When most people hear of Iceland, their first reaction is often along the lines of “but what exactly is there in Iceland?”. I myself pondered this question, but regardless knew that Iceland was my final Scandinavian destination after touring Finland, Norway, Denmark, and living in Sweden on exchange. Now, after a week-long road trip around the entire coast of the country with four friends, I would answer the above sceptics in three words: “desolate, otherworldly beauty”. 

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Our first impression of Iceland involved driving through a vast, flat emptiness surrounding the airport. The surface of the ground was covered in dead grass that was tinged orange after cruel winter frosts. At first, we likened the orange flatness to walking on the surface of Mars. One hundred kilometers later, the ground was covered with endless bumps of smooth black rocks covered in a furry green moss, enveloping the ground like tar and stretching as far as the eye could see. This rapid introduction into Icelandic scenery was apt as the landscape continued to change rapidly with every passing hour. In just one day we saw dense black sand on a stormy, moody beach, extreme jagged mountains that towered with green lushness, that we likened to South America, piles of snow surrounding turquoise lagoons and countless glittering, gushing waterfalls. Highlights of the trip included bathing in natural pale blue hot springs, staying in warm guesthouses with unbelievably friendly Icelandic locals and the hours of quality friendship while wandering amongst natural beauty.

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Every moment in Iceland was spent by the five of us trying to capture the staggering sights with our memories, and living in the carefree, vital moment. For me, the desolation and awe inspiring beauty of the country led exactly where it needed to: reflection. Iceland is one of the last trips I will be able to undertake with my exchange friends, and flew by in a fleeting blink. The peaceful serenity of glaciers, volcanoes and waterfalls helped me stop for a moment and have some important realisations. Somewhere along the way on exchange, I went from getting lost in our little Swedish town to living like a local and never thinking twice about the nature of my everyday life. Somewhere on this path, five months in Europe flew by in a whirlwind of travel, beauty and incomparable fun, and I am daunted by the fact that it is soon drawing to a close. As I write this, I am hours away from the embarkation of my next trip – this time to Southern Europe as I think I have had enough of the Scandinavian cold! From now onwards, I only have two weeks left to live in the endearing town of Lund and my shared apartment that I have learnt to call home with people I have learnt to call family. Often, when chatting to others, we speculate and dread the looming moment when we’ll walk out of our rooms for the last time, get on the train leaving Lund and perhaps this time never return.

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When I first applied for exchange it felt like the most daunting future possibility I could imagine. Living in another country where I did not speak the language, as far away from home as almost earthly possible and with no connections in the entire hemisphere. Months later, living in Lund, Sweden feels like completely natural life and all the exchange students reminisce together about the anxious first plane ride when we all dreaded that we wouldn’t make friends. Somewhere along the way we went from a first risky trip to Finnish Lapland together to becoming lifelong friends and living an impossibly incredible life that I will forever remember.

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If you’re reading this and thinking of applying for exchange, or even ready to go, you’re probably as worried as everyone else about making friends, getting lost, living arrangements, and the plethora of unknowns about to face you. Now I can speak from experience in saying that these worries have diminished to a laughable fond memory, and we all agree that putting them aside to take such a risk in life was one of the most worthwhile things we have ever done.

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See for yourself at the ANU Global Programs Fair at ANU Open Day.

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