But those things come with time, and sometimes time is something that I need solely for myself and experienced by myself.

I don’t feel as though I’m missing opportunities by being introverted. I’m experiencing this beautiful city of Reykjavik at my own pace, and right now that pace is a slow one. I am spending some time wandering and absorbing by myself. I will see a gallery of penises – whether I decide to go solo (erm… probably not, though…), with a tourist group, or with a few classmates. I feel as though accomplishing the things that I want to do is one of my stronger character traits – I mean, I’m in Iceland right now, aren’t I? – so checking off that Icelandic bucket list isn’t a concern of mine.

  A photo of me at the summit of Mt. Bláhnjúkur (930m / 3,080ft) on the first night of my geology study tour -- also at Landmannalaugar.

This weekend I’m going to the Icelandic Tattoo Expo to check out the body art scene here in Reykjavik, and I just splurged on a ticket to the music festival, Iceland Airwaves, that takes place in November. The remainder of my classes start on Monday, and they are an assortment of culture, language and history classes designed especially for exchange students, and despite the inevitability of small talk I’m looking forward to learning about both Iceland’s and my peers’ cultures.

I already miss home immensely, but that just means that I’ve got a good thing going on there. I’m infatuated with this quirky city, and I know I’ll establish something that I’ll miss here, too. It’ll just happen at my own pace.