Back in junior year of high school - that would make this 1973 or '74 - we sons of Regis were given the push to start applying to colleges. Lots of letters went out to the Ivy League and to "good, small liberal art colleges" (as our guidance counselor called schools of a certain kind and caliber). I dutifully followed suit, but threw a wild card into the mix: I sent a letter of inquiry (since I could not find an application form) to the University of Iceland at Reykjavik.
I can't now recall what prompted this action. I had always had some fondness for the island nation, with its storied Viking past, its legendary linguistic protectionism, its phone-book-by-first-name, and its oldest currently-seated parliamentary body (the Althing, founded 930 CE). Perhaps we had just been reading the Elder Eddas or something; at any rate, I thought it was a good idea to consider leaving Brooklyn for a course of higher education in an isolated and insular nation-state located on a volcanic island in the North Atlantic.
So, off went the letter, and, a few weeks later, back came the reply. Even in the formal academic English, the message was unmistakable: thanks, but no thanks, and don't call us, we'll call you. There was some explanation of the difference between European and American higher education (they wouldn't consider me for admission until I had completed two years of college) but one other point came through loud and clear: the language of instruction was Icelandic. The first year of admission, I would take Icelandic History and Icelandic; after that, I was on my own. The school clearly had no structured international student program, and displayed little interest in starting one with me.
Despite this warm welcome, I decided not to pursue my admissions process. Or perhaps after a few years, I just forgot. I did complete an associate's degree in 1978, but moved to Portland, Oregon to begin building my ultimately checkered work history instead of sending my transcript to Reykjavik. As it does, life happened, and here I am.*
But I did make it to Iceland, and even to the university. In summer of 2001, I took an extended vacation in Europe, and had the travel agent get me a weekend junket to Reykjavik while I was staying in England; I think I flew in on a Thursday night and stayed until Sunday. While I was enjoying the cosmopolitan delights of the city, I made sure to pay a visit to the university. It seemed very much like any other university, not an especially magical place, and I noticed when I was in the bookstore buying a T-shirt that about 75% of the textbooks were in English. I guess times changed at Háskóli Íslands.
Occasionally, I wonder what would have become of me had I pursued this educational plan, but the variables are so vast that I cannot even begin to reckon how different my life might have been. Perhaps it is enough for me to remember that, as a youth, I was the type of person who thought that initiating such an endeavor was perfectly reasonable and to never lose that sense of what is possible.
*For what it's worth, I did get accepted to a good, small liberal arts college, Reed, but chose instead to go to a crappy, small, private community college, Mercy.
When I so informed him, the guidance counselor looked at me and held one hand high over his head. "This," he said, "is Mount Olympus, and here is Reed." He put his other hand down around his shins. "And here is Mercy."
The Greek myths never grabbed me as much as the Norse, so I wasn't swayed. After getting my associate's, I finished my bachelor's twenty-four years later at the oldest distance education institution in the country and then took a master's from a regional, comprehensive public university. So it goes.