1st day of school

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Veröld (“World”) on the University of Iceland campus. This building — “hús Vigdísar” (“house of Vigdís”) — was founded in honor of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir (“Vigdís, Finnbogi’s daughter”), the first democratically directly elected female president in the world. She was president of Iceland from 1980 to 1996. Whereas my own country of birth, Finland, was the first, in 1906, to give women full political rights, i.e. the right to vote as well as run for office. But Finland got its first female president, Tarja Halonen, only in the year 2000. She left office in 2012.

SEPTEMBER 15th 2018 — My studies in Icelandic as a Second Language at the University of Iceland started with an orientation week in the penultimate week of August 2018. The first day was beautiful and sunny, warm but not too warm.

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Orientation event “The Keys to Success at the University of Iceland”.

I was especially impressed by the warmth radiated by the head of the program, Professor Jón Karl Helgason (“Jón Karl, Helgi’s son”). He spoke softly and with a glint of humor, starting his introductory talk with a photo of his newborn son. He told us this was going to be our competition for the coming year — he expects us to match or exceed the progress of the young one.

This warmth is something I have rarely felt in the presence of Finnish teachers, but in Iceland it is not uncommon. Many Icelanders know how to bring warmth to a whole room, as Jón Karl did. It made the place feel welcoming and supremely safe. Whereas in Finland, in my experience, it is more common for rooms to have a constant low-level tension. It makes a huge difference.

But I don’t mean to put down Finns, who can have fine qualities of their own. And I have been fortunate enough to have studied under several exceptional ones.

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The menu at the student canteen Háma (“Gobble”) on my first day.

During a break I found my way to the canteen, where I ate healthily: vegetable balls in curry pineapple sauce with pasta and salad, with a vitamin drink.

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First meal at my new “home away from home”.

Other orientation week activities included a guided tour of the campus, hotdogs and soda in the open air, and of course a student party at the on-campus Stúdentakjallarinn (“The Student Cellar”) — with free bjór (beer).

As we were told during a later visit to the Settlement Museum, beer has long been important in Iceland. In the old days, no feast would have been possible without it, and feasts were very important community-strengthening events.

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Landsbókasafn Íslands — Háskólabókasafn (“National Library of Iceland — University Library”) is the largest library in Iceland, with over a million items, including valuable manuscripts. So valuable that the library is surrounded by an actual moat. The building took 16 years to finish and opened in 1994.

I headed home in the evening to my apartment in Kópavogur (“Seal Pup Bay”), feeling it had been a good start.

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Aðalbygging (“Main Building”) at night. University of Iceland, late August 2018.

I would soon be moving much closer to the university, however. But that’s a different story.

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A cool jazz trio jammed at Stúdentakjallarinn at the close of the first orientation day.
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