Iceland may be small and sparsely populated (just 320,000 people live here), but it packs a massive amount of amazingness into its 103,000 square kilometers. Black-sand beaches, breathtaking cliffs, imposing white glaciers and fjords for days are just a few of the many reasons tourists flock to Iceland every year. It’s no surprise that this Nordic island nation continues to earn top spots on “best of” destination lists from places like National Geographic’s Traveler Magazine and Lonely Planet.
But Iceland’s stunning scenery is far from the country’s only allure. It’s also home to an internationally celebrated higher education system. Let’s count down a few reasons why so many students from all over the world are drawn to “the land of fire and ice” for enriching and unforgettable study abroad experiences.
1. It’s Incredibly Open
Let’s face it: you don’t go to college to close your mind to new things. If you’re looking to truly expand your horizons, there’s no better place than Iceland — home to one of the world’s most liberal populations thanks to pervasive commitment to gender equality, sexual and religious tolerance, and progressive laws.
In fact, Iceland recently claimed 4th place status in the Social Progress Index 2015 behind Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. Helping it earn this title? Support for personal rights, choice, tolerance, freedom and access to higher education, as well as its status as one of the globe’s most peaceful, ecologically sustainable places.
2. It Boasts a Rich and Dynamic History
The words “Vikings” and “boring” are mutually exclusive, but Iceland’s history is about much more than its medieval marauders. (And on that note, the Vikings themselves were about much more than medieval marauding.)
Whether you’re a political science or military history buff, fan of Old Norse sagas and contemporary Nordic crime lit, or an economic scholar, Iceland’s riveting history truly has something for everyone.
If you’re a believer in the supernatural, meanwhile, you’ll find yourself in good company in Iceland, where many locals believe in hidden elves and other mystical creatures.
Proud Icelanders celebrate their heritage with an abundance of local and national festivals meaning you’ll have plenty of opportunities to join in the fun while learning even more about Iceland’s fascinating past.
An added bonus? Due to its fusion of Nordic, European and North American cultures, most Icelanders speak at least two languages fluently, including English and Icelandic. Reykjavik is known as a popular international study location, with more than 5% of all students being international. Reykjavik University is located in the heart of capital and offers a variety of programs taught entirely in English.
3. Its Changing Landscapes Are Like No Other
Iceland’s Mid-Atlantic Ridge location makes it a truly unique destination any season of the year. Green open meadows, bubbling hot springs (Reykjavík translates to “smoky bay” in Icelandic), geothermal lakes, grand glaciers, brooding volcanoes, and crystalline fjords are just a few of the landscapes you can lay eyes on during your time in Iceland. And need we even mention those spectacular northern lights?
With such a breadth and depth of remarkable scenery, it’s not surprising that Iceland goes to such great lengths to preserve it, and is known as a world leader in conservation and sustainability management. Iceland is home to Europe’s largest national park, and staggering 100 percent of its electricity derives from renewable sources. No wonder Iceland is such a popular destination for sustainability related programs, at Iceland School of Energy students can study Sustainable Energy programs and learn first hand about renewable energy technology and development. Or combine ecology, sociology, economics and business studies and consider a Master in Coastal and Marine Management at the University Centre of the Westfjords
4. Arts and Culture Abound
We’ve already mentioned Iceland’s literary legacy, but it doesn’t end there. The country — birthplace of Björk, Monsters and Men, and Sigur Rós — also lays claim to a vibrant and unique community of artists, musicians and designers. Annual events like the Reykjavik Arts Festival, the Reykjavik International Film Festival and DesignMarch attract attendees from near and far while offering inspiring outlets for artists.
All of this adds up to perfect backdrop for studies at the acclaimed Iceland Academy of the Arts, which offers a comprehensive range of degree programs in design and architecture, fine arts, music, theater and dance, and art education.