Just Because You Aren’t In Class Doesn’t Mean You Aren’t Learning

After a week and a half in classes, I’ve made a schedule adjustment: I dropped my only non-language related course, my “Icelandic Culture” survey. I hemmed and hawed about this a rather lot–I wasn’t wild about the generality of the syllabus (or, goodness me, group presentations), but I did want to be exposed to aspects of Icelandic culture and history that I was not familiar with on a regular basis. At the end of the mental debating, however, I came to a conclusion: the class met twice a week and was going to involve more work than I was entirely prepared to invest. I literally have nothing to lose by dropping it–it didn’t cost any tuition, and it isn’t required for the Practical Certificate program. And the assumption that ‘cultural literacy’ was something that I should primarily be acquiring in a classroom–when I have been afforded this amazing opportunity to actually interact with said culture on a daily basis, in person–seemed a bit flawed. I had wanted to prove, in some respect, that I was taking this experience seriously, and at first, the idea that I would only have one class each morning and then loads of unstructured time in which to study and gallivant around town seemed almost too decadent. But isn’t that the point, really?!

And so, I give you a short, spontaneous manifesto for the rest of my time here in Iceland:

Just Because You’re Not in Class Doesn’t Mean You Aren’t Learning Or,

Adventures in Acculturation

I will not learn Icelandic in a vacuum, no matter how much I study grammar patterns and do workbook exercises. Nor will I suddenly understand socio-historical/cultural references, the Icelandic cultural and political landscape, or social norms no matter how diligently I apply myself to sources that were basically available to me when I was living in New York. As such, I commit myself to the following regular, weekly ‘indulgences.’ I hereby promise to:

1. Sit in coffee shops and bars for as long as is enjoyable, eavesdropping with wild, un-self-conscious abandon. No, I will not have any idea of what anyone is saying for several months (at least), but I can take great, fist-pumping joy in each and every word that I do understand and maybe pick up some useful speech patterns and phrases while I’m at it.

2. Seek out interesting events, resources, museums, galleries, and happenings around town and attend at least one each week. These ‘adventures in acculturation’ will be documented regularly.

3. Go to the public library every week (or the book mobile that is in my neighborhood on Mondays!) and pick up new movies/TV shows/books on tape that if aren’t originally Icelandic, at least have a dubbed Icelandic track, so as to listen to the language spoken at a normal speed each day. This will undoubtedly mean watching a great deal of kids’ shows and cartoons.

4. Take advantage of the time not spent in class to do extra self-study, primarily in grammar, but also listening, if possible.

5. Join clubs! Find groups! Go to weekly meetings! Maybe even meet some actual Icelandic people!

6. Keep trying to talk to people in shops in Icelandic. Maybe one of these days they won’t switch to English immediately when you say “Goðan daginn,” or “Já.”

7. Walk a lot. This is a rather widely flung city and there’s bound to be cool things everywhere.

8. Keep going to the pool on a regular basis, particularly in the afternoon when you can listen to the swim coach yell instructions to kids who are all chattering away in crazy-fast Kidlandic.

9. Take a lot of pictures.

10. Don’t forget to study, too.

That’s it for the manifesto for now. So far, I’m off to a good start. After class this morning, Mark and I went to a restaurant/bar in the city center and then made our first visit to the Reykjavík Art Museum (Listsafn Reykjavíkur), whose primary exhibitions were of Icelandic artists. I will document these first ‘adventures in acculturation’ shortly, but for now, I’m off to take care of #10 for the day: some self-study time is called for after this morning’s gallivanting.


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