Icelandic Language Blog

University of Iceland Posted by on Dec 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

I’ve been going to the University of Iceland for three semesters now, so here’s some stuff I’ve learned.

Most people are fairly lax about rules in Iceland, whether it’s your employer, the government, or your teachers. For example, if you have a homework assignment due on Tuesday, you could turn it in next week and the teacher probably won’t actually care. Most classes don’t have an attendance requirement, and often the final exams are worth 75-100% of your final grade for the class. You can go to class for the first couple weeks of school, then determine if it’s actually necessary for you to go to class in order to learn what you need to (if the teacher lectures word-for-word from powerpoints you can get online or if they deviate and teach you random, more interesting things all the time), then never go again if you don’t want to. There are only a few random people who are really strict about the rules, if you’re unlucky you get one of them.

There’s only a few buildings that I’ve had classes in. The “main building” is the oldest University building, previously the only building they had. “Háskólatorg” is more like a student center, where there’s a cafeteria, bookstore, help center, student housing help center, and some computer rooms. Next to Háskólatorg there’s another building that has a gym on the top floor, I’ve actually never been in there but any student can get a gym membership for a fee.

Side of the old/main University building, at night. Only now did I realize just how few photos I have of my school, sorry!

Sometimes for events like Gay Pride day and such, they put colors over the lights so you can see main building lit up in pink or green at night.

Most of the buildings have a small café/snack shop on the bottom floor, and at least one building has a coffee machine (but it’s more expensive, tastes worse, and you get less compared to buying at the little shops). When in class, usually you’ll have a ten or fifteen minute break in the middle of class so everyone can go buy coffee. Even though you’re technically not allowed to eat or drink in any of the classrooms, just watch the other students and the teacher to see if it’s actually allowed.

On the main floor of Háskólatorg is the cafeteria, bookstore, and registration center. You go to the registration center to receive and turn in “sick exam” forms (a form you have to fill out saying which final exam you were sick for) and to get any sort of grade transcripts. Transcripts cost about $3 right now, and they can print anything you need in either English or Icelandic (sometimes writing it on the spot).

Háskólatorg (old photo).

The floor above has the student housing help center, where you go when you need to first sign your student housing contract (only if you’re living in the school-provided apartments!) or when you want to break the contract. You have to notify them a month in advance before you want to move out, by putting your notice online. You only have to give back your key by the move-out date. They’ll do a small inspection of your room and give you back your deposit (only foreign students need to pay a deposit at the beginning of the rental period). Háskólatorg closes sometime around seven or eight at night, but if you’re already inside the building you can stay as long as you want (I’ve seen people inside working at three in the morning on a Friday). I’m not sure, but you might be able to use your student card as a doorkey to get inside when it’s after hours. I think you can only do this with Háskólatorg though, not any of the other buildings.

On the same floor is the student service center. If you want counseling on what programs to take, having trouble with classes or worried about exams, even if you need to figure out something for your student living permit, they’re always really friendly and do what they can to help you. Going there is free and there are walk-in counseling hours from something like one to four, otherwise you can just make an appointment with the secretary.

The Nordic House, a building next to the science building (but a bit further away from all the other school buildings). I’ll do a post on this place sometime in the future, it’s basically a library and cultural center for all the Nordic countries and languages.

I forget which buildings these are.

When in class, at least if you’re taking Icelandic for Foreigners, you probably won’t get many assignments and even if you do, they probably won’t count towards your final grade. For example, one of my classes this semester had one midterm assignment due that was worth 5% of my final grade, and then that was it for anything other than the final exams. Most classes will only have one final exam, but sometimes you might get something like “listening comprehension exam worth 15% of your final grade” and “grammar exam worth the remaining part of your final grade”, which will be exams hosted on different days. The teacher will usually put up past exams for the course online so you will have some idea of what might be on the exam.

If you miss a final exam because you’re sick, you have to go to the registration office and get a “sick exam” form. This asks when you were sick, how long you were sick, what class’ exam you missed, et cetera. As of this year you need an actual doctor’s note to accompany this form, saying you were actually sick. This form and the doctor’s note has to be turned in to the registration office within three days of your missed exam (excluding weekends).

Has a coffee machine and a coffee shop on the bottom floor. Most of my classes have been either in this building or in the main building.

If you use a regular mug instead of a disposable one when buying coffee, you return the mug to this cart after finishing your drink.

The coffee shop is to the right, through those double-doors.

The bad, expensive coffee machine is immediately to the right of the doors for the coffee shop.

Anyone can put things on the bulletin boards.

This green table usually has flyers you can take and piles of books, I’m not sure if the books are things people have forgotten in the building or if they’re books people are giving away.

If you can’t make it to the exam and you’re not actually sick, first you should contact your teacher asking (as far in advance as you possibly can, I can’t stress this enough) if you can take it at any other time. If they say no, you are literally out of luck. You will automatically fail the exam because you didn’t show up, then you’ll have a chance to take the same exam a year later (or in the next semester if you’re lucky).

If you’re going to be in another country during the exam day, there is one thing you can do. You have to get your exam proctored by a teacher at a University in the country you’re going to be in. This means that you have to find a random teacher to stand over you and watch you to make sure you’re not cheating or something during the exam, while you take the same exam as the students in Iceland (and at the same time as the students in Iceland). You have to find a teacher willing to do this by yourself, the school will not help you. After you find one and get their contact info, you fill out the online form here and submit it at least two weeks before your exam date.

Inside one of the classrooms.

Here’s my story:
I bought plane tickets to Sweden before the dates of the final exams were set. Then I found out that my flight was on the same day as my last exam. I contacted the teacher asking if I could take the exam at any other time, she said that the sick exam was my only option. I replied, how can I sign up for the sick exam if I’m not sick? Could she sign me up?

About a month passed, with me sending repeated Emails to her, and I had no response. When I had another exam I saw her in person with another teacher of mine. I explained this problem to my other teacher and she said that the only person who could do anything about the exam would be the teacher holding the exam. We asked my exam teacher about it, she replied with the one word “later”. Then the next day I finally got a reply to my Emails, which was again simply “you have to take the sick exam”. When I replied yet again with “How do I do that when I’m not going to be sick?” she said “there’s no other option, talk to the head of examinations and maybe he can do something”.

There’s signs around the University saying which buildings are where, but I find them confusing.

I went to the school, talked to student services who told me (like my other teacher) that the only one who could do anything would be my teacher herself. I talked to my teacher, she told me to go to the head of examinations again. I went to him, he told me about the link above where you have to get your exam proctored. He said there is no other way for me to take this exam. This was yesterday (December second) and my exam is on the eighth of December. The head of examinations told me “The students have to make room for the school rules, not the other way around” or something like that.

To keep your student living permit if you’re from outside of Europe, you have to pass twenty-two credits per semester (usually that’s about three classes). I’m only taking three classes this semester, so guess what might happen if I don’t get to take this exam? Well, let’s hope it turns out well. Just so I don’t worry anyone unnecessarily, my girlfriend’s old Icelandic teacher at the University of Uppsala (where I’ll be visiting) has replied to her Email explaining my situation and said that he knows about this rule, and that he’s able to proctor my exam for about half the time, so he’ll try to find someone else on Monday to either do the other half or to do the whole thing for me.

There’s lots of other trouble I and my fellow students have had with the school, but nothing on this level. The other things were more like not knowing where anything is on their online site, or my exam locations not showing up on my online schedule. I’ve heard that they have the hardest courseload in your first and second years of a degree, then it gets easier after that (to weed out the non-serious students).

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About the Author: sequoia

I try to write about two-thirds of the blog topics on cultural aspects and one-third on the language, because there's much more out there already on the language compared to daily life information. I try to stay away from touristy things because there's more of that out there than anything else on Iceland, and I feel like talking about that stuff gives you the wrong impression of Iceland.


  1. Alex:

    Can you post some of the previous exams? I’d like to get a look at one because I think it’d be similar to the one I’ll be given in Feb to go on the Icelandic Summer Course… wondering what it might be like/how it’s structured. I am not sure why but I assumed you were a girl (I think it was the pink background to the site :P) so I kept on thought I’d skipped a line when you mentioned about your g/f.

    That teacher sounds like one of the strict ones :S!

    • sequoia:

      @Alex Haha, unfortunately I’m not the one who makes the layout for the site, I can’t change the pink background. I can only post stuff. If it were me I’d add some useful links to the left side of the page too. : P

      Yeah, I’ll get the previous exams for both the degree program and what I have for the first semester of the diploma program for you. Wait a bit, I need to eat lunch first. I don’t know anyone who’s taken the summer course (I wanted to take it myself though) so once you take it be sure to let me know what it was like!

      EDIT: I got a bit busy, hopefully I can get them and put them up today, but I have an exam tomorrow and a bunch of errands to run/cleaning to do before my flight to Sweden so it might not happen for a bit, sorry. I think I’ll just make a blog post on what each class is like and then add them at the end.

  2. Wilmer:

    Amazing blog! I’m interested in studying a masters degree in the Univ. of Iceland, i’m from Honduras and I would like to know how hard is it for a foreigner to be accepted in the University of Iceland. I’m sending my application in a few days and i’m a little nervous.

    • sequoia:

      @Wilmer I was accepted without any problems and I’ve never heard of anyone being rejected, not even my friend who was unable to get any kind of transcript of her former grades (she could only get a vague certificate saying “she graduated from this school in this year” because they didn’t keep much information back then). She also got really bad teacher recommendations because her teachers were bad at English and they said “you write it for me” or something like that. I definitely wouldn’t worry about it. By far the most difficult process is actually getting the student permit to live in Iceland, haha… unfortunately.

      I think I was told sometime in late June or even sometime in July that I was accepted, I’m pretty sure they told me in an Email and also sent me a written confirmation. Then I had to really rush to get everything in for applying for the student permit. Then I had to badger the Foreign Immigration Office a lot (if you have problems. CALL THEM or better still get an Icelander to call them, they won’t answer you via Email) and I was only actually told the day before my flight to Iceland that my permit was granted, and that was because an Icelandic lady called them for me and demanded to know.

      Also, as far as I know you can’t get expelled from the University for bad grades. Even if you fail all your classes, you can just retake them again (but you can’t retake classes that you’ve already passed no matter if you got a good or bad grade in them). They reaaaaaally really don’t care. And most teachers don’t care if you show up to class or not, and depending on what you’re studying your textbooks might all be in English and your teacher might actually be on a “staff exchange” and might not be Icelandic, so they’ll speak in English. Also, you can always just ask the teacher if they’ll teach in English, because sometimes they’re willing to do that even if there’s only one person in the class with bad Icelandic.

  3. Verónika:

    Just found the blog today and read through it all, disappointed now that I have to wait for more! Keep up the great blogging, a very insightful read indeed.

    • sequoia:

      @Verónika Yeah, I’m really sorry but for some unknown reason our internet has been REALLY bad in the past couple months and I haven’t been able to do much. School started again this week though, so I can now go to the University and post via their internet. The next update should be soon! If you have anything you’re wondering about or want me to write about, just ask!