Year — Fall 2020
During your time in Iceland you’ll have the opportunity to make lots of new friends, learn a new language, and gain an intimate understanding of this ancient and rich culture. By living with a host family and attending a local school, you’ll be completely immersed in Icelandic society, which is extremely progressive and egalitarian. This once in a lifetime experience will be one you’ll never forget!
Iceland is filled with geysers and hot springs and much of the country’s energy comes from geothermal heat. Lots of people in Iceland take ancient Viking folklore seriously and many of them even admit that they believe in elves and other magical creatures. Because of the Gulf Stream, Iceland is actually much warmer than you might expect. During the summer months it hardly ever gets dark so you might want to bring an eye mask!
Your adventure will begin in New York City, where you’ll meet your fellow AFSers from the United States and attend an overnight orientation. Then you’ll travel together to Keflavik, which is near the capital of Reykjavik, where you’ll be met by AFS staff and volunteers. From there you’ll be off to meet your host family!
On your way to your host community you’ll get to see some of Iceland’s breathtaking landscape. Known as “the land of fire and ice,” Iceland is covered by volcanoes, rivers, waterfalls, mountains, glaciers, lakes, and geysers. The powerful geothermal heat generated by the many hot springs even provides energy to greenhouses, which produce all kinds of fruits and vegetables that otherwise could never grow so far north.
AFS students have been placed all over Iceland. Some students have lived with families in Reykjavik or in the countryside but you’ll probably live in a community along the coast. You might even have the chance to live with a couple different host families during your year abroad so you can experience life in different parts of the island.
Family in Iceland is especially important, as the country is so small. Icelandic families are often larger then in other Northern European countries and you might end up living with several siblings and stepsiblings. Extended family members usually don’t live together but uncles, aunts, and grandparents often help with childcare. Since most people in Iceland have been there for a very long time, charting family history is a popular hobby for many Icelanders, and you can expect to be brought into the conversation.
You may find that you’re given quite a bit of independence as a teenager in Iceland and might spend a lot of time socializing with your friends and meeting new people. Icelandic teenagers tend to enjoy the same kinds of activities as teenagers elsewhere around the world, such as going to parties, watching movies, or just hanging out. You’ll also have the opportunity to take music lessons, join a drama group, a choir, or a sports team.
Dinner is the most important meal of the day and it’s usually a time for the whole family to get together. Icelanders eat a lot of fish, lamb, cheese, and skyr, the local version of yogurt. Boiled potatoes accompany most meals. Thanks to Iceland’s many greenhouses a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables are also available.
As a high school student in Iceland you’ll most likely attend classes Monday through Friday from 8AM to 3PM. Compared to some countries the relationship between teachers and students in Iceland may seem casual and friendly. Teachers are addressed by their first names and students have a lot of freedom. In general the atmosphere in Icelandic schools is creative and supportive. During the school day you’ll have a great opportunity to make new friends and you’ll also have the option to join a variety of school clubs including photography, cinema, radio, mountaineering, and cooking.
"Life-changing" is hard to describe, yet it’s nearly always the first thing that AFSers say when asked about their experience abroad. "Transformed" is another one. When you return home, if you’re like most AFSers, you’ll bring with you a sense of accomplishment unlike any other. You’ll have gained maturity and independence, discovered new passions, and feel like you can do anything you set your mind to. That transformation isn’t visible only to you, though - others see it as well. AFSers gain critical skills for college and careers, ranging from language fluency to intercultural competence and critical reasoning. "Life-changing" means it’s only the beginning.