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MU students venture to the mysterious Iceland

Nikki Schaffer
Features Editor

As the most sparsely populated country in Europe, a significant portion of Iceland’s land remains a wild and uninhabited ethereal landscape. South of the Arctic Circle, this Nordic island’s location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge makes it geologically active, resulting in the country’s widespread usage of geothermal power.

Reynisfjara Beach on the south coast of Iceland. The large black rock formations that rise out of the ocean are believed to be trolls who turned into stone after being caught in the sunlight. About half of native Icelanders believe in the existence of elves and trolls.
Reynisfjara Beach on the south coast of Iceland. The large black rock formations that rise out of the ocean are believed to be trolls who turned into stone after being caught in the sunlight. About half of native Icelanders believe in the existence of elves and trolls.

“Iceland is the only country to produce 100 percent of their electricity via alternative means—no fossil fuels are burned to produce large scale electricity in the entire country,” explained AEST Department chair Dr. Len Litowitz, who led eleven students from his ITEC 304: Energy Resources, Sustainability & the Environment class abroad this past spring.

This course offered a unique opportunity for students to leave their mundane college routine and travel to one of the top three ranked places in the world for sustainability. Iceland’s dedication to reducing their carbon footprint is apparent in their energy usage, along with their stingy attitudes towards the use of one-use items such as plastic bags, disposable cups and even paper towels, says Litowitz.

International Education Week
Surrounded by dark lava columns, Svartifoss (Black Fall) is a waterfall in Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland.
Surrounded by dark lava columns, Svartifoss (Black Fall) is a waterfall in Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland.

“I wanted to create an experience in keeping with the nature of Perspectives courses that was truly transformational for students. The kind of experience that everyone would remember long after college when life gets busier and more complicated. There are places in the U.S. we could have visited that are equally as beautiful, but the combination of international travel to a largely unspoiled natural paradise with a strong commitment to sustainability led me to Iceland,” he said.

MU technology education major Cody Zickler was easily persuaded to sign up for this trip when he learned of this once in a lifetime opportunity.
“I know Dr.Litowitz very well. When he sent me photos of Iceland, I knew I had to go,” said Zickler. “This trip brought a lot of people together because everything was so beautiful, you couldn’t be unhappy.”

Although pony-sized, Icelandic horse are long-lived and hardy.
Although pony-sized, Icelandic horse are long-lived and hardy.

After two weeks of meticulous reading and assignments, the group finally arrived at the Reykjavik airport on May 22—where they would circle the entire island together for nine days, packed in one large boxy van.

Self-expressive and artistic, native Icelanders intermingled with the tourists on the streets of Reykjavik, clearly standing apart due to their light blonde hair and ice cream cone in hand—which is not unusual considering the nation’s propensity for this dessert.

After an afternoon scouring the many Viking themed gift shops and walking along the bayside, the group’s adventures around the island would begin. The road they traveled was called Route 1 or the “Ring Road,” which loops around the island and connects to most of the inhabited areas.

The group was given a fresh start each morning, as they packed up the van and hit the open road, staying in a different hostel every night. The Icelandic landscape changed dramatically depending on which region the group journeyed to. Fortunately, traveling by road would offer the best possible view of the gradual change of scenery.

Glacial ice often appears blue when it has become very dense as it does here. Students were able to take a boat tour through a glacier.
Glacial ice often appears blue when it has become very dense as it does here. Students were able to take a boat tour through a glacier.

Some regions were desolate lava fields or boiling sulfuric hot pot zones, others revealed an expanse of snowcapped mountains or mossy green hills with waterfalls. One could almost always see an infamous herd of sheep or Icelandic horses grazing in a mossy field.

“The most surprising thing was how beautiful it was. I couldn’t get over it,” says psychology major Leila Fleisher. “It was an opportunity to go somewhere. Central Pa or Iceland? I definitely wanted a new experience.”

Each day the group was able to gaze upon scenic views and have free time for adventuring. On their day of arrival, they headed to The Blue Lagoon, a bright blue geothermal pool that sits at a comfortable 100 Fahrenheit, where visitors can relax in the silica and mineral infused waters.

Another highlight was a day spent in the northern city of Húsavìk, a bayside town where the group went whale watching off of the Arctic Ocean. Luckily, the weather was idyllic, sunny and warm, making it a memorable experience. Wherever they traveled, the island seemed to stretch on forever.

“I never expected Iceland to be so vast,” said technology education major Erica Roth, who wanted to go to Iceland for the experience of traveling. “I can’t compare it to any place in the U.S. that I have ever been to before.”

There seems to be a collective agreement that perhaps the most scenic view was a snow-covered mountainous region overlooking the eastern town of Seydisfjordur. This view was dream-like due to the stark contrast of the blue sky and the snow covered surrounding mountains, making the tiny town seem like mere dots around the fjord below.

Because the sun does not set above the Arctic Circle, places like Iceland experience a midnight sun in summer. This means that the sun will not set until midnight; and even then, it does not experience the darkness we associate with nighttime.

This phenomenon allowed the students to roam the mountains surrounding Seydisfjordur well past midnight. Aaron Rodden, an economics major, who went on this trip because it seemed like it would be interesting, recalls one of his favorite experiences happening the night he went exploring with some others in this town.

On the north coast of Iceland lies the whale-watching capital, Husavik. Here students were able to see whales and walk along the bay.
On the north coast of Iceland lies the whale-watching capital, Husavik. Here students were able to see whales and walk along the bay.

“It was really cool finding a geocache on the mountain with many different languages. The only one that was in English said ‘Beware of the reindeer,’ and when we turned around, there they were,” he said.

Luckily, the reindeer didn’t attack anyone that night, but many in the group were able to see the herd as they passed over the mountains. Other adventures the group experienced include exploring a lava cave, taking a boat ride through a glacier and several hikes to magnificent waterfalls.

Each day was an entirely new experience with breathtaking scenery. When not taking in the island’s splendor, students gave presentations on sustainability topics they had researched prior to arriving in Iceland throughout the week. Students were also given the opportunity to tour Krafla Geothermal Power Station and attend a geothermal energy exhibit.

If this sounds cool and you are interested in going to Iceland, consider attending an informational session. This year, in addition to an ITEC 304 Iceland trip, a second location for this course will be available for students.
“I am working on running the course in Costa Rica as well—a place with a similar commitment to sustainability and the environment but with a totally different climate for the exact same reasons,” said Litowitz.

Informational sessions will take place for ITEC 304 in Iceland on Wednesday, Oct. 1st at 8:15 p.m. in Osburn Hall room 208, and for ITEC 304 in Costa Rica on Wednesday, Oct. 1st at 9 p.m. in Osburn Hall room 208. Additional informational sessions will take place on Thursday, Nov. 13th in Osburn Hall room 208, Iceland meeting at 5:15 p.m., and Costa Rica meeting at 6 p.m.

Indeed, the uniqueness of Iceland has affected people in different ways. For Roth, hers has not yet surfaced, “I have been [changed]. I just don’t understand quite how yet. Iceland is just a totally different world.”