So today marks a year since I moved to Iceland. It’s been such an amazing year. Not only have I been doing a masters in coastal and marine management, I feel like I have been gaining other skills alongside it (mainly learning how to clear snow as fast as possible!).
My year in Iceland started with a few sunny weeks as I settled into living in Isafjordur. Meeting my classmates as well as some locals in the first few weeks really helped me feel less homesick. I skyped my friends a lot in the first few weeks to help feel that I was still connected to my life back in the UK. I have continued to do this throughout the year by keeping in contact through postcards, skype and facebook. I miss my university in Falmouth, especially when we look out of the window here you cannot even see the house across the road because of a snow storm, but I mainly miss all the friends I made during my time there. It was an amazing experience not just being able to live next to the sea but also being able to participate in weekly sea swims as well as volunteer with a wildlife cruise company.
In the months leading up to Christmas it was hard to stay as positive about living in Iceland. The boat tour to see seals and go to a hot pot with the university we went on in august seemed like a world away when the snow started to hit. Luckily my friend from high school came to visit at the end of October and I had a few days in Reykjavik with a visit to the blue lagoon too.
This really helped, because although Isafjordur is a really nice town it can be isolating especially when I didn’t have a car. The northern lights made an appearance as early as August, though they were very faint. We saw them a bit clearer in September and they just kept on getting better and better until December when the clouds covered the sky most nights as snow was a common occurrence.
We went to a barn party in the middle of nowhere in October which was pretty amazing as we cooked all our food on an open fire and had music playing while we all sat around and talked. We also had a halloween party at the end of October which gave us something to plan. Being in the student association helped as we organised karaoke events and parties and a winter dinner which gave us something other than our masters and the dreadful weather to focus on.
In the background of my masters and planning events with the student association I had started spending a lot of time with Chris, who had moved here to work for Kerecis, a medical company. We spent a lot of our lunch times in Husid, a little cafe/restaurant and most of our nights watching Downton Abbey, building snowmen and talking for hours. We got closer and started properly dating. It was strange but brilliant having someone who I clicked with and who understood me so well.
Towards December the snow was getting really bad, we woke up one day and had to dig our way out of the house as the snow was past our knees. I knew Iceland had bad weather but I never knew it could get this bad. Apparently it was the worst winter in about 40 years so no wonder! We had a really good lecturer for our last module and we had a winter dinner, potluck style which was a really nice way to end the year.
Going home for Christmas was an odd experience. Not only because it looked like we might not get out of Isafjordur, since the flights were cancelled for 3 days before our flight, but because it felt odd leaving a place which seemed like home now.
Arriving back home to my family was brilliant and seeing my dog again was definitely a highlight. However not having to trudge through 2/3 foot of snow just to walk anywhere felt odd and not normal! Christmas was really good though and it was nice to be back home for a while. For new year I flew up to Scotland to see Chris and meet his family which was slightly nerve wracking but I think it went ok!
Flying back in January was really great, most of my classmates seemed to be on the same flight back to Isafjordur. We hadn’t had much time off from our masters and getting back into it in January was quite tough. We had to start thinking about our thesis and start finding supervisors.
We participated in the solarkaffi near the end of January, which is where pancakes are eaten and coffee is drunk to welcome the sun back as we hadn’t seen the sun in town since November as it does not rise above the mountains.
I had some friends from my old university visit in January which was really fun and involved us getting a little hire car stuck in the really deep snow along a small fjord road which was a once in a lifetime experience (well hopefully!) It was pretty scary as we got towed and were very near the edge of the cliff leading down to the water! Their visit was followed by my sister visiting which was great, but she did get stuck for a few extra days because of bad snow which messed up her other flights!
Valentine’s day we went out for a meal at the fancier of the 3 restaurants and I got spoiled with lots of red roses! We were spending most of our time with each other by February which was really good and it already felt like we had known each other forever.
In March we got to see the solar eclipse from the top of the town at the cross country ski hill. It was pretty amazing as the sun was only just above the mountains. At the end of March my parents came up to visit and we all went down to Reykjavik to spend my birthday in the blue lagoon and Chris’ driving around the golden circle. It was a really good week having my parents and sister visit and seeing more of Reykjavik.
I also bought a car which was quite a big step! Driving on the other side of the road on the other side of the car has been a challenge but I have got used to it now. It also meant we could go to IKEA on our way back to Isafjordur. Having a car has greatly increased what we can do, as we can drive to neighbouring towns to the swimming pools and it has enabled me to drive down to Hvammstangi this summer where I am working.
I had some more friends visit the end of April which was really fun, we went sledging and swimming a lot! I also flew to Glasgow for Chris’ sisters wedding which was a really fun few days as we stayed in a nice hotel after it and it was my first experience of a scottish wedding. I really enjoyed the ceilidh dancing. We did end up getting stuck in Reykjavik on the way home though for a few days and when we arrived back in Isafjordur it was the first official day of summer and guess what? It was snowing!
We had a 90s party in late April which was the last party we organised as the student association. The beginning of May was mine and Chris’ 6 month anniversary so we went out to Edinborg again for dinner. We also went to the hot pot we were trying to get to when we got stuck last time. May was not a particularly fun month as we had a long economics module but one of the last weekends in May we got to go to Hornstrandir. We got to see Arctic foxes up close which was amazing and I never thought I would get to see one so close!
In June I got to go whale watching during a module in Husavik as well as visit many hot pots along the way! Seeing a whale in the wild has been on my bucket list for many years and it was just amazing. We even saw blue whales! On the way back I stopped at Hvammstangi where I am doing my thesis research.
I was very lucky with my thesis topic as I had planned to do studies on seal behaviour around the Westfjords in relation to tourism but I had received an email from the seal centre offering me a summer job to write a report on the use of a thermal camera on a drone that would be flown over the seals and I could then do my thesis research alongside this using the wildlife watching boat that was based here. It is a brilliant oppourtunity to get to work with seals, which are my favourite animal, and also get lots of research for my thesis.
I was back home for a week or two before I came to Hvammstangi for the summer. Chris’ parents came to visit so we went on a boat trip to Vigur island. One of the weekends me and Chris also went on a little camping road trip around the south of the Westfjords.
I have another month down here in Hvammstangi and then I am back in Isafjordur until January/February time when I hopefully will have finished my thesis write up! Then it’s time to look for a proper job, no more being a student, which is actually quite scary to think about!
The winter will hit us again in a few months which I am not particularly looking forward to. Since we survived this past winter the next winter will hopefully (fingers crossed) seem a lot better!
This year has been incredible. I have learnt how to knit (not just scarfs but Icelandic jumpers too which I am pretty proud of), I have seen spectacular northern lights, I have spent many many hours in natural hot pots in many locations, I have swum in the sea more than once without a wetsuit, I have helped organise many student association events, I have finished the taught part of my masters and as an added bonus I fell in love.
I am so happy I chose to move to Iceland to study my masters and I cannot even express how much I have enjoyed my time here. Not only have I really enjoyed the masters but I have managed to spend my summer working with seals which is my dream job! I know the next few months are going to be really hard work as I have a report to write and my thesis to write but I have some nice breaks planned in between, including going back to the UK for 2 weeks to visit friends and family and an anniversary meal in November with Chris.