November 30, 2012
As the semester wraps up, I start to realize how weird it will be to no longer live in Solheimar with all of these amazing people. Over the past three months, they’ve welcomed me into their lives and showed me the importance of community. These people with be sorely missed and will always hold a special place in my heart!
However, it will be equally as difficult to no longer be around these crazy people that make up my crazy Icelandic family anymore. These people that I have shared a home with for the past three months have provided joy, comfort, consolation, encouragement, and inspiration. These fifteen people are some of the nicest, funniest, most dedicated people I know. It has been a pleasure and an honor to spend the last three month learning from and spending time with them. Every single person has played an important role in making this semester the awesome experience that it was. This truly was the perfect combination of people for an excellent semester and I thank Jordin, Tara, Margie, Michael, Tim, Connor, Alicia, Ben, Drew, Noga, Shelby, Yuan, Margaret, Hank, and Karin for making my time in Iceland an unforgettable experience!

As the semester wraps up, I start to realize how weird it will be to no longer live in Solheimar with all of these amazing people. Over the past three months, they’ve welcomed me into their lives and showed me the importance of community. These people with be sorely missed and will always hold a special place in my heart!

However, it will be equally as difficult to no longer be around these crazy people that make up my crazy Icelandic family anymore. These people that I have shared a home with for the past three months have provided joy, comfort, consolation, encouragement, and inspiration. These fifteen people are some of the nicest, funniest, most dedicated people I know. It has been a pleasure and an honor to spend the last three month learning from and spending time with them. Every single person has played an important role in making this semester the awesome experience that it was. This truly was the perfect combination of people for an excellent semester and I thank Jordin, Tara, Margie, Michael, Tim, Connor, Alicia, Ben, Drew, Noga, Shelby, Yuan, Margaret, Hank, and Karin for making my time in Iceland an unforgettable experience!

November 30, 2012
Reflections

"The best journeys answer the questions that you didn’t even know to ask in the beginning." - 180° South

November 22, 2012

This past week, the CELL students and I brought a little taste of the traditional American Thanksgiving to the residents of Solheimar. Our day consisted of prep work, fruit and vegetable cutting, pie baking, turkey seasoning, decorating, and a whole lot of cooking.

All of our hard work paid off, however, when our guests began to arrive and in what seemed like no time at all, the dining hall had filled up. Everyone was wearing their nicest outfits and had a huge smile on their face because most of them had been waiting all week for our Thanksgiving dinner. After a brief period of welcoming everyone and thanking guests for coming, festivities began and food started to be served. Everything was delicious! The turkey was seasoned perfectly and the green bean casserole even tasted like the one my mom typically makes for Thanksgiving. People kept saying how much they liked each dish.

After dinner, a few of the guys from our group performed a song for our guests while we brought out the numerous desserts that we had made. The song sounded great and everyone cheered as loudly as possible! While people were eating their dessert, various residents also performed songs of their own. These selections ranged from hand-written songs to the Icelandic national anthem to original raps, which made the night that much more enjoyable. Sharing our family traditions with the residents of Solheimar was a definite high light of my semester!

Little did we know that our Thanksgiving was also an informal goodbye ceremony for us. Our Icelandic teacher came up to the microphone and talked about how great a semester it was. She also made us all certificates for completing the Icelandic language course and presented them to each of us while taking the time to describe us a bit to the larger community. The unexpected surprise added to the greatness of the evening! The community of Solheimar is truly unique in all the best possible ways and they will be sorely missed by all of us once we return home in a few days.

November 15, 2012

The other day we took a tour of Reykjavik Energy, one of Iceland’s major geothermal power plants, which happens to be the second largest geothermal plant in the world. The building itself was impressive, but the view from the back porch was also incredible. From where we were standing, we could see the geothermal machinery with a backdrop of gorgeous mountains. This geothermal power plant receives extremely hot water from 57 wells in the area. This water is then used to heat the majority of the homes in Reykjavik or the steam is converted to electricity for the homes near the plant. It was really neat to visit the plant and see the machinery. The people working at the plant were also extremely helpful at explaining geothermal energy, how the plant works, and geothermal energy within Iceland. At Reykjavik Energy, they had a paid position within the company that focused on the environmental implications of their plant. Something we found particularly interesting was the environmental restoration project underway. Over the past couple years, they’ve been regrowing grass, minimizing dirt/sand piles, and replanting native plants within the area. We asked if this was a personal relations campaign or required by the government, but they reassured us they were doing these environmental projects because they wanted to and it made sense to them. It was an excellent, new perspective on responsibly using geothermal energy within Iceland! In the afternoon, we traveled to Reykjavik’s main recycling center. The president of the company was nice enough to show us around a bit. He first showed us the composting center where all of the city’s food waste is taken and after it’s turned into compost, the people of Reykjavik are allowed to freely use as much of it as they like. Next, he showed us the main part of the recycling facility, which once we got past the rancid smell, it was really cool to see. Once the mixed recycling arrived at the facility, workers sorted the components into different sections. This mass of materials is then compressed and sent to other facilities within Europe to recycle the material further. Because Iceland is so small, they are limited by what they can and can not recycle, which is why they rely on other areas with more specialized recycling facilities. The man showing us around mentioned that each year, the influx of recycling gets drastically larger and larger due to more people recycling. While this is a good thing, it also made us think more in depth about the amount of consumption that our society has grown accustomed to.

November 11, 2012

The religious history of Iceland is probably one of the simplest and most peaceful story in all of the world. In mediaeval times, the country was primarily of an Old Norse paganism or heathenism background. However, in the year 1000, Norwegian missionaries came to the country and spread their Christian ideals, which led to a religiously divided nation. To settle these differences and once again become a religiously united nation, Icelanders decided that they must all practice the same religion. An influential representative of the pagan religion isolated himself and sat outside for numerous days to decide which religion the country should practice and which religion should be phased out from Iceland. After much deliberation, he decided that the nation should all practice Christianity. When this transformation first took place in the country, the majority of the people became catholic while there was still a small population in the country that upheld their pagan ideals, which was allowed by the government as long as it was done in secret. Many years later, the country underwent another, less peaceful religious shift from being Catholic to Lutheran. Iceland has always had two bishops to preside over the Northern and Southern regions of Iceland. Due to changes in personal opinions and culture, the Southern bishop and church community began living more Lutheran lifestyles, which the bishop and church community in the North maintained their Catholic lifestyles. This change is ideals led to the Northern bishop and community planning an attack on the Southern community. However, the Southern community triumphed, which led to the widespread of Lutheran ideals throughout the country.

Nowadays, Iceland is still primarily Lutheran and Icelanders would consider themselves religious, but many only attend church for special occasions. In earlier times, people saw church as a social event, which soon became unnecessary. As Iceland developed and towns formed, people replaced the needed social aspects of church with the community aspects of their town. However, churches are still prominent points within towns.

Skálholt, the church in the pictures, was, and still is, one of the most important places in Iceland. It served as the nation’s first official school and was home to the bishop’s office. Throughout the years, the church of Skálholt was rebuild numerous times with some variations to the structure. When we visited it the other day, we were able to see original foundation of the building along with the ancient tombstones found around the site. The inside of the church was absolutely beautiful! Icelanders believe that Christ and heaven could be found in the East, while people and common-folk come from the West. Therefore, the majority of alters in Iceland face towards the East and Skálholt was no exception. Some even interpreted their mural above the alter as Christ coming from the East to meet the common-folk at the center of the church. While we were at the church, one of the pastors talked to us for a while and answered all of our questions about religion in Iceland. It was great to hear about the Icelandic culture through such a warm-hearted and genuine person!

November 11, 2012

“Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall - it’s wet.”  ― Banksy, Wall and Piece

November 4, 2012
Influential Songs

The other day we did an activity that I found especially fun and interesting. We were instructed to come up with a song or spoken word piece that instills a “feeling of connection to the natural world or connects you to social or environmental issues.” As a class, we were excited for this project because it would open our minds to difference means of inspiration and it would introduce us to each other’s musical interests, which tell a lot about a person and are often different than expected. On the day that we presented our songs to the group, we sat together in the sun room and listened to beautiful and inspirational songs or pieces. Because it was one of our favorite activities, I decided to jot down everyone’s songs and reasons for choosing them so I can compile them into one easily accessible place. I highly recommend checking out some, if not all of them! Here it goes…

Jordin: Same Love by Macklemore http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlVBg7_08n0 Macklemore focuses on the importance of gay and social rights in our modern world. He challenges the hip hop community and dictates what’s okay to say.

Michael: Jesus Of Suburbia by Green Day http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNKPYhXmzoE Green Day wrote this song about the amount of pressure put on our kids and teenagers nowadays. They sing about how difficulty in expressing themselves results in other forms of expression, which are frowned upon by society.

Drew: In Our Talons by Bowerbirds http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kC7Jo69XH-Y In Our Talons is an environmentally themed song that shows how people have the power and ability to destroy the beauty of nature through their actions. By focusing on a few different creatures within nature, the Bowerbirds told a story about how each of them were, inevitably, doomed by the harm, pollution, and destruction of humans. 

Ben: For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gp5JCrSXkJY For What It’s Worth debuted during the Vietnam war when other bands were singing about similar topics, but not as upfront as Buffalo Springfield. This song urged people to open their eyes to see what was really happening in the world during this time period.

Yuan: Wine Songs/Original Ecology Folk Songs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnT-HExxPVY This folk song does an excellent job of conveying local chinese culture and the beauty of surrounding areas. The song mimics the sounds of animals and nature through special instruments made in villages near Mongolia. The combination of sounds and video clips shows how much happiness is gained through singing songs in nature and how important recognizing that “today is a good day.”

Noga: Build A Home by The Cinematic Orchestra Feat. Patrick Watson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjjc59FgUpg This song was written to convey the importance of feeling emotionally attached and invested in a place. To reiterate the meaning, it tells a story of creating something beautiful only to have it destroyed in later years.

Margie: Shostakovich 8th Quartet https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjvTTfbpWjY This quartet was originally written as a self-loathing piece after Shostakovich joined the Communist party. After some years, he dedicated this piece to the victims of fascism and war because it portrayed the sorrow of war and hatred towards others. The lack of words within this piece amplifies its inherent meaning.

Hank: Hieroglyphic Stairway by Drew Dellinger https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XW63UUthwSg Spoken word, in general, relates directly to the heart and brings the topics to life. However, while spoken word is very powerful, it is only a piece. More  people must listen and take this inspiration out into their daily lives. The spoken word piece performed by Drew Dellinger talks about the future of our planet and the importance of correcting the issues our environment is faced with.

Shelby: A Change Is Gonna Come by Ben Sollee http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vk97KgC_XMw While most most socially or environmentally focused songs can be sad or discouraged, A Change Is Gonna Come is much more inspirational and hopeful. It focuses on how spreading a message of hope is just as important as spreading a message that something is wrong in the world.

Tim: We Are Winning by Flobots http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woqm8tlEa3w The Flobots is a group that sings primarily about the social issues of our world. This song in particular focuses on the importance of informing ourselves because it is the only way that change will occur. Expressing concern about these issues is the first step of progress towards solving them.

Connor: Lou’s Song Feat. Micah Lother by Jason Upton And The Goodland Band http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5vGLl7Q1uE Lou’s Song focuses on life, death, and connection with people because it is written as a conversation between a troubled young man and his father figure who is dying of cancer. This songs shows how, above everything, connection is the most important thing in the world.

Alicia: First Writing Since by Suheir Hammad http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fhWX2F6G7Y This spoken word piece is centered around the societal aftermath of 9/11 and opens your eyes to the experiences of other cultures. By listening to each other’s experiences, spoken word pieces can be fantastic educational tools.

Margaret: Metal And Wood by Tyrone Wells http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKK5rUAyFPI In this song, Tyrone Wells reflects upon the personal feeling that the world isn’t necessarily as beautiful or amazing as we thought. He mentions numerous environmental and social issues, which shows that the outcome of the world’s wellbeing depends on us.

Me: Stand Up by Flobots http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdF-YkECTVc Stand Up touches upon a wide range of social issues. Through their song, the Flotbots are challenging us to defend what is right and follow a dream of making a difference.

Karin: We Shall Overcome by Martin Luther King Jr. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJoWrLQWrEc This famous speech by Martin Luther King Jr. has had widespread use throughout the decades, such as a gospel song or means of protest. It has united groups through difficult times and continues to serve as a powerful piece.

Tara: Time After Time (To Wear Sunscreen) by Tara Morris (We were unable to find a link for this song or piece.) This piece is actually an excerpt from a graduation speech. It provides a wide range of meaningful advice geared towards young adults in their life.

While the majority of us found it difficult to narrow down our list of songs and choose just one song that we found to be meaningful, it was a great activity and opened my eyes to the social and environmental meanings behind a lot of our music.

November 4, 2012
Today we visited a massive crater just down the road from Solheimar, which formed directly after a volcanic eruption when the volcano caved back into itself due to various geological processes. By peering over the edge, we were actually seeing the mini-caldera of the volcano! Apparently, Icelanders would have concerts at the bottom on the crater in the summer. The artist would float on the water and perform while the audience circled around the outside and watched. That would have been an incredible sight to see!

Today we visited a massive crater just down the road from Solheimar, which formed directly after a volcanic eruption when the volcano caved back into itself due to various geological processes. By peering over the edge, we were actually seeing the mini-caldera of the volcano! Apparently, Icelanders would have concerts at the bottom on the crater in the summer. The artist would float on the water and perform while the audience circled around the outside and watched. That would have been an incredible sight to see!

November 3, 2012

The other day a nearby farmer who is also incredibly involved in the township took us on a tour of some of the local farms and municipality facilities. The thing that all of these farms had in common was their use of a personal and unique geothermal system, which isn’t uncommon for the majority of farms and houses in the South. This region of Iceland sits on top of a hot spot due to multiple geothermal forces so hot water is plentiful. To benefit from this abundant resource, geothermal pumps are drilled in the backyard or near a group of houses and geothermal systems are built to cater to the amount of water being pumped, the temperature of water, how many houses would use this water, and whether the water would just be used for heating or other things. Our tour was especially interesting because we didn’t realize the extent how these systems could vary and how many homes one seemingly small system can tend to. For each farm, he showed us how the entire system worked and how it was specific to that household. While we learned a lot from this local farmer, we also learned a lot about communities in Iceland because of how much he knew about his neighbors and how we were welcomed into each farm.

November 3, 2012

This past Wednesday, we brought the spirit of a true Halloween celebration to Solheimar! In Iceland, Halloween isn’t a traditionally celebrated holiday, but they do have a similar holiday mid-February where kids dress up in costumes and sing for candy. Our evening consisted of exciting face paint, creative costumes, tons of dancing, and scary treats. It was great seeing everyone dress up and have fun together! In all honesty, we think Icelanders create better costumes than we do!