“It will all turn out okay!” – as the Icelanders always say. So it did, despite my late arrival and early leave, my two days in Iceland were unbelievable. Stepping into the Keflavik airport set the tone for my entire stopover. In chatting with two other Americans in line for customs, we all agreed the entire airport had a soothing sense of serenity to it. Everyone was calm and quiet, the people were kind and there was no rushing about. I had left the Chicago airport at 7:30 PM on a flight that lasted six hours. I found sleep almost impossible, but it was dawn in Iceland, meaning I had a full day ahead of me.
It took me nearly two hours to find the center of the capital, Reykjavik. The GPS I was given had been set to English, but every location had Icelandic titles, making my supposed 30 minute drive a fun game of trial and error. My interesting detours did lead me to the infamous Icelandic gas station hot dog, for which I have no regrets!
Upon finally arriving in the city, I grabbed the first spot available to park. After a bit of exploring, caffeinating, and finding food that wasn’t given to me by a flight attendant; it was time to start the drive to my airbnb four hours North. This is where the fun began. My convenient parking spot just so happened to be on a hill… facing up…and I was driving a manual for the first time in years. I quickly realized not hitting the car behind me was going to be yet another challenge.
Up to this point of pulling out of my parking spot, I had driven a manual for a grand total of 2.5 hours in the last three years. After some pep talking, I took a deep breath and started releasing the break. In fear of revving the engine and making a scene, I didn’t give it enough gas and rolled closer to the car behind me. I gave this a go two more times before I gave up, deciding I was far too close to my neighbor’s car. What was I supposed to do?! I was in a car that did not belong to me and in a country that wasn’t my own. Today was not the day I would dip into my emergency fund.
It seemed everyone here drove a manual, so I decided to seek help. The first potential candidates were two construction workers, but after taking some time to muster up the courage to ask, I decided they were too busy. I started walking up the residential street and came across an older man smoking in his doorway. He seemed nice enough, so I approached him and began to explain my dilemma. He listened intently, but when I was done speaking, he made motions and mumbles signaling me to stay put. He disappeared into the doorway, yelling something up the stairs. A younger woman came down and they exchanged a few words in Icelandic. She turned to me, asking for more explanation and I recited my whole situation again. With a look of relief and annoyance, she translated my woes to the old man.
His eyebrows lifted and he threw his hands up in a way I assumed meant, “Okay, I can fix this! Show me your car!” In relief, I lead him over to the sight of my predicament. Putting his cigarette out on the wheel of my back tire, he took a minute to assess the situation. I tried to hand him my keys, but he motioned for me to get in my car instead. This was not my plan, but the language barrier prevented me from insisting otherwise. So, I dutifully got in my car and started the engine. Hesitating, I looked back at him, but he didn’t need words to urge me to continue. Next, he simply said “Okay!” instructing me to start moving forward. I turned the wheel the correct way, squeezed my eyes shut and shifted my foot from the break to the gas a quickly as I could. … I was out! This may have been the best thing I had done all day! I looked back at him, almost laughing, and thanked him with the most grateful smile I was capable of.
I guess all I needed was emotional support from a grumpy Icelandic grandpa. As I drove away, more confident that ever, I couldn’t help but be thankful for his persistence and encouragement. The rest of my day went on without a hitch! I constantly found myself fighting the urge to stop and capture each breathtaking view upon rounding a new corner. I had come to Iceland to paint, but I could tell it was going to be nearly impossible to sit in one place when I knew the entire continent was a masterpiece I hadn’t discovered.
Until the next adventure,
Serena Baker is a junior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying Chemistry with a minor in Entrepreneurship. Serena is spending the summer abroad with UMKC Honors Summer Program in Scotland. Taking full advantage of her trip abroad, Serena will make a stop-over in Iceland and visit Germany after the program to improve her language proficiency.
Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.