The Gustavian Weekly

Gustavus students embark on Icelandic adventure | The Gustavian Weekly

By Elsa Beise - Staff Writer | February 14, 2020 | Features

One of the courses offered to students this past January term was “GEG-152/SCA-152: Glaciers, Volcanos, Sagas and Songs: Interweaving Culture and Landscape in Iceland”, where students traveled to Iceland and learned about both the physical and humanities aspects of the country throughout the month.

Learning about both of these features of the country allowed for students to really immerse themselves in where they were travelling to throughout the course.

Professors Kjerstin Moody and Jeff La Frenierre led twenty students to the country and designed the course, taking place from January 6-10, where students participated in on-campus orientation, and ending with the journey to the country, returning on February 2.

Moody was excited for the outcomes students gained from the course.

“Students studied the landscape, culture, and history of Iceland, focusing in particular on the topics of community and isolation as well as adaptability,” Moody said.

The course syllabus laid out the objectives as stated: “This course weaves together the humanities and physical geosciences to explore the concept of place. Iceland, with its unique island culture rooted in literature, art, and song and its geographically dynamic and visually stunning landscape is an ideal laboratory for immersing ourselves into this way of thinking about the world.

In this course we will explore contemporary and historical literature, art, and music, investigate how humans adapt to and thrive in harsh, remote environments, and experience both glacial and volcanic processes and the Icelanders’ ongoing interactions with these.”

With such detailed objectives in mind, Moody and La Frenierre carefully planned activities and journeys that would help students to reach them.

The course was packed with opportunities for personal growth and being able to take in every aspect of Iceland.

“We started out in Reykjavik to gain a strong overview of Iceland’s culture and history including visits to museums of history and art as well as the Arni Magnusson Institute. We studied volcanoes and natural hazards on the Westman Islands, studied glaciers in the field and classroom near Höfn, considered history, isolation, independence and community while based on a farmstead in Egilstadir. We considered boom and bust and new economies in Siglufjördur, and visited a non-traditional college preparatory school in Olofsfjördur. We had generous hosts and lecturers at all of the sites we visited, hiked much and soaked in a number of hotsprings and pools, cooked food together, ended each day with rich classroom discussions that centered on the day’s readings, lectures, and visits,” Moody said.

Junior Isabel St. Dennis appreciated both the group and individual time in the country, where she was able to truly appreciate all that the course had to offer.

“One day when we were in a small southern town called Vik, we had a catch-up day where we stayed at our hostel all day and had work time to finish writing our essays and read the rest of one of our books. After finishing my assignments I went for a walk by myself into the mountains that were in our backyard. Once hiking to the top of one of the smaller ones, I laid in the moss and looked over the town and out at the Atlantic ocean. It was the first time I had alone time in about 2 weeks, so it was so nice to just lay by myself and reflect/admire how unbelievably beautiful Iceland is,” St. Dennis said.

Students had many different favorite moments, St. Dennis appreciated a specific place she and her peers went to.

“After finishing my assignments I went for a walk by myself into the mountains that were in our backyard. Once hiking to the top of one of the smaller ones, I laid in the moss and looked over the town and out at the Atlantic ocean. It was the first time I had alone time in about two weeks, so it was so nice to just lay by myself and reflect/admire how unbelievably beautiful Iceland is.”

-Junior Isabel St. Dennis

“My favorite part of the trip was when we stayed in this place called the Wilderness Center, it was a couple hours off the ring road and it was a farm owned by a couple who revamped the farm to mimic what living as Viking settlers would have been like. We stayed there for a couple of days and got to do a lot of reflection on how we were feeling about the trip so far and how we felt about ourselves. The couple made us all home-cooked meals for every meal and we went for walks exploring their land everyday. I got to meet their horses and ride in a wooden box/cable system across the river. We [went in a sauna] and hot-tubbed every night and it was one of the coolest places I have ever been,” St. Dennis said.

St. Dennis highly recommends this course, or ones similar to it, for future students. “I would one hundred percent recommend this trip to future Gusties because I had so much fun and learned so much. Jeff La Frenierre and Kjerstin Moody did a wonderful job at both teaching the important topics of the course but also showing their love and interest in what they were teaching us, which made it that much more fun to learn,” St. Dennis said.

Moody is a supporter of the idea of the college offering more courses that involve multiple areas of education. “I believe Gustavus should offer more courses where professors are able to team teach across disciplines, which allowed for particularly rich educational experiences for all involved,” Moody said.

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