While my friends and peers were all interning at major companies or innovative start-ups, volunteering with NGOs or conducting independent research, I spent my summer working for a small tourist company in Reykjavik, Iceland. I was not looking to improve my job prospects, make valuable work connections or pad my resume; rather I was there simply to learn, explore and try something entirely new. Two months of amazing experiences later, I simply cannot express just how much I gained from my summer in Iceland. I worked my first 9-5 job and developed customer service skills from working in the sales office. I experienced what it is like to be the only American and to be constantly surrounded by people from several different countries. I pushed myself to constantly explore, to always visit new places and never let myself get too comfortable within my new city. I connected with people who are very, very different from me, and I discovered just how easy it is to bond with someone while traveling. I reaffirmed to myself what makes me happiest and came to a much greater clarity about what I want to do after I graduate from university. And perhaps most significantly, I fell absolutely, madly in love with Iceland.
Now I’m not saying that it was easy, and there were many days when I felt very lonely and isolated. In the beginning, I occasionally questioned why I had chosen to spend my summer working in Iceland, far from my friends and in a job quite different from my career interests. But the more time I spent living in Reykjavik and exploring Iceland, the more I came to love my summer internship. I am very grateful to my advisors back at UNC who were fully supportive of my decision to intern with IG Tours despite the fact that it was a bit ‘out there’. This summer also made me very appreciative of the American higher education system that values exploration and trying new things. Though it might mean that we take a bit longer to get our degrees than our European counterparts, I think the opportunity to spend time doing something somewhat unrelated to my general career path is extremely valuable. I definitely have returned with lots of new skills and a greater understanding of what I would like to do moving forward.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed my job, having the chance to explore Iceland was easily the highlight of the summer. Over my two months in Iceland, I worked a lot and learned a ton about customer service, running a small business and the tourism industry, but I also took a boat ride through an iceberg lagoon, went horseback riding, hiked 20 miles in one day for the first time, tried fishing for the first time, snorkeled between two tectonic plates, visited countless incredible waterfalls, and saw (and even walked on) more glaciers than I can count. I mountain biked, ran and hiked through lava fields, discovered running routes all over Reykjavik, tried several traditional Icelandic foods, hiked Mt. Esja three times, mastered the pronunciation of Icelandic place names (Eyjafjallajokull, get at me), and watched the midnight sun ‘set’ over the Arctic ocean. I completed some of the truly greatest hikes of my life, drove a Porsche on Iceland’s Route 1 (yes, that really happened), experienced Reykjavik nightlife when it’s bright outside at 2 am, discussed geology with loads of people, and met so many wonderful Icelanders and fellow travelers. It’s no wonder I fell madly in love with this country!
Leaving Iceland was easily one of the toughest goodbyes I’ve ever had, as unlike past departures from Copenhagen or Peru, I did not feel at all ready to go home. The scenery, culture and people of Iceland all completely stole my heart, and I’ve had a very hard time adjusting back to ‘normal’ life without my daily adventures in Iceland. Though I’m excited to start my senior year at university, I also can’t believe that my years of life-changing summers and constant traveling are almost over. I know that the end of university certainly does not mean the end of my adventures, but I’ve been very spoiled to have so many funded adventures the past four years, and I’m naturally quite sad about it all ending. From Alaska to Peru to Alaska (again) to Copenhagen to solo traveling in Europe to Iceland and many, many more places in between, I’ve had an incredibly blessed college experience, and I am a completely different person than I was when I embarked on this four-year adventure. Sometimes I forget that even just three years ago, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Traveling has been absolutely vital in my discovery of my passion for polar science. I’ve caught the travel bug, big time, and I know that it will now play a significant role in the rest of my life. So to anyone that has been following this blog, thank you so much for reading and for your support. I’m not sure what form this blog will take in the future, but I know that if I’m traveling, I’ll be sure to be writing about it and taking lots of photos somehow.