There is officially one month left in my study abroad program. The first three weeks flew by, as I had a feeling they would.
Today is Friday, and it is also our last day of classes here at the University of the Westfjords in Ísafjörður. During Monday’s lecture, we studied wind power, looking at various designs and discussing the pros and cons of each of them. After our Icelandic lesson in the afternoon, we had our second independent project session where our program leader went more into detail about the expectations and requirements of our final project.
I have been generating different topic ideas since the project session we had when we first arrived in Ísafjörður, trying to narrow down to a definite research question considering our proposals are due July 8th, one week from today. Right now my general focus is to determine the effects of tourism on the development of renewable energy power plants. For example, harnessing energy from a waterfall requires the construction of certain infrastructure surrounding the feature that can change the view of the natural environment, which creates a different experience for tourists. I am interested in researching and determining how much weight the tourism factor should play in the overall considerations for development of hydroelectric and geothermal power plants. My topic still has a little ways to go in terms of development and research, but I am pretty confident that I will be able to refine it further within the next few days.
Monday night we got to watch Iceland beat England in football, knocking them out and advancing to the next round. It was incredibly exciting and the whole town celebrated the unexpected win. It is so awesome that a country as small as Iceland can have such an immense amount of national pride.
Tuesday we had a guest lecturer speak to us in lieu of our normal lecturer. John Colton is a professor at Acadia University in Canada. He spoke to us about marine renewable energy technology, such as the use of wave and tidal energy. His perspective was more focused on the social/community aspect of such projects, which was an interesting side of renewable energy I had not yet explored.
After class a few of us stayed to learn how to knit from one of the program directors. Not sure I’ll ever have the patience to make an Icelandic sweater, but so far the scarf I am working on seems like it will turn out alright.
Wednesday we took a class field trip across the ocean to a extremely old and historic community called Hesteyri. The boat ride took an hour and a half, but we had beautiful sunny weather for the first time in a few days so it was really nice. Stepping off the boat at Hesteyri felt like stepping into a time machine. The town cannot be reached by car, as it is isolated within a nature reserve in the fjords. Some of the original buildings from the early 1900’s still stand, well preserved and full of character. Many ghost stories and folk tales surround the town, giving it a creepy vibe. An old whaling village, Hesteyri was abandoned in the 1950’s but is now a nature paradise for hiking and exploring. After being fed a few traditional Icelandic refreshments, we took a few hours to walk around and take in the amazing scenery.
Thursday we had lecture then spent the afternoon working on our independent study projects and filming a skit for our Icelandic class. Today we will sharing those videos after enjoying a lunch at the Tar House and participating in a scavenger hunt around town. I am excited to have the weekend free to get a few more hikes in around the area before moving south next week.
Having our homestay portion of the trip in the Westfjords was an incredible opportunity to feel as close to an Icelandic local as I will ever feel. I loved biking to class every morning, occasionally stopping by the old bakery for coffee and a treat on my way. On the days the weather was nice, we took our lunch breaks by the water, watching the boats while we ate. My friends and I spent many of our afternoons at Husið (one of two resturant/coffee shop/bars in town), winding down from six hours of class and interacting with locals. After not too long, the masses of people coming and going from various cruise ships made me feel less like a tourist; watching them mull around town curiously, taking photos and browsing through shops was like being on the outside looking in.
Although I am ready for a change of pace and fresh faces in a place with enough residents to actually be classified as a city, I am definitely going to miss the quaint quiet manner of Ísafjörður and it’s surrounding areas. I am also going to miss my host family greatly. They are such kind and caring people, who made me feel completely welcome and at ease in their home. Observing and mimicking their way of life has taught me so much about Iceland, its people and its culture; more than I ever could have learned from staying in a hotel or hostel with the rest of my SIT group. I am hoping to come back as soon as possible to visit them again, maybe in the wintertime for a completely different experience including heavy blankets of snow across the land, many hours of darkness, and the spectacular Northern Lights.
Early next week our schedule is packed with a few field trips, farewell dinners, and many hours on the bus back towards the south (good thing I have plenty of knitting to keep me busy). Wednesday-Friday night we will be staying at an Eco-villiage called Sólheimar.