Sunday, June 25, 2017

Helga

This post is going to be entirely about my host sister, Helgadora. 

Helga is 2 and a half years old with red hair and blue eyes. She loves watching Mr. Bean and that's it. She speaks no English, and I am terrified of her. She can be cranky sometimes and you never know when she's gonna blow. 

Here in Iceland, they have a different philosophy about raising kids than we do in the United States. Hofi was an au paire and she said that parents in the US want their kids to be perfect all the time, whereas in Iceland, they have a more laid back philosophy. So when Helga whines or cries in public, instead of shushing her or yelling at her, they just let her go and try to talk her out of it. It's really different, but I guess it works because everybody here is so nice. 

Another side effect of this child-raising method is that kids speak really well really early on. And for that reason, Helga has taught me many important Icelandic words and phrases. For example, I can now say "I want to watch Mr. Bean", "more chocolate", "ice cream now", "go away", "stop doing that", and "you're annoying, stupid American girl" in Icelandic. Only the last one was a joke, the rest she says to me all the time. 

Here is a day in the life of Helga: 

8:00 AM: Go to school
4:00 PM: Come home from school
4:01 PM: Watch Mr. Bean
5:00 PM: Eat dinner
5:05 PM: Try to watch more Mr. Bean
5:06 PM: Not be allowed to watch more Mr. Bean
5:07 PM: Take off clothes
5:30 PM: Bring all stuffed animals from upstairs to downstairs
6:00 PM: Try to watch more Mr. Bean
6:01 PM: Succeed in watching more Mr. Bean
7:00 PM: Watch Megan and Charlie bring all stuffed animals back upstairs
8:00 PM: Go to bed

Yesterday we made pancakes for our host family with homemade maple syrup that Megan brought from New York (she wins favorite exchange student). Helga had 3 plate-fulls of syrup and 1/4 of a pancake. She just kept licking the syrup off and asking for more. So you think maybe she would like having us around, even if only for the syrup. But later that day in the car, she told her mom that she "forbids her to talk to us." So much for that. 

Today we had our most meaningful interaction yet while we were watching Mr. Bean in the living room. She was cranky so I snuck her a Hershey kiss. A couple of minutes later, she says "meira" which means "more". I said "meira súkkulaði?" or "more chocolate?" and she nodded. So I gave her another one. Which means we had a full conversation! And understood each other! That's huge! 

Helga also does this thing where she pinches her mom's hand as she's falling asleep. And today in the car she was pinching my hand while my heart melted into a puddle and she fell asleep. 

She's pretty cute :)


Told you she was cute!

Small Helga, giant waterfall

Accurate portrayal of our relationship

Cute pic of us on our way home from a really long adventure yesterday 

We found horses this week! Icelandic horses!






"Swimming"

Here in Iceland, they love their swimming pools. There is one in almost every town, no matter the size. That's partly because they are so cheap. Either you live near a geothermal heat source that heats up the water naturally or you live near a hydropower plant that supplies so much electricity that heating the water is dirt cheap. On top of that, Icelanders don't pay to chlorinate their pools. Instead, you have to shower before entering. More on that later. 

Another important piece of information is the definition of swimming in Iceland. I looked it up, here you go:

Swimming (v) : soaking yourself in hot water and making sure not to get your hair wet 

The first time I went "swimming" was at the Blue Lagoon on the very first day of the trip. Face masks and fancy drinks and photo shoots. 

We went "swimming" this week in a town about a 25 minute drive away called Flateyri (population 180...with a pool). To get there you have to drive through a 2-way 1-lane tunnel. If you do the math, the tunnel comes out to be... (divide, add, carry the one)...yep. Terrifying. 

But the pool was super nice, we went there with Helga (age 2) and our host parents (Christian and Hofi in case you forgot). There were 2 outdoor "pools" (probably half a foot deep, we sat out there while it was raining which was awesome), an indoor hot tub, and a normal-sized lap pool (yes, mom, I swam some laps while I was there). 

Remember how I said that thing about showering before entering? So we get to the pool, we go into the locker rooms, and Hofi goes, "Here in Iceland, we are not shy..." 

Not shy (adj): naked.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, you have to shower *naked* before entering. Not the most comfortable thing to do if you've just met someone. So Megan and I were like "I won't look if you won't look", and went for it. When in Rome I guess? 

Yesterday we also went "swimming" in a natural hot tub right next to the ocean. It was a 2ish hour drive away, but definitely worth it. While we were there, we met a couple and their 2 kids from Michigan (@andrew they were from the UP) who went to Pitt (@mom and dad, they went there for med school I think). After staying with Helga for a week and not being able to communicate, I was really excited to talk to 5-year-old Stanley and 6-year-old Henry and try to throw rocks from the very hot hot tub into the freezing cold ocean with them. They were super cute :) Helga had a different approach and tried to take every single stone (stin in Icelandic) that wasn't in the hot tub and put it into the hot tub. She also swam back and forth between Megan and I, so we're making progress. More on Helga in my next post :)

Moral of the story: Just keep "swimming" :) hehe

As you can see, Helga was preoccupied by the stones and really not feeling this picture

That's me!



#Food

Hi! Sorry it's been so long, it has been a busy week! So I'm just going to post a bunch in a row and write about a lot of different topics here to try to get caught up. 

First and foremost, so none of you are concerned, I need to tell you that I have been eating just fine. The traditional Icelandic food is a little unusual by my standards, but I told myself that I would try every single thing offered to me. And it has only led me astray once when I tried the beer our host dad gave to Megan and I. Beer is gross. 

Weird food #1: Lamb. 

Take all of that beef that Americans eat and replace it with lamb, take all of the fruit, vegetables, and carbs we eat and replace them with just potatoes, take all the cheese we eat and replace it with butter, and wellah!...you have the typical Icelandic diet. 

Icelanders eat SO much lamb. I thought that fish was going to be the predominant meat that I would be eating, but I was way off. My first experience with lamb was way back in Keflavik, where the airport is, on Day 2. I wasn't a huge fan of it then, nor was I a fan the second, third, and fourth times I had lamb at Solheimar for dinner back to back to back nights. It was squishy. 

But THEN for dinner on the very first night with my host family, Christian whips out this huge tray with what looked like a lamb thigh on it. Based on past experiences with lamb (a small but significant number), my only thought was "Well s***. " It was already awkward by nature of Megan and me being strangers in their country and home, and now I was going to have to choke down the food they gave me also. I put my fork in my hand and buckled down for the long haul. I'll give you the play-by-play of my thoughts: 

Bite one: "Okay this isn't so bad..."
Bite two: "Wait this is actually kinda good..."
Bite three: "...Really good!"
Bite four: "OH MY GOSH THIS IS SO GOOD"
Bite five: "IT'S LIKE HEAVEN IN MAH MOUTH WOO!"
Bite six and up: "mmmmmmmmmmmm"

So lamb (if cooked right) is good. Really good. 

Weird food #2: Fish?

I put the question mark there because fish come in lots of different forms here in Iceland, and who knows what is actually fish. 

Form #1: fish in a jar. It's green and chunky and you put it on rye bread (which is really dense and brown). Sounds yummy right? It actually wasn't that bad, I ate a whole piece of bread with it. 

Form #2: dried fish. They eat it like we eat potato chips. Salty, stacked with protein, suuuper chewy and really does look like dried fish. But also not bad! I ate an entire piece after our hike the other day. 

Form #3: in soup. I've had this twice since I've been here. The first was in a very creamy, very fishy soup from a restaurant in the oldest building in Iceland. That one was not great. The second was at Christian's parent's farm, made by his dad. That one was really really good, even though immediately after dinner we went to the fish tank and saw the brothers and sisters of the rainbow trout we just consumed. 

Weird food #3: Banani pitsu

Banana pizza! Here in Iceland, they put bananas on their pizza because they HATE spicy stuff. They can't handle it. So to balance out the spicy pepperoni, they add some sweet bananas. And surprisingly it's pretty good. Even better when it's cold the next day.

I think that covers most of the unusual food I've eaten so far, but I'll make sure to update you if I come across anything else weird. My host parents are 10/10 chefs, and I have more of a problem eating too much than not eating enough. Gotta hike up some more mountains and burn off all the meat and potatoes I've been eating....


Monday, June 19, 2017

Hershey Kisses, Alex, and Natalie

Since I last wrote, I am 8 hours further north and a bunch of degrees colder. The bus ride to Isafjordur was by far the most beautiful, but also the most stressful, drive I have ever taken. We were way too up close and personal with the cliffs by the ocean, blowing around in the breeze. I was freaking out. On the way we also stopped at a really beautiful volcano (not active anymore). See pictures at the bottom again!

Here in Isafjordur, I am staying with one of my classmates, Megan, and our host family. They are a couple, Hofi and Christian, and their daughter Helga who is 2 and a half. Megan and I are definitely the ugliest people in the house. Christian is an attorney and Helga is an accountant at the local power plant. They live in a little apartment in the middle of town a nice 5 minute walk away from our university where we have class. They have been so nice, the food has been incredible, and they really like the Hershey kisses I brought them (they ate half the bag last night alone), so we are off to a good start.

Today I’m going to introduce you to 2 people, because they were my first roommates and I’ve gotten to know them pretty well for such a short amount of time.

First is Alex. She is 22 and currently living in Texas studying Environmental Toxicology at University of North Texas. She has lived all over the county (6 states maybe?) and did her first couple years of college at University at Arkansas. She used to be a soccer player until she got kicked so hard in the eye that she is now 70-80 percent blind in that eye. She is super tough, she’s moved around a lot and had plenty of health issues in the brainal region, but is so open and kind to everyone as long as they aren’t a jerk. She hates kids, but she is the true mom of our group.  

Then there’s Natalie, who was also on my flight to Iceland from JFK. She is a little 5’2” bundle of fun. She is from New York somewhere near the coast, goes to Swarthmore College (Nanny you know that one!), and is studying Political Science and Environmental Studies. She is very friendly and happy all the time, so she’s someone you always want to have around.

Natalie, Alex, and I roomed together from Day 1 until we got here to Isafjordur. My favorite day with them was our last full one in Solheimar when I walked into the room fully intending to go to the gym right away and didn’t leave the room until 2 hours later. We had one of the best conversations ever. And that’s all I’ll say about it.

But later that night, Natalie went to bed earlier than Alex and I, and so the 2 of us were whispering talking while Natalie was asleep. And we had had so much groundbreaking deep talking that day that Natalie’s subconscious wanted so badly to be a part of it that she sleep-talked her way into the conversation and woke herself up as a result. It was classic.


Also Alex, Natalie, our other friend Carter (more on him later), and I unanimously voted Larry “most likely to make new friends in any situation”, “most likely to be in a reality TV show”, and “most likely to cross-dress” on the bus ride here.  That’s how you really know we’re all on the same page in life. 

So...sending my love from really really really far away! 

View from my backyard for the next 2 weeks

View from 10 minutes away from where I'm staying for the next 2 weeks

The volcano I mentioned before

Isafjordur exists because of its fishing industry

Some uncomfy views from our bus ride through the fjords

Squad! From left to right: Natalie, Alex, Me, Lar Lar, Carter

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Socks and Larry

Since yesterday and until tomorrow morning, we are stationed at an eco village called Solheimar. It is a small little village, there's not much around us, and only 100 people live here. 43 of those people have disabilities, but Solheimar offers all of their community members jobs, projects, and housing while they are here. Since it is an eco village, a lot of the buildings are made from sustainable and renewable resources, they have their own geothermal power plant on site, and they also have a beautiful greenhouse which (fun fact!) supplies the country with over 50 percent of its tomatoes. 

Last night we took a late night walk to the glacial river about half an hour away. It was still light out, don't worry. But I put some pictures of the area at the bottom if you want to check those out! 

Also something I've learned about Icelandic culture (and the reason for the title of this post) is that you always have to take your shoes off whenever you go inside a building and leave them at the front door. So I've been seeing and smelling a lot of socks lately. Which also brings me to the next part of this post: Larry and his socks. 

Since we have 7 weeks together, I figured I should start introducing some of the other characters on my trip. Larry was the first person I met on my journey, plus his story has a sock tie-in, so it's perfect. 

Larry (Laurence) is from New York City (ish) and goes to school at University of Virginia for biology (NOT PREMED EVERYBODY!). He likes 2000's R&B, all kinds of social media, and selfies that he looks good in. Normally when you meet a new person, they fit a certain category in your brain so that you at least have a sense of what to expect from them or what they are like. Larry fits no category in my brain, probably because I have met no one else like him in my entire life. 

I was standing in the JFK airport when this 5'5" random person (Larry) walked up to me and said, "Are you studying abroad?" Fortunately for him, the answer was yes, because Larry is quite awkward in new situations and would have started panicking. Larry was quick to inform me that he had done NONE of his required pre-departure assignments. We all know those people who say the most ridiculous things and then miraculously pull out 100's on their chem exams. I thought Larry was one of those people at first. But as I got to know him on our trip through the Keflavik airport in Iceland and in the days since, I've realized that he's not a disaster and he definitely has his s*** together; he's just a really really funny person.

So here are 2 stories about Larry and socks: 

1. You remember in a previous post how I told you we saw 2 geothermal power plants a couple of days ago? So we did that, and at the second one, there was a very cute gift shop (almost got you a key chain, Meg, but I didn't want to buy you something so early on without seeing what else was out there). Everything was really expensive, so most of us just glanced around and kept walking as we were leaving the place. We get back to the bus, take our seats, and realize that Larry, who we thought had been right behind us, wasn't there. Couple minutes later he gets on the bus holding the most ridiculous pair of socks you've ever seen in your life. They are baby blue, probably about knee-high on him, have a sheepy looking wool rim at the top, those grip pad dot things on the bottom, have little puffins (or something bird-related) all over them, and probably cost around 30 dollars. "Guys, I bought socks," he says. 

He puts them on as we are driving to the next stop, and once we get there he realizes that there is zero chance his new-sock feet will fit inside his tennis shoes. Haven't seen him wear them since. 

2. Yesterday we went on that late-night hike to the glacial river that I mentioned above. Let's play a game: if it was rainy outside, it had been raining all day long, it was cold, and you were going on a hike, which of the following would you NOT wear? 

a. grey cotton sweatpants
b. new tennis shoes
c. bright red knee-length boxers
d. all of the above

If you chose (d), you would be correct. Choice (a) is bad because they would get soaked and the water would show up all over you. Choice (b) is bad because your shoes would get destroyed and wouldn't dry very fast. And choice (c) is bad because no one should ever wear that. 

Well, our friend Larry also chose (d), but instead he chose TO wear, yes, all of the above. Which means some very wet socks indeed. But...how did I know what underwear he was wearing? Because at the turn-around point he removed choice (a) and walked the rest of the way home in choice (c) instead. 

So that's Larry :) He cracks me up. 

And now for some pictures!


Glacial river from our late night hike. This picture was taken around 9:30 pm. 

Another view of the glacial river featuring Mackenzie 


I call this one 'Grace in the Greenhouse'

Some Solheimar flags

Road where we walked to see the river. 40 minutes total on this road and didn't see a single car.

Here's Larry in the middle! with Alex and me :)

View from the dining center in Solheimar

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Hi from Mars

I think I have seen more natural beauty in the past two days than I have seen in my entire life.

Yesterday we went to the Blue Lagoon, which is basically a giant adult bath tub made from the excess water from the geothermal plant next door. It was so odd and humbling to be swimming right up next to the huge rocky hills surrounding it.

Today was a geothermal day, so we saw two different power plants and walked around a geothermal hot-springs area where we hiked a pretty steep mountain with no safety anything whatsoever (mom you would’ve been freaking out). The view from the top was so well worth it though.

Now we are staying at an eco-village for the next 3 days, so more on that later!
I’m just going to put some pictures here because a lot of this can’t be described in words. Just some of my thoughts so far before I do that:

I actually feel like I’m on another planet. There were times where I’d look out the window of the bus, see nothing but moss-covered rocks with no wildlife whatsoever and think “This is literally Mars.” You’ll see what I mean with these pictures. Also the landscape changes are so dramatic. One side of the road can look completely different from the other, and in one minute of looking out the window, you can see 3 different views that you’ve never even imagined before. Mother Nature really had some fun with this place. It’s beautiful, it’s different, and it’s overwhelming!

It’s so safe here. My new friend Natalie and I went for a run this morning to some cliffs by the ocean (casual), and I felt safer being out and about here than I ever would have running at home. Plus the light-out-all-the-time part is an added bonus.

And lastly, 2 things I am thankful for: my hiking boots and my raincoat. Definitely necessary pretty much at all times I’m realizing.

So…for surviving and thriving? I’m gonna give myself some points here. But for being something I can’t even describe with words? I’m gonna give this country some too.
Charlie: 4

Iceland: 1005

Now pictures:












Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Moist

Greetings from Iceland, where the local time is 8:21! 

My body is very confused. 

I've already met 4 other people from my SIT program on my flight from JFK, which was a huge relief. I also met a guy sitting next to me on the plane who randomly decided to use his vacation days to journey here with zero plans. "This is the research I've done so far," he said, as he was holding up a singular magazine page with 'Reykjavik' on the top. At least I'm doing better than that guy! 

Charlie: 1

Couple unfortunate things: 

As we were waiting on the runway for takeoff, we got an announcement that we would be delayed due to weather. An hour later we finally took off. I swear it was 80 degrees and everyone was sweating buckets. Good thing we only had another 5 hours together on that plane. Yummy. 

So we finally get going, the AC kicks in, and I feel a drop of water land on my forehead. I dismiss it as nothing, until 3 minutes later I feel another one on my left arm. ("Why do I feel...wet...." -Pink Panther anyone?) I look up to see the AC above my head dotted with moisture droplets. Perfect. 

But I made it here (slightly damp) and so did my bag. So I'll give myself some credit for that. 

Iceland: 5
Charlie: 2