Nabila Goes Global in Iceland
Tell us about your degree and why you decided to do exchange
I’m currently in my 3rd year of my Bachelor of Environmental Science, majoring in Conservation Ecology and Urban Environments. My family hosted a friend from France during high school, and ever since then I’d been considering an exchange experience myself.
Where did you go on exchange and how was it relevant to your degree?
I lived and studied in Iceland for the autumn semester in 2019, enrolled at University of Iceland (Háskóli Íslands) from August to December. I chose subjects that aligned with core courses for my degree. The setting was particularly relevant to my field of study. After the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010, the country has undergone accelerated urban expansion to accommodate the influx of tourism, which impacts environmental and conservation matters.
What did a typical week on exchange look like?
I had classes 4 days a week. Some of my courses involved trips to museums, wetlands and to unique geological features in the Icelandic wilderness. My studies were infused with Icelandic history and culture, giving me an equivalent education with a novel perspective. I admit as the semester transitioned into winter it became harder to wake up for early classes, as the sun rose by about midday!
There is a vibrant music and art scene in Reykjavik, and quite a few activities to link into through HÍ university and social media. Being a relatively small city, I would often bump into acquaintances, both local and/or student, and organise things with them. Through word of mouth I enjoyed going downtown in good company to see a variety of bands playing; on other weekends I took the opportunity to go on road trips with fellow students, who soon became good friends and travelling companions.
“My friends from Japan taught me how to make okonomiyaki, and I introduced them to the jaffle. I even celebrated American thanksgiving. This experience has broadened my world as I now have solid friendships from multiple countries including Iceland.”
What knowledge or skills gained on exchange are the most valuable to you?
The courses I undertook validated my reasons to study in this field, and I saw their practical application in contexts other than Australia. Knowing that I just needed to pass my courses in Iceland to maintain my current GPA at Griffith definitely took away a lot of pressure for perfection. I found myself saying “yes!” to invitations and engaging in a more active, spontaneous social life. Having a healthy life outside of university was incredibly rewarding, meaningful, and improved my outlook on life beyond. I realised I’m very adaptable to new situations and I admire that I am very caring and a resourceful problem-solver. I learnt strategies to meet and connect with new people, and I did see a community-oriented side of myself develop.
Exchange was a unique opportunity in that I came to live as a local rather than a tourist, which gave time and depth to my experiences in Iceland. I not only learnt about Icelandic culture and daily life, but also that of my fellow students. My friends from Japan taught me how to make okonomiyaki, and I introduced them to the jaffle. I even celebrated American thanksgiving. This experience has broadened my world as I now have solid friendships from multiple countries including Iceland. Living independently gave me confidence that I could reside somewhere else entirely unfamiliar and be ok. It’s planted a seed for more travel that wasn’t there before.
Travelling isn’t as scary or boring as I thought; I’m already looking for more opportunities to return.
“I saw northern lights for the first time at Þingvellir National Park. I went back a second time to camp overnight so I could lie down and watch them from the tent without craning my neck for hours.”
What did you enjoy the most about exchange?
I attended the Arctic Circle Assembly, a 3-day conference covering issues and innovation across Arctic countries. There was a sobering yet captivating discussion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report findings. We also heard from various first nation communities; their challenges, partnerships and successes. It was a confronting but overall enthralling conference to take part in.
I saw northern lights for the first time at Þingvellir National Park. I went back a second time to camp overnight so I could lie down and watch them from the tent without craning my neck for hours. It was possible to see them in the heart of Reykjavik but it was even more magical in the quiet away from the city lights.
I pushed physically outside my comfort zone to make the most of my semester. I embarked on a challenging 1.5-day hike from Skógafoss to Þórsmörk, trekking between the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers. I also entered two timed races, one of which involved beer.
I joined a choir and learnt some Icelandic, German and English songs, which we performed for Christmas in Harpa Concert Hall.
Finally, I made my first snowman!
What advice would you give to current students looking into exchange?
If there’s a course that you’re keen to study but it’s listed as a graduate at your exchange university, you might still be able to enrol in it once you arrive at your exchange university. Asking for permission is much more straight forward when you can directly ask the program convenor there. The Study Plan you have signed with Griffith is not set in stone!
Be aware you might be eligible for tax back on new items (such as a camera to photograph your travels) through the Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS) , which can be claimed at the airport on your departure day.
Pack light. Apart from AU/EU power adaptors for devices, I found a lot of items (that were appropriate for the climate) could be borrowed or bought for a reasonable second-hand price. Don’t forget your travel documents in your carry-on luggage for both entering and exiting the country.
I recommend arriving a bit early before semester start to sort out potential immigration/ enrolment issues. Perhaps do a bit of travelling too?