Íris Björk Björnsdóttir, a tireless globetrotter between opportunities and coincidences, comes from Iceland.
After a BDes within L’École de design, she is currently doing a MDes in Brand Design & Food. Let’s discover her studies courses!
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Íris Björk Björnsdóttir and I come from Iceland. In 2008, I graduated from the Commercial College of Iceland, but at that point, I already knew I was more interested in arts and design rather than business. Because I wasn’t exactly sure of what I wanted to do at the time I decided to take a gap year to work and travel. I then moved to Paris and worked as an au-pair for a few months where I met my boyfriend. After only few months of living together there we decided to moved to Jamaica because of his work. We lived there for almost two years and I studied Fashion Design at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts before enrolling into L’École de design Nantes Atlantique.
Why did you choose France for your studies abroad?
I didn’t really choose France specifically for studying abroad. My original plan was just to come and work as an au-pair and learn some French until I would have a better idea of what I wanted to do in the future. But due to series of events and decisions I made, I just kind of ended up there by a coincidence. We have a very good design university in Iceland, called the Icelandic Academy of the Arts. They have a variety of both great design and arts programs available, but since I was already living abroad when I took my decision to study design it was never an option for me.
Why did you choose L’École de design specifically?
I had heard that L’École de design had a really good Product Design program which is what I wanted to specialise in, so that was a big factor for me. I also did some research when applying for my studies and I liked what I saw, but when I was comparing it to other design schools I noticed L’École de design was the only one which had a certain criteria given out by the government (which I can’t remember exactly what was now). Finally, its location was also very convenient for me.
You are now in your 5th year at L’École de design. What has been your background and why did you choose these specific programs?
After studying Fashion Design in Jamaica, and realising that it was not exactly what I wanted to do, I came to the conclusion that Product Design would be a better fit for me. So coming to the school I new exactly what I wanted to do. I did both my first year of integration and the second year in Product Design all in French, which was extremely difficult for me since I did not speak French when I enrolled into the school. So when I had the opportunity to move over to the International Class during my third year, which was all taught in English, and a program with international students from all over the world, I was very excited to jump on that.
At the end of my Bachelor degree I had developed a lot of interest in ceramics and I knew I wanted to focus more on interior design objects for the home. Cooking has also always been a big interest of mine so the Brand Design & Food MDes program within the New Eating Habits Design Lab seemed like a logical choice for me at the time. During the first semester of the MDes program (when all the students needed to do an exchange or an internship with a company abroad) I thought to myself this would be a great opportunity for me to further develop my skills in the ceramic fields and to use the time to develop a new trade. I looked carefully at all the exchange partners schools and programs available before making my choice to apply for the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Copenhagen. Thankfully, I got accepted. So I studied Ceramic Design in their masters program as well as doing a collaboration project with the Danish porcelain manufacture, Royal Copenhagen.
If you think 5 years back, what do you think of your integration amongst other students?
In all truth it was an extremely difficult process for me. I didn’t really speak the language that well, I was a bit older then most of the students and going from being a very extroverted person with a lot of confidence and many friends in Iceland, it was tough for me to all of the sudden became this shy person who couldn’t speak her mind because of the language barrier. However I was very lucky because the students in my class were extremely nice and helpful. To be honest, I am not sure if I would have made it through the first and second year without the help of some great people who got me through the toughest parts of the studies. Switching over to the International Class during my third year changed all of that of course, since everything was taught in English and all the students also spoke English making it so much easier to form new relations and friendships.
Any big cultural clash between Iceland and France?
Yes definitely! There are so many different things between these countries, but the eating habits are for sure one of the main difference I encountered early on. Here in France everything is much “stricter” when it comes to food, and people normally only eat certain things at certain times. Whereas in Iceland everything is available to you at any time and nobody cares if you have pizza for breakfast for example. As I experienced, in France something like that would be a big "no no", and the fact that restaurants close between lunch and dinnertime or the supermarkets are not open on Sundays or after 8pm is something I was not at all used to.
I also felt that the French people can be a bit proud and sometimes caring too much about their appearances, in a way more square then the Icelanders. Sometimes when I told people what I had already done, where I had worked or traveled they were so surprised I had done all of these things at an early age, but the things is everything is much more carefree in Iceland in my opinion. After graduating from high school a lot of people take brakes to figure out what they want to do. Some start working, others travel for a while and many people try few different programs at the university before settling on their final choice. Here, I feel it is much more of a plan, you need to finish high school, go directly to college, then do you masters, find an internship, get a job and then you can finally start doing what you really want to do. To me making a choice about what you want to do for the rest of your life when you are only seventeen is absolutely crazy. Nobody I have ever met knows what they want at that point in their life and creating new experiences or learning from your mistakes is so important to help you make the relevant choices about your future when you are so young.
Can you share what is your biggest personal success in all these years abroad?
I would say the fact that I managed to get through these first two years of my studies, all taught in French, without speaking the language properly and managing to graduate with quality grades and some really good projects I can be proud of. And of course that after “only” five years I am finally getting a hang of the French language!
Anything you miss in particular from Iceland?
Yes, there are always some little things I miss about Iceland, especially the clean and unpolluted climate as well as the Icelandic water - best in the word! But my family and friends are definitely the most important thing I miss most of the time.
What do you expect once you are graduated from L’École de design?
My plan is to move back to Iceland with my boyfriend after staying almost nine years abroad, but we have a fun project, related to both design and food, in mind which we will be launching when we get to Iceland. It’s all at an early stage now but basically we will be starting our own business once we get there.
How do you imagine yourself in a 5 years time?
I never really try to imagine the future because in my experience it can change so quickly from what we expect it to be. I prefer living in the moment and enjoying what I am doing right now rather then making some big future plans.