With so many new things to do, see, eat, and experience, travelling can be exhilarating.
The University of Manitoba Icelandic Field School was unique because it gave students the opportunity to try new and exciting things in Iceland. Participants experienced Iceland in a way regular tourists would never get the chance to.
Iceland is a funny country when it comes to tourism, because the majority of people who visit there only stay in Reykjavik, the capital and largest city. The Icelandic Field School 2015 started out in Reykjavik, which was a great way for students to find their legs in this new country.
It is a beautiful city, and the 24-hour daylight Iceland experiences in June gave us what felt like a lot of time to explore the city and get to know each other. Guesthouse Odin became home between trips to museums, galleries, and for midnight waffles. The showers smelled like sulphur, and we had to hang dry our underwear in the hallways.
Everything we encountered was a new and exciting adventure.
Phase two of the field school was a totally different journey.
Cars were rented, bags were packed. We drove away from the city and into the Westfjords, using tunnels and ferries, and traversing over terrifying mountain roads, until finally, we arrived at Holt.
This small former schoolhouse in the middle of a fjord became our new home. Students plunged into experiencing this “other Iceland.”
Some artists travelled with the school to the Westfjords, and those of us who stayed at Holt became family. We cooked meals for each other, went swimming as a group in the evenings in nearby towns, and spent our days together at the University Center of the Westfjords in the nearby village of Ísafjörður. Surrounded by the beauty of the Westfjords, and immersed in the Icelandic language, medieval literature, and each other, this is where the bulk of our field school memories were made.
Moving to our next home in Hrafnseyri wasn’t too difficult.
Still in the Westfjords, we slept in a traditional turf house there. We hiked up and down local fjords and poured our hearts and souls into our assignments. We explored towns in other fjords and saw everything from steampunk festivals to abandoned artists’ houses. Our days became one big road trip, which allowed relationships between students and instructors to flourish in some cases, and wane in others.
Leaving the Westfjords was more difficult.
By the time we reached our third stop in Akureyri, the accommodations felt less like home – more like we were just staying there for a few days. Our stay there sped by, in a myriad of waterfalls and other natural sites, punctuated by a few slow moments, like an afternoon which turned into an evening with newfound friends at the thermal pool in the Lake Myvatn zone.
The artists and one of our instructors discontinued their travels with us. Relationship dynamics shifted yet again. This was the most difficult part of the trip for many.
Driving back to Reykjavik was emotional for most of the group. Morale was low when we finally returned to the capital. The city felt different now.
Somehow the group dynamic shifted back to where it all started the first time we were in Reykjavik.
We had few scheduled activities once we settled back in. Our assignments were due, but the group still found time to experience a house party and night club, thanks to our teaching assistant who had spent several years living and studying in the city.
Walking home through the still-bright streets at 4 a.m. is something I will not soon forget.
Guesthouse Odin felt very much like home, once again. The sulphur smell in the showers seemed less intense, and the group became extremely tight as our last few days approached.
The final reunion dinner was an emotional experience. Many of the guests who we encountered along the way were in attendance.
Our last night together was even more emotional. At this point, the trip has become less about the country and more about each other.
And then we start to depart.
A few of us left each hour. My last morning was spent walking around the city with my closest friend from the trip.
Saying our goodbyes as the airport shuttle driver watched wasn’t how I hoped things would end.
I know I wasn’t the only who cried on the drive to the Keflavik International Airport.
Arriving back in Winnipeg, feeling the difference in weather and climate as I walked out of the airport, it hit me like a pile of bricks: I missed Iceland in a more tangible way than anything I have ever missed in my life.
Travelling to a new country was exciting. But experiencing a new country as a field school experience was particularly exhilarating for me.
The Icelandic Field School 2015 provided students with an incredible opportunity to visit another country, learn a little bit of the language, and experience the contemporary and medieval culture Iceland is known for – and far more.