It’s a grey but mild day in Reykjavík and I am planning to enjoy a low-key weekend of homework and coffee drinking. I’m already a few weeks behind in my blogging, and more blog-worthy things just keep happening, so I better start getting caught up. And I don’t actually have any coffee at home right now, so I think I will bribe myself into being productive by saying that I will allow myself to go out and get coffee after I finish this blog post and perhaps read a chapter from my grammar text.
So, my caffeination (and therefore my overall well-being and sanity) depends upon this.
Let’s get going and try to recap August 25 – 29.
mánudagur / monday (25. ágúst)
On Monday morning, there was an orientation at the university for all Icelandic as a Second Language students. We all gathered in a classroom in Háskólatorg and were given an overview of the placement testing and the two programs – the one-year practical diploma program (for students who don’t pass the placement test or just want to do a shorter, slower-paced, more practically-focused program) and the three-year BA program (for students who pass the placement test and are interested in studying the language in a theoretical as well as practical manner). This meeting was the first time I got any idea of the variety of students in the Icelandic language programs. There were students from all over the world with a wide variety of backgrounds and reasons for learning Icelandic.
At the end of the orientation, we were each asked to fill out a sheet with our contact information; information about previous studies in Icelandic and/or other languages; self-assessment of our current skill level in reading, writing, speaking, and understanding Icelandic; and our goals for learning Icelandic. They never told us, however, exactly how that information would be used.
I had already gotten some tips regarding the placement test from Elliott (last year’s Fulbright-Árni Magnússon grant recipient) and other friends who’ve taken it in the past, but after the orientation, I was feeling more confident than ever about not wanting to fail the test and place into the practical program, and less confident than ever that I actually could pass the test. So I spent the rest of the day studying and studying and studying some more. It was difficult to know what to focus on, but I tried to review verb conjugations, case declension, etc., and I spent a fair amount of time pushing through Icelandic Online, level 2. And while perusing Icelandic Online, level 2, I happened upon this photo:
That is, in fact, the house where I now live, and the woman in the middle is my cousin. Did you know that Iceland is a pretty small place?
þriðjudagur / tuesday (26. ágúst)
Útlendingastofnun, or, the joys of being a foreigner
I hoped to spend Tuesday morning studying as much as possible before the 2:00 stöðupróf (placement test), but I got an email in the morning that the photo-taking contraption at Útlendingastofnun (The Directorate of Immigration) was finally back in working order and I really needed to get over there as soon as possible so as not to delay the process of establishing legal residence any further. So I gave my brain a rest from studying and walked over across Hringbraut (and this time, I managed not to get lost or defeated by a door). There were probably 12-15 people in the waiting area when I arrived, and I was nervous about getting done and over to the university in time. No, I didn’t want to be deported, but there was no way I could miss the placement test either.
Thankfully, before too long, the employee (I swear she was the only person working there) asked if anyone was there just to have their photo taken for a residence permit. Several of us raised our hands, and she directed us to form a line. She said nothing about forming a line based on the numbers we had already taken to determine our order of service, so, feeling fully like an entitled American, I scurried right up to the front of the line. Within 15 minutes, I was done and on my way over to the university to determine my fate.
Stöðupróf, or, the determination of my fate in two hours and ten pages
I had been warned to expect zero English in either the written or oral instructions for the placement exam. For better or worse, this was not the case. The instructions were written in both Icelandic and English, and the proctors were willing to answer questions in both languages.
Apparently the exam has changed just since last year, because Elliott said there was no listening component, but our exam began with a short listening portion. We were given the opportunity to read through the first ten questions, then we listened to a brief (and, thankfully, very slow) dialogue. We had a couple minutes to think and try to answer the questions, then they played the dialogue a second time.
After that, there were maybe 40-50 multiple choice questions that tested our knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, and overall comprehension skills.
Finally, as I had been warned, there was a short writing section. We were asked to write 8-10 sentences about what we’d like to do in Iceland this winter. My writing was extremely simplistic, and I tried to write simply enough that I could control my grammar, but also to throw out a few more difficult words and sentence constructions that, while grammatically imperfect, hopefully showed a slightly wider range of knowledge than I would have otherwise.
Anyway, when all was said and done, I felt fairly good about the exam. I was certain about probably 80% of the multiple choice questions. The listening section, to my utmost surprise, was actually the easiest component of the exam. The most difficult thing was not knowing exactly how the exams would be scored. We were told at the orientation that there are no grades; you either pass or you fail. But they gave next to no information as to how the exams would be scored. They also didn’t explain if/how our written self-assessment/statement of goals (see Monday, above) would be taken into consideration.
I left feeling like I had done the best I could given my current level of knowledge. I did wish that I had not been sidetracked by health problems in the months before I moved, though, because that kept me from having more time and energy to study.
After the placement exam, all of the new 2014-2015 Árni Magnússon Institute grantees met up at Háskólatorg. We had been emailing each other over the past couple months, but this was the first time we had all met face-to-face.
I already knew Kimberly, a fellow Snorri alum from Canada, and I had met Kelsey a couple days earlier. The other grantees we met that day are Giedre from Lithuania, Matyas from Hungary, Piotr from Poland, John from the UK, and Aurora from Italy. (There are two other new grantees, Lucie from the Czech Republic and Franzi from Germany, but they were busy that week taking exams to pass directly into the second year of the BA program.) It’s always a little bit strange meeting people for the first time and knowing they will be a part of your lives for the next however many months and perhaps beyond. And it’s difficult now, just a few weeks later, to remember that first conversation and those first impressions. There’s something about moving to a new place and embarking on an adventure like this that turns acquaintances into friends very quickly, and perhaps not even friendship in quite the same manner as I would normally describe, but camaraderie, familiarity, ease. It’s difficult to explain, but I’m sure others have experienced this and understand what I’m trying to say. In any case, it was great to finally put faces to names, to start getting to know one another, to speculate about the placement test results and to meet other people going through the same challenges (and fun bureaucratic rigmarole) of assimilating into a new culture.
Kvöldmatur, bjór, og Captain Planet
After kaffitími, I walked over to Daniela’s and we decided to make dinner in her dorm’s IKEA showroom kitchen. Dylan, famous founder of Sofar Sounds Reykjavík and fellow inhabitant of Daniela’s dorm, joined us to talk and sample Daniela’s stores of Icelandic beer. And at one point Dylan and I sang the Captain Planet theme song. It was a good night.
miðvikudagur / wednesday (27. ágúst)
On Wednesday morning, there was an orientation for all international students held at Háskólabíó (the interesting public movie theater / university classroom hybrid on campus). I recognized the building from Icelandic Online, Level 1, when Daniel and Ewa go there on a super awkward is-it-or-is-it-not-a-date?
Anyway, there are a LOT of international students at HÍ.
I was talking to someone and mentioned that I am from the States, and this guy sitting in front of me overheard and turned around. “You’re from the States?!” he asked exuberantly. I confirmed. “Me too!” he exclaimed. I asked him which state he’s from and I believe it was Virginia or another state along that other coast. Then this guy got out of his seat and came to sit right next to me. “Is this your first time living away from home?” he asked. “Uhhhh, no, not exactly,” I answered. “Oh. It is for me,” he stated, clearly both thrilled and terrified by this fact. It was a rather amusing exchange. We did not become best friends.
After the orientation, we were treated to complementary appelsín (an orange-flavored soda), lakkrís (licorice) straws, and Hraun bars. Mmm. Hraun bars might just be my very favorite Icelandic nammi. I am sure I will end up discussing them multiple times in my blog this year.
I had lunch at Háma with some friends, then went home to decompress from the overly social morning (As an undeniable introvert, I can only be around other people – especially huge groups of other people – for so long before I feel the need to enjoy some solitude). I spent the afternoon resting and learning some new vocabulary from the IKEA catalogue. I also learned a great word from Ásta’s father: grallaraspói. It’s a combination of grallari (clown) and spói (a type of bird). I can’t remember exactly how he explained it, but I think it conveys a notion of frivolity and ridiculousness. When I googled the term, the first thing I came across was an article about Justin Bieber. Grallaraspói.
fimmtudagur / thursday (28. ágúst)
Thursday was a pretty low-key day because I woke up with a sore throat. I think I was just exhausted from everything. In the afternoon, I went to meet Kelsey at Ingólfstorg, but that didn’t actually happen due to miscommunication and the lack of established cell phone communication at that point (we all had to go get Icelandic sim cards). I ended up wandering around the square for a while, buying some olives from a guy who was selling Mediterranean food, and going home to make pasta salad. In the evening, I met up with some friends at Loft Hostel, was schooled by Daniela in how to pour a proper German beer, and realized once again that I don’t understand the point of going somewhere loud and crowded to talk. Not my favorite thing.
föstudagur / friday (29. ágúst)
On Friday morning, I was surprised and very happy to find a piece of mail from Útlendingastofnun addressed to me delivered to the house. Finally, I had my dvalarleyfi (residence permit/ID card) and kennitala (my national identification number). I was finally a legitimate, Iceland-dwelling person!
Results from the placement test were supposed to be posted on campus and online in the afternoon, so I met some of my friends on campus and we all wandered around waiting and worrying together. I was simultaneously trying to figure out why my registration for the university hadn’t been finalized. The institute that awarded my scholarship was supposed to pay the registration fee on my behalf, but the day before I had gotten an email stating that I needed to pay as soon as possible. I was standing at the student service desk trying to sort this all out when my friends noticed the results had been posted. So I was trying to focus on figuring out the money problem, while sort of watching out of the corner of my eye to gauge what the results were.
Finally, I was able to walk over to the lists and discover that my name was on the lists for the BA program courses! It was a relief, but unfortunately I couldn’t fully enjoy the moment since I still had to figure out the money issue. Thankfully, with help from a very kind and patient woman at the Árni Magnússon Institute, we got it all sorted.
A bunch of the other international students were going out that night to experience Reykjavík nightlife, and while I didn’t want to go with them, I did join them for a “pre-party” in what has been dubbed the Gamli Garður party attic. When I had had my fill of socializing, I walked home and enjoyed a quiet evening with the house to myself as Ásta Sól and her family were gone overnight. I happened upon “Austenland” on TV and learned some good words from the Icelandic subtitles while eating a box (not a whole box – not quite, anyway) of mini Hraun bars. That evening was my first introduction to the legendary Icelandic wind. It was so noisy all night that I kept waking up and was quite tired in the morning.
Well, that might not be the most thrilling note on which to end, and I apologize for the lack of photos in this post. Bear with me; I promise there are some beautiful Iceland photos coming soon!