Growing in popularity, Iceland is a unique and fascinating country to venture to in high school. Its residents enjoy vast amounts of land and it's the most sparsely populated country in Europe. They're also very self sufficient -- the country runs almost completely on renewable energy.
Both of these factors probably play in to why Icelandic people are the happiest in the OECD: 75% of residents stated they were satisfied with their lives, compared to the global average of 53%. While doing high school abroad in Iceland, you'll get a chance to experience both of these things first-hand.
Icelanders are also well known for placing a high importance on community, so you will be welcomed with open arms when you go! Because of its natural wonders (if you’re there at the right time, feast your eyes on the Aurora Borealis!), high standard of living, and hardworking people, Iceland is a sure choice for high school adventurers.
Iceland is best for students who are interested in rich Nordic history, natural phenomena (make sure to check out the Blue Lagoon), and environmental conservation.
Photo Credit: Unsplash.
Compared to other larger and more popular countries, the number of study abroad programs in Iceland can seem fairly limited. However, this doesn't mean it's not possible. Students tend to study abroad in Iceland through exchange programs over the semesters, as well as short term programs (more popular over the summer).
Even though Icelandic is the official language, over 80% of the population speaks English, so you will be able to easily communicate while there. Iceland is also fairly close to the East Coast of the United States (just a 4 hour flight from Boston, MA!)
Summer programs are a hit with high school students since the weather is much nicer, and there is almost 24 hours of sunlight every day! This makes it an ideal time to explore the country. There's no better way to learn about a different culture than to be completely immersed in it on site.
Due to Iceland’s natural landscapes, volunteering and service learning programs are another option for high school students. These are usually centered on sustainability, environmental conservation, and eco-tourism. If you are an earth-lover, Iceland will prove to be a fascinating destination to volunteer.
Planning Your Trip
With so much natural landscape and cities falling in between, there are just a few urban options of where to go. The most popular is the capital city of Reykjavik. It's the main base for Icelandic culture, museums, cafes, and restaurants. Other options that are off the beaten path include Akureyri and Hafnarfjordur, where you'll be in more of a rural setting.
Since Iceland is part of the Schengen agreement, border passport control is eliminated between those countries in Europe. If you are from one of those countries, a passport won’t even be required.
If you're from the United States, Icelandic tourist visas are not required for citizens for a stay up to 90 days (but a passport is, and one that is valid for at least 90 days beyond the end date of your program). US citizens wanting to stay longer must apply for a residence permit at the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration. Make sure to check on their immigration website to see if you will need a visa for your passport country to enter Iceland.
If you choose to do a longer-term program, you will most likely be in a homestay or a dormitory if you're in an urban area. If you choose to be in a rural area, host families are the most likely option, as there won't be larger living accommodations. While on a travel program you will stay in hotels or hostels, depending on your provider.
Academic year costs will run you around $15,000, whereas shorter term, weeklong programs go for about $2,500. Keep in mind that these fees include things like housing and some travel, which is a huge plus!
Make sure to have extra money for your personal expenses, such as gifts for loved ones back home, and food (if it is not included in your program fee). A café meal will cost you around $15, according to Lonely Planet, but also tipping is not the norm there, so you won’t have to worry about that. A good budget is to plan for about $50 - 65 per day.
Layers are the way to go when you are visiting this Nordic nirvana. Even if you're going over the summer, temperatures will drop at night and in high altitude. In addition to warm clothing, also plan to bring a hat, a scarf, and gloves (better safe than sorry!) Be sure to also pack a bathing suit for the thermal baths.
The voltage is standard of Europe’s so if you are not from there, you'll also need a converter. You have to make sure to be able to charge your camera in order to take all those wonderful photos.
Health & Safety
The CDC does not suggest any particular vaccinations for travel to Iceland. However, you should keep in mind that hypothermia and frostbite may occur when the temperature drops. This is why bringing layers is important—we can’t stress it enough!
Tap water is safe to drink, so make sure you bring a reusable water bottle and stay hydrated (especially if you're participating in outdoor sports, such as hiking, skiing, etc.)
Keep in mind that health facilities may be limited outside of major urban areas.
Iceland has a very low crime rate, making it one of safest places to live. The biggest thing to pay attention to is the road conditions. They can get icy making driving difficult, and weather can be unpredictable. Use your best judgment, and if at any time you aren’t sure what to do, always consult with your program provider.
Contributed by Julie Peterson
High School Abroad Programs in Iceland
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