Monday Spotlight: Studying Nordic mythology in Iceland

Caroline Oxley

FRONT ROYAL – A Front Royal resident spent the last year in Iceland as a student studying Nordic mythology and will soon begin her thesis on shapeshifting.

Caroline Oxley, 25, of Front Royal, recently returned to the United States after spending the past year as a student at the University of Iceland in their English programs.

She said she studied religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University before deciding to attend the University of Iceland’s old Nordic religion program.

She has always been fascinated with old pagan mythologies and is part of a Viking reenactment group with her husband, she said, and considers herself a history buff, especially in Scandinavian studies.

And from her love of mythology she decided to make the move to Iceland and study the Nordic religion at the university.

Caroline Oxley is shown in Gullfoss, Iceland. Courtesy photo

She is working on her thesis, which she hopes to complete within a year and will be done mostly in the U.S. Her thesis is on shapeshifting in the sagas, which she takes an approach from what happens to your gender and subconscious.

“The Scandinavian studies has a really rich culture in mythology, with the old religion consisting of different sagas,” she said, such as Oden, Thor and Loki.

“Shapeshifting is something that is very prominent in both the gods as well as shamanistic magic,” she added. “That’s kind of the interesting thing about religious studies. You get to step outside the box from normal majors, such as business.”

When she entered the University in Iceland, she had to adjust to a different form of teaching.

Icelandic schooling is laid-back, she said, with teachers referred to by their first names and coffee breaks during classes, but she added that students are very focused on their studies. She added that tuition is much lower than schools in the United States.

“Overall it’s a really nice environment,” she said.

The official language of Iceland is Icelandic, she said, but most people also speak English, which made conversations much easier for her.

“Icelandic is one of the hardest languages for English people to learn,” she added. She can read a bit of Icelandic but has difficulty speaking the language.

The culture of Iceland is more easy going, she said, which may be due to population of the country, which is about 300,000 people.

“Things go a lot slower,” she added. “What I really liked about Iceland as far as culture goes is they’re very rooted in their traditions.”

The official religion of Iceland is Lutheran, and when holidays or special occasions occurred, everything shuts down because people are expected to be with family, she said.

The weather in Iceland is cooler and more mild, but very windy, Oxley said. Winters only get a few degrees above freezing because of their geographic location. During the shortest day of the year – the winter solstice – the country only gets about three hours of daylight, but on the longest day of the year -the summer solstice – the sun shines the entire day.

She advises others to study abroad because you learn a lot about yourself when you step outside your own country.

“I found myself very proud of where I came from, but also very excited just to be somewhere brand new and you have to rely on yourself and strap your boots on and become a little independent, which I think everyone can benefit from” she said.

She is a field archeologist with the College of William and Mary and would like to pursue a doctorate at a school in the U.S. in mythology or folkloristics.