It doesn’t seem like enough time has passed since I spent a semester in Iceland to warrant a retrospective! My time at the University of Akureyri in Iceland in 2006 had an indelible and positive impact on my life. I have a very big fond memories of my friends, the landscape, and much time must have passed as I even have fond memories of eating hakarl (putrid shark).
Following my return to Canada, I completed my degree in International Studies and Political Science at the University of Northern British Columbia and accepted a job with the local government of Burns Lake, British Columbia – a small (pop. 2,800), resource-based, northern community. Having lived in Akureyri, it opened my mind to moving to unfamiliar, remote locations, and once again, I was deeply rewarded. I cherish my time I spent in Burns Lake where I had an opportunity to impact the community through my work with district energy, building retrofits, the local mountain biking club, and collaboration with the local First Nations.
I often think of Iceland and am in touch with a couple of my close friends from my north2north exchange. One of my fellow exchange partners is actually still living and working in Iceland, having met and fallen in love with an Icelander while she was there! While the exchange did not change my life to that extent, it did encourage me to broaden my perspective on what is possible in regards to where I could live, or pursue a career. Also, my short time in Iceland left me with a strong affinity for the country and I closely followed the collapse of the banking system in 2008 and the undeniably Icelandic response to the crisis, which included the drafting of a new constitution using social media! I am very happy to see that by all accounts, Iceland is on a strong path to recovery – much sooner than many other areas of the world.
I now live in Vancouver, British Columbia, which could hardly be considered Arctic, and I am working for the local government of North Vancouver. My exchange confirmed my desire to work in the public sector and as close as possible to the local community, which I continue to do with my work in North Vancouver. Although I no longer live in the North – which is never strictly defined – I just returned from a backcountry ski trip to the Yukon and Alaska and was reminded of the beauty, grace, and austerity of the glaciers and fjords of Iceland. I will return to Iceland for a holiday at some point in the next few years, and I am always telling my friends flying to Europe that it is worth a layover at the very least in Iceland. I often think of a few lines from Robert Service’s The Spell of the Yukon which perfectly describe both Iceland and northern Canada for me:
It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder;
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder;
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.