Study Abroad Journal: Breakfast in the Dark

There’s a reason I deleted my Instagram; more than just never getting a hang of styling my hair, it sets everyone’s expectations very, very high. Airports are always clean and shining. The sun always filters through the windows beautifully. Luggage, with cute little patches sewn in the pockets, looks sun-bleached and travel ready. But we know the truth; that airport is full of birds and that beautiful “just arrived” Instagram post is constructed with lies.

I touched down Keflavik, Iceland at what could have been the crack of dawn two days after New Years. I don’t know a lot about cooking, but things can’t really “get cracking” if there’s no egg, right? I gleefully waited for the sun to rise while I sat nervously at the bus depot. 7:00 a.m. arrived. 8:00 a.m. came to join. . . then 9:00 and 10:00. And, amazingly, it was pitch black the entire time. Iceland is actually a little infamous for its relationship with the sun. The country spends about a month between the winter and summer solstices in a state of what Americans would consider “normal” daylight. In the summer, they enjoyed the midnight sun - only four hours of darkness on the summer solstice! However, the other side of the coin, the joyful winter solstice we’d known only two weeks before, meant that I was going to spend my first month abroad in the dark from 4:30 p.m. to 11:00 a.m. every day. It was not as fun that first day as I ran a circle around Reykjavik, trying to find the international bus station with all my luggage on my back and rain coming down in little, sleeting pebbles.

After that, I played a nasty little game of catch up trying to sleep the following two days. It’s a little bit exhausting when the sun, usually under the blanket of clouds and snow, only shows up when it’s convenient for her. What about my vitamin-D intake? Or maintaining my little archaeologist’s tan? Not to mention, getting up for class long before the sun is just as exhausting now as it was in high school. You have no appetite, no motivation when the world is cast in shadow. Eggs don’t taste as good; coffee isn’t nearly as effective.

That was a two-day journey. By the third, I was so distracted by the people I’d met and the views I’d seen that I was grateful for getting on that plane, darting past the airport birds, and staying up for 24 hours just to make it here. I learned that it’s not just about the condition of your study abroad arrangement, but how you accept it and work with it.

First, there was an “acclimation hike,” so named because it took us through the wind and rain that Iceland is known for. But at the end, we were suddenly on top of a volcano, staring over the edge into the basin of a beautiful lake. The air I breathed had never been so fresh. The water from the lake was not only safe to drink, but the best I’d ever tasted. We enjoyed it in the dark of early sunrise, 10:30 a.m. It must be what it’s like to feel on the peak of the earth.

Our little group of skiptinemann (exchange students) grew close in the wreck room of this tiny little university. About 20 local students actually live on campus with us and the rest of the place is a village of family houses for older students. So to us, this little world is built just for us on a lot of games, a lot of hiking, and the kindness of our neighbors. So far, I’ve met such a fascinating blend of people - future lawyers from Romania, business leaders from Germany, language enthusiasts from Japan, culture studies majors from the Ukraine. And being a friend to the Icelanders has so far been phenomenal. At Bifrost, they live in a community so small that neighborliness isn’t just helpful, it’s incredibly enjoyable.

There’s a perspective on life that develops out of these mountains that I feel like I’ve needed to see my whole life. The feeling here is that you try to have fun in whatever patch of sunlight you can get. Whether you make it for yourself or seek it in the light of others, life is what you make it. So, it’s not a shame to sit in the dark making breakfast if you’re sharing it with fun, adventurous people and easy entertainment. A great new friend here told me; “life is now.”

If you’re going out into the world, let what happens happen. Of course it’ll get better—or at least your attitude will. Happy traveling!