Universities in Britain and Iceland

I've only been to one university in Britain (University of Sheffield), and only one in Iceland (Háskóli Íslands), so perhaps this won't actually all be valid, but here are a few differences between tertiary education in these countries in my experience:

1. It costs practically nothing to go to university in Iceland, whereas in Britain it costs an awful lot. In Britain you will definitely finish in debt, whereas in Iceland you can pretty much pay for your studies yourself with a part-time job.

2. Anybody can go to university in Iceland. If you managed to finish menntaskóli, apply and you pay the 60,000 kr., you've basically got a place. No UCAS forms, interviews, conditional offers... Much more egalitarian. Then once you're in university, you can try out a few courses, switch departments, whatever - it's incredibly relaxed. 

3. To a certain extent, however, you get what you pay for. Basically all UK universities, to my knowledge, offer their students access to online academic publications. J-Stor or whatever, you can log on via your university and read thousands of journals and articles. Here at HÍ... nope. You have free access to any thesis written by a past HÍ student, but no J-Stor. You actually have to pay for access yourself or see if it's there in paper form in the library (probably not).

4. Here, essay or project length is measured in pages, which is clearly ridiculous. Sometimes formatting instructions are part of the requirements, but sometimes not. Which obviously means that you have a fair amount of leeway with regards to length. In Britain, essay-length is quite rightly measured in words. Because, obviously.

5. The grading system can take some getting used to. To me, coming from a UK humanities department, 70 is excellent, 80 is ridiculously good, anything above that is pretty much impossible. Here, 7 (they do it out of 10 rather than 100) is quite good, 9 is excellent, 10 is ridiculously good but very much possible. This is bizarre to me. How can any work done in the humanities be "perfect"? Maybe it is a little silly to have grades that are never used and exist only as a sort of artificial space to remind you that perfection is unattainable.

6. Hardly any seminars. At Sheffield our contact hours were 50% lectures, 50% seminars, in which you would discuss what you had learned in the lecture, plus additional reading. I took some modules that were only seminars, never any modules that were only lectures. Here a lot of modules are only lectures. Which doesn't seem like a very good approach, to be honest. You don't learn so much just by sitting there listening to a lecture as you do by actually engaging yourself in an discussion of the topic. Mind you, lectures are certainly a lot easier, and I am quite lazy, so swings and roundabouts.

P.S. It's worth noting that there are universities in Iceland that charge tuition fees (Háskóli í Reykjavík does). Apparently they have fancier technical equipment and are more rigorous. Maybe students there even get online journal access. 

Gleðilegan Bolludag

Happy Bun Day everyone! I may not agree with eating salted lamb and split pea soup on Shrove Tuesday rather than pancakes with lemon and sugar, but Bolludagur is clearly an excellent idea. I don't think we do anything in the UK on this day, but here in Iceland everybody stuffs themselves with cream buns in honour of... Jesus? It doesn't matter, cream buns are good. I bought two from Melabúðin and I am feeling pretty full right now.

Tomorrow I was planning on celebrating Pancake Day, but I am also considering attempting the saltkjöt og baunir dish. The problem is it takes a long time to cook, like most stews, and I won't be able to start until at least 7 because I have to work tomorrow. So it may be quite a late dinner. On the other hand, also like most stews, it looks ridiculously easy. If any of you fancy having a go at the traditional Shrove Tuesday Icelandic meal, and you can actually get salted lamb, here's the recipe I was going to use (taken and translated from this site):
Ingredients (serves 4)

250 g yellow split peas (no soaking required)
2 l water
1 onion, chopped
2 tsp dried thyme
1.2 kg salted lamb
500 g swedes, peeled and chopped
500 g potatoes, peeled and chopped
250 g carrots, peeled and chopped
ground pepper to taste


Put the split peas in a pot with the water, thyme and onion and bring to the boil. Allow to simmer with the lid on for 45 minutes. Then add one or two chunks of lamb; boil the rest separately in another pot. Allow to boil for a further half hour. Check the peas every now and again, stir them and see if they need more water. Add the vegetables and boil for another 20-30 minutes, or until everything is tender. Taste and, if required, season with salt and pepper.

It is also possible to boil all of the lamb separately, but then the peas will need salting, or boil it all in the main soup pot, but then the soup can be too salty. Or all the lamb may be boiled separately and a little bacon or salted pork used to flavour the soup instead. 

Clearly this will not be as good as pancakes, but you can always have them for pudding, and I've had this meal before and it is delicious. Maybe you could also use ordinary lamb and just salt the soup yourself? I'm not sure.

Post Code Deterioraton

I am pleased to announce that I will, in a few weeks, be making the move from 107, the second coolest post code in Iceland, to 105, the third coolest. This following my heady beginnings in 101, it is looking like I am gradually becoming less cool. I'll be moving to Kópavogur before you know it. Haha jokes, obviously I am never moving to Kópavogur. There seems to be some sort of chemical reaction that takes place in people when they either have children or reach a certain age here - suddenly, they are filled with a burning desire to move to Kópavogur or Garðabær. This is obviously a terrible idea, because the suburbs are lame and really far away from all the good stuff in the town. But 105 I can reconcile myself with. For those of you unfamiliar with the geography of Reykjavík, 107 is what is known as Vesturbær, because it is to the west of 101. 105 is also right next to 101, but on the east side (Austurbær). It is actually about the same distance to downtown as it is from here, although significantly further from the university which is currently right on my doorstep.

I thought maybe when I moved into this flat that this would be the time I would stay somewhere for more than a year, but circumstances have changed, yet again. This time I am not moving under compulsion but because I want to go and move in with Grétar in his new place on Skipholt. This is a not-so-beautiful area of Reykjavík, but do I get to live with Grétar and he is pretty good. The plan is to move at the beginning of March (and indeed my room has already been rented out from then), so I will have been in the Grenimelur flat for eleven and a half months - almost made it! This time for sure, guys.