Hey! I'm Natasha, a third year LLB student and I'm currently on my exchange semester at the University of Reykjavik in Iceland. Iceland is just an amazing, amazing place: the landscape is ever changing and absolutely breathtaking – I 100% recommend coming here for a holiday, and also as an exchange location.
The semester started in mid August, and I am taking masters courses in International Human Rights, International and European Energy Law, Refugee Law and a Moot Court Competition based on the EFTA court. The courses are pretty interesting, and it's nice to have had choice in what I am learning, unlike back home... There were only 6 courses to choose from, but one of the main reasons I chose Reykjavik was due to the Human Rights and Refugee Law courses. I had credit requirements to get in, so I was supposed to have 150 credits to get in, but no one has checked if I've actually got them or not so I guess it doesn't matter that much? The classes all very interesting, quite weirdly taught - like Human Rights is “intensive teaching” so we get taught once a month for a few hours, and then Energy Law is not only law students, so it's rather simplified from a legal standpoint. But otherwise they're cool, and my Refugee Law teacher is an absolute badass and she's just so knowledgable, it's great. She organised a session for us with a refugee from Sudan, and also a woman who has been working “on the front line” in Greece helping refugees. Our classes are a lot smaller, it's all seminar style and so you can really discuss stuff. It's also interesting to see how a state as small as Iceland (330,000 people) fits into the international scale of things. For example, my Refugee Law teacher suggested that Iceland have a basic income – like they voted for in Switzerland and Utrecht recently – because it's such a small state it's a good place to have “experiments” on how new ideas could exist in society.
I'm also working whilst I'm here, which was not necessarily part of my plan but within about a week I realised that I wouldn't be able to survive my exchange without doing so. The erasmus money that you get (compared to other places) is somewhat pitiful, and as I said, everything is extortionately priced here. Where I work, a slice of cake could be as much as €8, and alcohol is also very, very expensive. But I get paid well, and it's a nice way to integrate with other people. I am living with other exchange students, including Jakob from our program. It was beyond difficult to find housing, but luckily I did... I share a bedroom which can be irritating but my housemates are super nice, so I'm having a great time. Plus I live in the centre of town which is a massive plus, and sharing a room means that the rent is lower – I still pay over €550 a month though: hence why the €440 erasmus grant I got for this exchange is sort of a joke. I have friends who live close by and pay around €900 a month. The thing is, Reykjavik is quite a small centre which is surrounded by sprawling suburbs (well, as sprawling as they can be to house 200,000 people). If you live in the outskirts, you may well be closer to Uni, but the buses stop running at around 11.30 at night, and so if you want to go out then you'd have to pay for a taxi. Doing that 3 or 4 times a month, plus rent would be around €600 a month I imagine. However, if you apply here then you are coming with an idea that it will be expensive, and after a while you sort of become immune to stuff being so costly. Plus the currency is around 130 Icelandic krona to €1, so every time you pay for stuff you're paying thousands of krona and so I never really know what I'm spending – maths is not my strong point. But as my dad always says, money is a capitalist tool used to oppress the masses, and I've sort of stopped caring about what I spend (because I'm working, not because I'm a spoilt princess).
And now for the fun stuff – other than just work and studying! I've travelled a bit, and am hoping to do some more within Iceland. This country is absolutely insane, it changes every time you go around the corner. On one trip, we were driving along, marvelling at how green and beautiful it was and then as we turned a corner everything was black and dark. Adding that to the fact that we were approaching a glacier and there was a temperature change, safe to say we all felt a bit creeped out. It's all lava fields, glaciers, waterfalls and mountains topped with a plateau: the tourist office really got it right when they named this place the land of fire and ice. It is possible to drive around the whole island in around 20 hours, but it is actually kind of impossible to drive for more than about half an hour without wanting to stop and look at something at the side of the road or whatever. I've been to the black sand beaches, to some truly fantastic waterfalls, and checked out geysirs, and I will be going to the Glacier Lagoon when my brother comes to visit. It seriously is ridiculously beautiful here, and I am so happy that I ended up here... It's difficult to describe, so check out the pictures! It wasn't my first choice, but actually I could not be more glad that I came here as opposed to my other choices simply because it's such an “odd” destination. By odd I mean that I don't know anyone in the year above who came here, and I do not know that there are any other exchange students from Groningen here other than me and Jakob. Also, it is unlikely that one would choose to move here (well for me anyway, when I compare to the other places I applied to). Iceland has, in recent years, become a tourist hotspot, and this is demonstrated perfectly in the prices here – of food, of eating out, clothes and alcohol. Regarding food – puffin and whale are local delicacies. I tried fermented shark, because that's apparently what you eat when you're with someone who has just got engaged (not me haha) and a bar gave it to me for free, but I won't eat it again and won't eat puffin or whale either. I did go puffin watching though, which was pricy but cool and thankfully the rest of the natural sights are all free, and there are a lot of free concerts or cultural events to go and check out. The first or second week I was here there was the Reykjavik Culture Night, where the whole main street was totally transformed and there were free concerts, food stalls and exhibitions. In a couple of weeks there is the Iceland Airwaves festival, with acts like Dizzee Rascal, Santigold and Warpaint performing. There are some places, obviously, which are total tourist traps, like the blue lagoon (it's still really cool though), but there tends to be a non touristy alternative. Like, you can go to natural hot springs as well – but be careful, a friend of mine got burnt really badly because the water was actually like 90 degrees celsius rather than the balmy bath temperature he was expecting (whoops).
I am just having the best time here, and really hope that more RUG LLB students come here in the future!
You can find more of Natasha's personal experience on her blog: https://nmharte.wordpress.com*.