Students experience breathtaking sights of Iceland during study abroad

Students experience breathtaking sights of Iceland during study abroad


For most students, winter break is a chance to relax, catch up with family and indulge in tasty holiday treats, but for 17 UNI students, winter break meant escaping to one of the most interesting and beautiful countries in the world – Iceland.

Led by UNI Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences professor Chad Heinzel, students spent two weeks climbing volcanoes, lavishing in geothermal hot springs and gazing in awe at the brilliance of the Northern Lights.

Designed to explore Iceland’s history and culture, as well as its unique geological features and deep appreciation of the land and its resources, the trip curriculum combined the study of major geological landmarks with the educational experience of the capital city’s cultural and historical museums.

“Iceland is really a fascinating place,” Heinzel said. “You have the Viking history and culture and then you have the land itself, which is a geologist’s paradise. The landscape is so unique and diverse with volcanoes and glaciers and geothermal pools. There are just a lot of really neat things in a relatively small area.”

The trip is part of Heinzel’s Naturals Resources and Civilizations class. Because it is included in the UNIFI general education curriculum, it is open to students from any major and all grade levels  to participate.

“That was one of the beautiful things about this class,” he said. “We had future teachers, we had future scientists, we had future accountants and business professionals and we had communications and public relations students, and they bring all of their interests into our discussions and it's like our own little microcosm of the civilization that UNI is building and contributing to. That's probably my favorite part of being able to do a class like this.”

Iceland’s commitment to sustainability and conservation were things that spoke to many of the students, including Peyton Paulson, a senior environmental science major with an earth science minor, who hopes to work for the National Park Service once she graduates.

“One of the things I thought was really cool was how waste conscious the people are,” she said. “I don’t think I saw a single plastic utensil or plastic straw or styrofoam to-go package. Everywhere we went everyone was using real dishes and glasses, and I remember thinking those are habits that would be really great to practice in the U.S. The people in Iceland have such a respect for what they have. They have all these amazing natural resources and features available to them and they don’t take it for granted. They know what they have and you can see how grateful they are for it, and that was really nice to see.”

“It was just such a great experience,” Paulson added. “I am incredibly happy I got to go and have this experience. Iceland is just beautiful, it’s amazing and the people were so friendly and welcoming.”