There’s no place like college, and by college, I mean, the live-eat-sleep together experience.
These past few days, I was fortunate enough to travel to Reykjavik, Iceland for a research program of sorts. During the week, we slept in shared rooms, ate some meals together, attended the same talks, walked to campus side-by-side, and, when the days were over, we hung out together. This intense experience of peer-to-peer bonding had a distinctly collegiate element to it.
To set the scene, this program included junior program staff members (college/ recent graduates), PhD students and working professionals, and “experts” and senior professionals. Altogether, our ages ranged from early 20s to around retirement age and we came from a handful of countries with English as our common language. Despite our differences, surprisingly, we all seemed to party well together.
It was early May in Iceland, and the days were long with the sun setting at around 11pm and rising before 5am (more on Iceland here). Such lightness can play tricks on one’s brain, I’m sure, as we ate dinner late and drank into the wee hours. In fact, every single evening we went out for dinner and drinks. In my normal life, I don’t really drink that much, in fact, I often go weeks without a drink for health reasons (more here). However, in Reykjavík, where everyone (including those old enough to be your parent), is down to hit the bar and grab drinks at 9pm, it can be easy to be swept away by the tide of good feelings.
One evening, feeling mentally drained from lectures and remote work, I returned to my hotel room, craving social interaction. Contrary to my introverted nature, I spontaneously asked my roommate if she would like to get cocktails in the hotel restaurant. I had low hopes that she would accept as it was after 9pm and she was typing away diligently on her laptop already wearing pajamas. However, maybe the lightness of the evening sky and the urge to socialize was weighing on her too as she was quick to accept my invitation. Downstairs, we ordered a paloma and a negroni from the much-too-friendly waiter. After some light-hearted confabulating, the waiter returned with a dark bottle and two shot glasses. He insisted we do a shot of some Icelandic liqueur with a licorice taste like Jägermeister. Neither of us were very interested, but as the waiter looked on from a distance at the bar, we acquiesced, clinked our glasses, and took small swigs of the shot. It wasn’t half bad, which surprised me as I literally have not done a shot in years. It was near midnight by the time we left the restaurant and the sky although much darker was still not pitch black. Then, just like college, we woke up early the next day and went to lectures.
The last day of our program also happened to be a special one for Iceland — it was Eurovision night. If you were born and raised in the U.S., there’s a good chance that you’ve never heard of the international songwriting/ performance competition Eurovision. In the lead-up to the final night, European countries vote on musical groups to represent their country at the national competition. Hosted in Rome this year (the Italian team won last year), 40 nations competed for the number one spot. The final night is a televised event, where the master of ceremonies announces the groups, the numbers are performed, and votes are tallied (through a mixture of call-in votes and “jury” votes).
Like televised sporting events, Eurovision is often screened at bars and celebrated with friends and drinks. Through text-chains and by word of mouth, our group planned to meet at an American bar (fitting called “American Bar”) in Reykjavík’s city center for our final night. By the time my roommate and I arrived after 9pm, our big group, which had been sporting business casual and formal throughout the week, looked casual and comfortable with beers and cocktails in hand as they filled up and spilled from two wide booths.
The atmosphere at the bar was so what you would expect — loud voices, cheering at the TV, generally positive vibes. People continued to trickle in, buy drinks by the round, and we were rapt by the final televised vote that announced Ukraine as the 2022 Eurovision champion. With the lively ambiance, it was so easy for me to just say “yes,” to the next drink. As this was the last night, I and a handful of others had to leave the hotel as early as 6:15am to make the morning flight back to Boston. In college, I devised a set of rules for myself to avoid hangovers— I really could not believe that I had to resort to these hangover-avoidance tactics (like no more than one drink an hour, alternate between alcohol and water, don’t drink after midnight, etc.) at this late stage of my 20s.
Once Eurovision ended, a large part of the group wanted to continue the celebration and we set out to an Irish pub. However, when we arrived the place was full, and we re-routed across town to a gin place (apparently gin and tonics are big here). Our group breezily entered the pub, but (because this is basically college part two for me), I (and ONLY I) was stopped at the front door and was carded. As far as my twenties are concerned, I’m well over the hump and the drinking age in Iceland is only 20. After I showed the bouncer, my perfectly legit ID I ran up to my college-aged roommate who somehow managed to avoid detection. G&Ts were ordered, and we occupied a few tables near the back of the bar. It was almost 1am and the group showed no signs of slowing down, in fact, a few were in favor of heading back to the hotel and cracking open a bottle of vodka afterward. I was way out of my league, my colleagues (again young AND not so young) did not seem to be bothered by the fact that it was literally 1am. I understand this, as in college, we wouldn’t leave until the bars kicked us out at 2am—however, many of us had an early flight tomorrow. Despite my desire to continue with the group, my stronger desire to not roll up to the airport hungover won out and I bid my adieus “early.” As I was walking back to the hotel, I weirdly felt hungry and reminisced about my days of ordering pizza by the slice after everywhere else uptown had closed. I caved and bought a convenience-store sandwich with a lot of oily mayonnaise… yum.
I got fewer than four hours of sleep that night though I know that I managed more shut eye than others who were on the same flight back as mine. I didn’t get a hangover— woohoo—but I also looked like I hadn’t slept in days. The week was intense— too little sleep, too much sitting around, and many too many drinks—it was like college, and it is now of ZERO surprise to me that I was not in very good physical shape during actual college. As I sit on the plane and finish this blog post to you, I am glad to have experienced Reykjavík in such a fun and unexpected way, however, I am equally (if not more), pleased to return to my routine adult existence filled with free time, walking, solitude, work-out classes, fresh produce, and moderate to little alcohol 🙂