When living in Iceland as a foreigner…

Suzanne from France and Lisa from Sweden are two of those who decided to face the challenge of learning Icelandic. Photo/Claudia Kerns

Suzanne from France and Lisa from Sweden are two of those who decided to face the challenge of learning Icelandic. Photo/Claudia Kerns

„Where do you come from?“ asks the teacher at the beginning of a lecture for the first year students of Icelandic as a second language. Then something happens that no one expects. The classroom is full of people.  As the class answers the question, the teacher counts the different nationalities of all the people in the room. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.” It seems like a running gag but it is not. She counts 23 in a row until there is a country mentioned twice. Finally, it turns out that about one third of the class represents different nationalities. Welcome to most likely the densest melting pot of the University of Iceland!

This semester, more than 100 people started the BA programme Icelandic as a second language, with an interest in learning Icelandic properly. Even though immigration in Iceland is on the rise, Icelanders are surprised when they hear from people who are enthusiastic about studying Icelandic, a language that is only spoken by a few people in the world.  In the program you find people coming from Eastern Europe, Russia, Scandinavia, Central Europe, Latin America, North America, Asia, Africa and Australia etc. Everyone with their own personal motivation and story behind them.

Luxurious to be a student again

Suzanne from France and Lisa from Sweden are two of those who decided to face the challenge of learning Icelandic. They met on the first day of this autumn semester, at an introduction meeting for those learning Icelandic as a second language. Since then they have become friends and now they meet each other almost every day. Icelandic is the fourth language Suzanne is learning.  For her, it's like a dream. She has a degree in Nordic Studies but learning Icelandic has been on her agenda for a long time. All this because she is interested in this particular language. Others of her age have already filled up their CV and are building up a professional career but Suzanne takes the freedom to follow her study interests. Icelandic will be her fifth degree. Chapeau!

Photo/Claudia Kerns

Photo/Claudia Kerns

“It feels so luxurious to be a student again" Lisa emphasizes ,with a big smile on her face. She has been living in Iceland for one year now but perhaps it is more accurate to say that she lived in between Iceland and Sweden, her home country, until this summer. What started out as a one-year long distance relationship between Lisa and an Icelandic man resulted in Lisa´s decision to move to Iceland. Everything went smoothly for her and she adapted easily to Iceland. Yet she seems a bit sad about leaving Sweden and the company in Gothenburg where she had been working for ten years but she realistically considers this step as necessity in order not to get stuck. Learning Icelandic is something that will give her better access to Icelandic social life and “real” jobs, which is what she hopes for.  

Different prices for coffee at Háma and Stúdentakjallarinn

Meeting with Suzanne and Lisa is pleasant. They are both positive about their new life here in Reykjavík even though, of course, life is not always sunshine and rainbows. And even though they are wondering about “weird” cultural habits in this country. lf you want to see what drives Lisa crazy you only need to stop your car somewhere and check your mobile phone for a few minutes while running the engine.  “In Sweden you are charged with ISK 15.000 when you do this stupid and non-environmentally friendly thing” is what she would like to say to everyone who does this. But she doesn´t. Maybe she should? Whereas Suzanne is wondering why there still aren’t different prices for coffee at Háma and Stúdentakjallarinn – regular price for using cups and extra charge for using take away cups.

Taking more concern about environmental issues is also the message they would give to Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, the President of Iceland, if they met him. Well, Iceland is small and he is still connected to the University of Iceland. It is therefore not totally unlikely to run into him one day, by accident. If such an unpredictable moment were to happen it might help to be prepared so that you can make yourself understandable. That way you might be able to voice your opinions. Take the chance to shape the environment you want to live in. Closing with this appeal, the only thing that can be said is that foreigners in Iceland count. The better their lobbyism, the more of their ideas and goals will reach public attention. Even more when they speak Icelandic. Thus: Icelandic as a second language, it is great that you exist!

Claudia Kerns writing for Stúdentablaðið

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