The bus that I took to Akureyri arrived in town slightly earlier than scheduled. This led to some stress. Because, you see, I was supposed to meet the international coordinator from UNAK and hitch a ride with him to my dorm. And I was to sit in the cold, wet night and hope that this person was coming to get me and lead me to my home. I had no way to contact him, save his work email that doesn’t get checked after 10 pm. Everything else in this journey had gone well so far, but I was nervous that this part might fall through. As I was trying to not freak out, a lady arrived at the bus station with (presumably) her children; as they boarded the bus, the lady asked me if I was waiting for someone. I told her that I was waiting for Runar and she said “Oh, I work with him! We’re in the same office; I’ll call him.” Quite frankly, I don’t remember a whole lot after that because I was so tired and at that point I got slightly more relaxed about getting “home”. I did call my mom once I got there, though. Because I am a square.
The next morning/afternoon I woke up to people moving around on the floor and got to meet my hall mates (housemates? nearby residents?). I live on a hall with five other people. One is the only other American student here, another is a German lady here for an internship, and finally three lovely Canadian ladies. Once we’d all learned each other’s names, we headed out to the nearest grocery store.
This grocery store was very different those you find in the US. Most grocery stories are arranged in a grid with the aisles perpendicular to the front of the store. This one was not. Parts of it were; there would be a few aisles that would dead end on and aisle that was ran parallel to the store front. Also, there were many freezer cases, but all the dairy and fresh meats were in a walk in fridge, essentially. Though I recognized essentially none of the brands, many of the products were familiar, which was reassuring.
After returning to our dorm to put groceries away (in the three fridges?!). We decided to walk downtown to the public pool. Akureyri is a quite a quaint and charming town, so the walk (read: hike) was pleasant, but the culture shock at the pool was real.
At first, it seems very normal*– you pay your admission (in this case 750 isk ~ 7.50 usd) and then you go to the locker room, and through to the pool. HOWEVER, once you get to the locker room it gets weird. As some of you may know, Icelandic custom is to shower off before you go to swim. Not rinse like you do in the US, but shower as in strip and scrub. I’m pretty sure that the Icelanders thought that we were strange for being surprised, but oh well.
*normal is, obviously, subjective. “Normal” is what’s normal to me.
The “pool” itself came off more like a water park than a pool. Rather than a lap pool with a hot tub in the corner, it was several pool like features all together. There was a stream room, hot tubs at various temperatures, and an ice bath at a balmy 6 C. Additionally, there was a children’s area, slides, and a lap pool. The culture shock continued on deck as well—you have to keep your hair tired up if you wear it long. Knotting your hair when it’s soaking wet is always a fun challenge, as I’m sure uncapped swimmers will tell you. Finally, you are not supposed to move from the showers to the lockers until you are completely dry. The advantage of that is that you can put your socks on while you’re still in the locker room without a problem.
Once we got back from the pool, we all took back to back turns cooking our dinners and I finished unpacking afterwards.
The next day was a bit crazier. For starters, we all had to be up to walk to school in time for a 9 am orientation meeting. I found the UNAK orientation to be different from all the others I’ve attended for the following reasons:
- Classes at UNAK have been in session for almost a week
- All the students sat in a classroom and the presenters (teachers, counselors, etc.) came to us, I believe according to a predetermined schedule, but very few overlapped.
- No one seemed especially concerned that we were missing class to be at this orientation
Overall, though, it was interesting and there was quite a bit of useful information.
After lunch, after orientation, we embarked on a walk that was more towards the Lord of the Rings end of the scale. We hiked over hills to the other side of town (a few kilometers away) to go to thrift stores as well as a different supermarket. However, it was a beautiful day: very sunny, you could see the tops of ALL the surrounding mountains, and it was a full 15 C. Once our shopping was done, we meandered back through downtown in search of the bar we were to meet up at later that night, two hikes later.
Yes, UNAK has school sponsored events at the bar! It is called a Pub Quiz and here’s how it works: All the international students meet with the officials from the school—essentially an ASB sort of organization, and the Real Adults that go with it. Everyone grabs a beer and splits into teams of three. The Real Adults then ask a series of trivia questions and the teams write their answers down on a piece of paper. The questions ranged from “What zodiac sign is Bjorn?” to “What is the beer in The Simpsons called?” to “How do you spell ‘Reykjavik’”? Finally, you name your team, hand in your answers, and wait. My Canuck teammates and I did not win first, but we did win second, much to our surprise. Literally, my teammates had gone downstairs to replenish their beverages and missed the announcement that two teams had tied for second, but because the judges preferred our team name, The United States of Canada won with 18.5 points. The rest of the evening was fun as well. There was lots of meeting people ant talking about what brought us all to Iceland. We even all sang happy birthday to Bjorn.
By the way, it’s cold.