Thursday, July 14, 2016

More about Iceland

Hæ allir! / Hey everyone!
As you may have noticed, I've given my blog a temporary little makeover in preparation for my trip to Iceland, renaming it "eldur go ís(land)," Icelandic for "fire and ice(land)," two elements which are quite typical and defining of the country, its existence, and its fabled natural grandeur.

Since I've neglected this blog a great deal in the last several months, I realize that I haven't talked a lot about my upcoming adventures in Iceland, why I'm going, and just what it is I'll be doing there. Today, for that reason, I wanted to offer up a little more background info about the trip, and also just about the country itself.

Essentially, I was notified in the spring of 2015, a few weeks after getting into Beloit College that I would be among a group of select incoming freshman to be awarded a "Field Experience Grant," an allotment of money to organize and carry out a project of some sort over the summer of 2016. Naturally, my mind immediately jumped to venturing abroad, and I aspired to use my FEG to participate in a summer language program at an Icelandic cultural institution called the Árni Magnússon Institute. I also separately applied to the Critical Language Scholarship (essentially a college version of NSLI-Y, the high school critical language program I did in Turkey) for their Turkish program.

When I unfortunately didn't make the semifinals for CLS, I decided that I should line up some alternative plans in case I didn't make it for the Árni Magnússon Institute's program either. I thought of other places I might venture. Through online research, I managed to find the University Center of the Westfjords (Háskólasetur Vestfjarða in Icelandic), an institution of higher education in Ísafjörður, the largest town in the Westfjords region in the northwest of the country, about seven hours north of the capital, Reykjavik, as a potential backup to still get me to Iceland, as I've very much wanted to visit the country and learn Icelandic for a long time. I also thought of other languages I wish to learn, looking into programs in Budapest and Debrecen, Hungary, to build on the meager base I managed to build in my Hungarian class at Beloit last semester. I even thought of going to Tel Aviv, Haifa, or Jerusalem to learn some Hebrew, or to Brazil or Portugal to gain a base in Portuguese, two other languages that have also interested me for quite some time.

My original intention, if I had been fortunate enough to get into the Árni Magnússon Institute's program, would have been to do that one, which took place from the 1st to the 30th of July, and then to immediately follow it up with a two-week intermediate Icelandic course at Háskólasetur Vestfjarða thereafter. In the end, unfortunately, I didn't make it into the Árni Magnússon Institute's program. At first, I turned my attention to the Hungarian, Hebrew, and Portuguese programs I mentioned above, because I had somehow gained the mistaken impression that the beginner level program at Háskólasetur Vestfjarða was only a week, and I didn't feel like that would have been worth it. However, upon closer inspection, I discovered that it was actually three! Figuring that would indeed be worthwhile, I quickly applied and was fortunate enough to be accepted. Iceland was in the cards after all, and I was overjoyed.

About three weeks later, in mid-March, I booked my plane tickets, and the deal was sealed. Sitting alone in my room after midnight, fighting a bad cold, I was overcome nevertheless with positivity and excitement. My adrenaline was rushing, my blood was pumping, and I felt alive and joyful in the purest way. I immediately went out for a walk into the clear, cold, starlit night, in spite of how late it was, dancing and skipping through a park near campus with glee.

The program will take place from the 1st to the 20th of August, but I will be in Iceland from July 28th to August 21st. The first four days I will spend staying at a hostel in Reykjavik to do some exploring and sightseeing immediately after my arrival. On the 1st, I will make the the seven-or-so-hour trip north to the Westfjords on a chartered bus serviced by the program with fellow participants, and for the three weeks of the program we will have our Icelandic language lessons five days a week, with weekends free for our own activity. The program ends on the 20th and the return chartered bus service back to Reykjavik leaves that day. I will stay overnight in a different Reykjavik hostel, and then fly back to Chicago the next day on the 21st, to return from there straight back to Beloit's campus to begin my sophomore year of college the very next day.
The place where I will stay with the other participants of my program is called Hotel Núpur, which is a former boarding school right outside of Ísafjörður. We will regularly go into town on trips organized by the program, which I look forward to.

Ísafjörður itself is the largest town and political seat of the Westfjords region. Its population is around 2,600. Its name means "ice fjord," a reference to the breathtaking geographical location and beauty. The town was first settled as far back as the ninth century, when Norsemen first arrived in Iceland. When I will be there, I will have unfortunately just missed the midnight sun, which lasts from around June 10th to 29th (though I'm sure it will still be quite light much of the time all the same). In spite of the minuscule population and historical isolation from much of the rest of Iceland, the town is said to have a surprisingly urban atmosphere, boasting a school of music, a modern hospital (the old hospital building having been converted into a cultural center with a library and showrooms), and even a reputation as a center within the country for alternative music, with an annual festival called "Aldrei fór ég suður" ("I never went south," a reference to a Bubbi Morthens song), which attracts people from all over the country and even overseas. And, of course, the University Center.
The town at night in the winter.

A better view of the namesake fjord.

The center of Ísafjörður.

A map of the country.

The Westfjords region is highlighted in red.

Ísafjörður is marked precisely within the region here.
The University Center's logo.
The University Center describes itself as a "small higher educational organization" which was established in 2005 and began operations in January 2006. It acts as a distance learning center that serves around 100 distance students. It offers two main master's programs, one in Coastal and Marine Management, and another in Marine Innovation. There are also a number of summer programs offered, among which the Icelandic language and culture immersion programs like the one that I'm doing. There are also a few others offered for different levels in the language.

I've wanted to visit Iceland due to my interest in its culture, language, and stunning natural beauty for a long time. The language has remained virtually unchanged from the Old Norse spoken by Viking colonists who came to the island around 870 CE, enduring so perfectly through the five hundred years that have elapsed that speakers of modern Icelandic can pick up a book, saga, or document written by their Viking ancestors in Old Norse and read it without any difficulty. The language also remains staunchly insular, fashioning new words out of existing roots rather than taking on foreign loanwords like many other languages do. For instance, the word for electricity, rafmagn, literally translated means "amber power." The word for telephone, sími, originally meant "chord."
I have always found the historical power and uniquely self-preserving nature of this language fascinating, and yearned to access those things by learning it. In my opinion, it's also a quite beautiful language to listen to. It's light, soft spoken, and airy, drifting in soothing up and down motions like the waves the Vikings crossed to bring that language to the island that's saved it to this day for all the world.
The contemporary culture also interests me greatly, seeing as the country is renowned for its extremely well educated and literate populace, environmental consciousness, concern with patronizing the arts and literature, and maintaining a progressive and dynamic national character and society.

I cannot wait to be exposed to all of these things in just a few weeks' time, and to learn and grow from this adventure in every way I can. I will always be grateful to Beloit and to the University Center of the Westfjords for helping me to realize this dream.

That's all for now, just wanted to offer up some background info.
Bless bless! / Bye bye!

PS: A cultural point of interest: most Icelanders don't have last names in the traditional sense. Rather than having a surname shared by the family, Icelanders traditionally use patronymics, a name derived from their father, as their surname. A person's patronymic surname is formed from their father's name, followed by "-sson" or "-sdóttir," meaning ___'s son or ____'s daughter. For instance, if rendered in this way, my name would be Nicholas Edwardsson (literally Nicholas, Edward's son), and my sister Carson would be Carson Edwardsdóttir (Carson, Edward's daughter). I've heard that in some cases a mother's name may be used in the same way instead, and that a very small number of people have begun to take on familial surnames like in other parts of the world. But the vast majority of the population still just uses patronymic surnames.
Just a fun fact.

(Here is another favorite Icelandic song of mine! It's called "þorpið," which means "village.")

(An a cappella version of the national anthem, "Löfsongur," meaning "Hymn.")

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