Iceland: An OHS Student’s Experiences Abroad

By: Grace

The Stanford OHS’s student body is not defined by where the students reside. Rather, it’s their ability to travel that gives rise to unique perspectives and experiences that make the school’s community truly dynamic. Joseph (2017), a full-time sophomore, is one of the students who has had the opportunity to enjoy a larger section of the world through his travels, as well as through living in Iceland. For him, the spectacular scenery and progressive nature of the country are what makes Iceland a very special place to visit.

Joseph first visited Iceland when he was six years old, en route to Europe with his family. Upon landing, he was struck by the “volcanic landscape and striking contrast,” that make Iceland an “idyllic, albeit frequently overlooked country.” Ever since traveling to Reykjavik for the first time, he has returned frequently to perfect his Icelandic and to enjoy what Iceland has Sewell_ArgoArticle2_Photo6to offer. His favorite parts of the country are Hornstranðir and Rejakanesbær. The former is a nature reserve that is situated in Iceland’s Westfjords. Joseph loves this area because of its “limited number of people and good kayaking.” The latter is a beautiful municipality, appreciated for the provocative cliff formations and rich wildlife that includes puffins as well as many other kinds of birds. Iceland’s landscape varies greatly from place to place. Although the country is flat for the most part, there exist some parts that feature “dramatic cliffs, glacial lagoons, and extinct volcanic craters.”

After one has admired the scenery, the next step is to taste the local cuisine. It is based mainly on sustainable and organic produce. Traditional ingredients include smoked fish, lamb, and dairy products. All fish that is cooked “must be caught outside of the 12-mile international border.” Some varieties that Joseph enjoys include arctic char—native to the local waters, it has the color of salmon and the flavor of trout—halibut, and black cod. Lamb is a cornerstone of the Icelandic diet, all the more so, becuase Hangikjöt, a traditional dish, usually served for Christmas, is cooked from smoked lamb. The national drink, skýyr, somewhat similar to yoghurt, is usually flavored with various fruits, including kumquats and raspberries. Even though it has been a part of the local culinary tradition for more than a thousand years, it continues to be of great importance today, as special competitions of skýyr -producers are held, with prizes awarded based on the criteria such as creaminess and smoothness. Vegetables in Iceland are also required to be organic, though they are a bit more difficult to cultivate, as the space that can be used for agricultural activity is limited, and the climatic conditions are far from ideal. When volcanoes erupt, the glaciers melt, flooding the soil, which makes long-term cultivation hard. As a response to this problem, greenhouses are frequently used, which increases the stability of the crops. In general, Icelandic recipes are strongly influenced by the surrounding nature, making them especially fresh and delicate.

Cultural life in Iceland is unique, as it fuses old traditions with current pop culture, which makes for enthralling and spectacular events. Annually, a prestigious music festival, Iceland Airwaves is held in Reykjavik, featuring popular Icelandic and international artists. The line-up has included internationally known collectives, such as Of Monsters and Men, Radical Face, La Femme, and The Shins.

The Icelandic educational system also reflects the well-established tradition of progress and innovation. Students get a relatively short 6 weeks of break in summer, as the warm season is relatively short, while longer breaks occur throughout the rest of the year. All students are required to study English intensively, with an option to be introduced to an additional language in their fourth year. In general, there are quite few private schools, so the education of most citizens is a direct responsibility of the country’s Parliament. Students attend preschool up to the point of reaching an age of 6 years. Then, they enter the stage of compulsory school that lasts up to the age of 16. Starting from this point, they may choose to attend an upper secondary school till the age of 20. After, they can choose to continue and deepen their studies at college level. The institutions that provide higher education include the University of Iceland, the University of Akureyri, and Reykjavik University. Many research opportunities are also available, such as the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, a program charged with disseminating knowledge of Icelandic literature, through the analysis of Icelandic language.  Iceland possesses a unique culture that ties together its ancient Nordic roots and global tendencies. Bravely facing the future, Iceland accepts the responsibility to prepare its citizens to be productive members of both Icelandic and global society, nurturing a spirit of innovation, combined with a deep respect for tradition.

Iceland is a remarkable country that consistently displays a very high level of both innovation and creativity, succeeding in maintaining quality in all aspects of its daily operations. Joseph feels privileged to have been able to experience its beauty, and he hopes to return soon. The country will undoubtedly continue to inspire not only its residents, but also the lucky travelers, be it all or just a tiny part of Iceland that they have had a chance to explore.

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Categories: The Argo

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