If you have spoken to me at all in the last couple months, you almost certainly know that I’m going to Iceland next year. I was selected by University of Minnesota to participate in a scholarship exchange at University of Iceland for the upcoming academic school year, which means I finally have a college stereotype under my belt: doing my junior year abroad.
I will be attending the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, taking the following courses: Creative Writing, Icelandic Culture, Literature and Media, Language and Humor, Urban Anthropology, and Old Nordic Religion and Belief. Since I am probably the only person who finds not just one, but all of these subjects interesting, I won’t be writing about the specifics of my education. Instead, I will spend the next nine months writing about my travels in and beyond Iceland, with the occasional folkloric anecdote slipped in on the sly. I have to make my made-up major count somehow.
Since I still have about two weeks before I depart, though, I have no personal experiences in Iceland to describe. So as a primer/refresher, what follows is a brief fact sheet touching on the
Population: 334,303– roughly that of Santa Ana, California. 122,141 of those Icelanders live in the capital city of Reykjavik, which is about the same population as Norman, Oklahoma, a city I have never heard of but that Wikipedia assures me is real.
Land Area: 39,769 sq. mi/103,001 sq. km– just a few thousand square miles smaller than Kentucky. Compared to other countries, it is the 106th largest country, ranking between Guatemala and South Korea.
Most Beautiful Native Fauna: the Icelandic horse.
Government: Parliamentary Constitutional Government. I definitely know what that means. The legislative body is called Althingi, and it includes members from the Reform, Left-Green Movement, Independence, Bright Future, and, most importantly, Pirate Parties. Yeah. I’m going to a country where the Pirate Party holds a significant amount of executive power over the country.
Official Language: Icelandic, which is basically what Vikings spoke a thousand years ago.
Dominant Religion: Lutheranism, which matters because this year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and people will probably get it when I carve Martin Luther’s face into a pumpkin to celebrate.
Patron Saint: Saint Thorlak, who also covers fishermen and Scandinavian Catholics.
Other pseudo-cryptids: four Landvættir, or land wights, that protect Iceland: the dragon (Dreki) in the east, the griffin (Gammur) in the north, the bull (Griðungur) in the west, and the giant (Bergrisi) in the south. The Landvættir are said to have shown King Harald Bluetooth Gormsson what’s up when he sent a scout to figure out how to evade Iceland. Spoiler alert: he didn’t. The Landvættir also appear on Icelandic currency (ISK), which equals approximately .01 USD.
A Brief History: Vikings, world’s oldest parliament, Nordic foster child, pirates.
Odds that I Return to the U.S. in May: 1/50