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By Baroness Katja Davidova Orlova Khazarina (Chris Adler-France)

Have you ever dreamed of living and studying overseas? Of deep-diving into an aspect of the art or culture that burns a fire in your belly?

Two Æthelmearcians are about to make their dream come true.

Baroness Orianna Fridrikskona and Baron Fridrikr Tomasson av Knusslig Hamn, longtime residents of Thescorre, teachers, autocrats, and artisans who stepped down last year after a term co-serving as the Kingdom’s Ministers of Arts & Sciences, are about to study in Scandinavia for the next two years and took time out of their busy last-minute preparations to talk to The Gazette about their plans.

Q: Please tell us about what you will be doing for the next two years?

A: Starting in mid-July, we will be living in Iceland (and elsewhere for a bit) while we return to university. Fridrikr will be pursuing a Masters program in “Viking and Medieval Norse Studies,” while Orianna will be pursuing a one-year Certificate program in “Icelandic as a Second Language for Practical Purposes.”

Q: Why did you decide to do this?

A: (Fridrikr) I heard about this program while I was doing a four-day weekend workshop in Old Norse at Worcester Polytech about three years ago. It sounded like a great program to extend my personal work in Old Norse poetry. We looked into it and set ourselves the goal of doing this after we had both retired. It has become our Great Adventure.

(Orianna) When he started talking about it, I thought it sounded like a lot of fun and definitely something to do while we had the ability to do it. Iceland is a very interesting country and I think having the opportunity to live there and learn more is pretty neat.

However, I told him there were two conditions:

  1. It had to wait until I retired (which happened late last year), and
  2. It had to be for only two years.

Fridrikr mentioned the Icelandic language class as an option for me to increase my ability to be accepted to live in Iceland with him, plus since we will be there it makes sense to learn the language.

Q: Please explain your degree programs, what kind of classes you’ll be doing, and what you hope the end result will be?

A: (Fridrikr) My program is an intensive 120-credit-hour program taken over two years. It culminates in a Master of Arts degree. The first year is spent in Reykjavik at the University of Iceland, taking basic graduate level courses and electives. I’m not sure yet, but I’m reasonably certain that there will be at least one semester-long project the first year, second term.

The second year is devoted to research, seminars, and thesis writing. First semester of the second year will be “study abroad” in either Oslo, Copenhagen, or Aarhus, Denmark. The location is decided based on my research interests. I believe that I’ll end up in Copenhagen, as I want to work in saga studies and the Arnamagnaen Institute’s sister collection is there. Oslo is the second choice (history). Aarhus is more geared toward archaeological studies. The end result will be an MA from the University of Iceland.

(Orianna) My program is a one-year certificate that covers all of the usual classes you need to take to learn a language. I am a little nervous about it since Icelandic is a difficult language and the last time I took classes in another language was in high school. But hopefully immersing myself in the language in the country of origin will help.

Q: Tell us about Reykjavik?

A: We’ve already been there a couple of times on vacation. It’s a smallish city (125,000 people) and the central area, where we’re living, can be walked across in about 20 minutes. The public transportation system is all bus and is excellent. We’ll be living near the harbor, in a fully furnished apartment that is about 700 square feet. Small, cozy, and excellent.

Q: How long did it take to prepare for this and what steps did you need to do?

A: A lifetime? Or, more realistically, about two years of talking about it and about a year of really doing it.

The three big steps were:

  • getting accepted at the university;
  • arranging housing and bureaucratic stuff (visas – still in process, medical insurance, etc.);
  • making sure our house here is cared for.

These days, about a month out, we’re getting packing lists done, packing boxes to ship over, getting clothes and other necessities together. It’s starting to get hectic now.

Q: What was the most challenging step? What was easiest? What surprised you?

A: (Fridrikr) For me, the most challenging step has been the application to the university. Creating my Curriculum Vitae (an academic version of a résumé), gathering copies of diplomas, transcripts, and writing a “statement of intent” detailing why you are applying, why you are a good fit for the program, what you will do with your career after you graduate, and so on.

The easiest step was medical insurance (fill out a very general form and give them money and you have insurance for six months. After that, you’re on the public insurance system).

A surprise (though it shouldn’t be) is the slowness of the Visa/Residency Permit system. We applied in May (passport, photos, criminal background check, “proof” of ability to support yourself) and have heard virtually nothing since. We’re hoping to hear before we leave, but probably won’t.

(Orianna) I think for me it is the practical — where will we live, what about money, shopping, getting around the city, health insurance, medications. I suspect there are a few things we haven’t yet thought of but if we got this far with the process, we can figure out the rest as needed.

Q: How did you find a place to live? What resources helped you accomplish this?

A: We were lucky. Finding housing is the hardest part of living in Reykjavik. Many students end up “camping out” for a few weeks after they arrive. I posted on Facebook, describing us and our need (retired couple, students, looking for a furnished apartment). A fellow saw my post, put us in touch with his cousin who lives in New Hampshire and has a furnished apartment in Iceland. He was looking for folks to occupy it for a year. We got in touch and, voila!, we have an apartment. Really, it was all by networking!

Q: What will happen to your home and pets here in the US while you are living in Iceland?

A: Our daughter, Brigid; her husband, Justin; their two cats; and their baby (expected in September) will live in our house while we’re gone. Our cats will learn to deal, we hope.

It is a good deal for them since they will only be covering the general utilities while we will cover the homeowner’s insurance and taxes. Plus, we are downsizing a car since there is no reason to have two cars sitting idle in the garage while we are gone.

We do plan to be back in the United States off and on during the next two years. Orianna will be back in September for the grandbaby birth, plus we hope to return home for Christmas. There will likely a short trip next summer while we plan the transition from Iceland to either Denmark or Norway.

Q: Do you have any plans to attending any local SCA events or seeing any specific tourist attractions while you are there, and if so, what are they?

A: We’d like to go back to some favorite places while we’re there, especially Reykholt (the home of Snorri Sturluson), and see parts of the island we haven’t been to yet. While we’re in Europe, I’m certain we’ll do a lot of touring about. The local group in Iceland is very small, and we’re hoping to get to know them a bit. The amount of free time we’ll have is uncertain, but it will be filled with adventure!

It would be fun to attend a Drachenwald event — especially the ones they hold in real castles! Their Majesties Sven and Siobhan have offered to provide any advice or help we might need in connecting with the folks in Drachenwald.

Plus, there are some places in Scandinavia and The Netherlands that we would like to visit given our proximity while we are there.

Q: Do you expect to use these degrees for anything specific when you return to the US, or are you pursuing them simply as part of lifelong learning?

A: (Fridrikr) If I’m good enough, have the health and treasure left, and can find a fit, I’d like to get a Ph.D. after I finish, maybe at Cornell or Binghamton. If not, I plan to continue my personal studies for as long as I can.

(Orianna) I am not sure what I will do with my language classes, but maybe it will be useful in clothing or general historical research. Who knows?

Q: What advice would you give to a SCAdian who wants to study overseas for a year or more?

A: Have a plan, stick with it, be ready for some hefty sticker shock, but go for it! Whether you succeed or not, you’ll get to know wonderful people and you’ll find doors opening up for you that you could never have imagined.

You can follow their ongoing journey at their blog here.