25 miles South of the Arctic Circle, I found myself in a Super Jeep crawling over boulders and driving through icy rivers in the middle of the night when suddenly our adventure guide slammed on the brakes.
“Get out!” he shouted.
Confused, I climbed out of the Jeep and looked around. I was in the middle of nowhere when something life-changing began to happen. The sky lit up with a faint neon green: the mighty Aurora Borealis!
Surges of colour, mostly shades of green and purple, cascaded across the star-filled night for the next few hours. It was a night I will cherish for the rest of my life.
We were en route to the Volcano Huts at Þórsmörk, a nature reserve in the Southern Highlands of Iceland, nestled between glaciers and active volcanoes. It was the reward for a week’s worth of research, lectures, site visits to renewable energy plants, and some of the most amazing adventures I’ve ever experienced.
A full day of capstone presentations, anxiety, and peer reviews at the Iceland School of Energy in Reykjavík preceded the trip to Þórsmörk. The program I just completed was the Iceland Renewable Energy & Sustainability study abroad session with The GREEN Program.
Seven days before, I had arrived at Keflavík International Airport at 6 AM a frightened, increasingly anxious college senior, with a waning passion for my college major and a lack of direction. I fearfully approached the group of 32 other students from around the world when our team leader, Erla, greeted me. She said hello, and after breaking the ice, I looked up from her eyes and behind her was a sign – “Joe and the Juice”. My name is Joe, I chuckled. It was a sign. I went over and ordered a carrot juice.
I remember walking in the back of the group to the bus and started talking to a fellow student. It turned out his name was also Joe, from Iowa, and we instantly hit it off. A friend. My anxiety lessened some more.
Laying out the itinerary at this point defeats the goal of this experience, so I will just mention some of the highlights, both academic and adventurous.
We dove into the world of sustainable business practices through European Foreign Policy, poured over hydropower, heated up over geothermal power, and had a gas with biomass and biofuels. We walked under and around some of the most famous waterfalls on Earth, witnessed the explosive power of a geyser, and walked along black sand beaches. We geared up, went below ground to learn about the inner workings of energy plants, and saw (and tasted!) firsthand the power of sustainable greenhouse farming. The list goes on and on. And in just eight days!
Over the course of the week, I experienced every emotion you could think of – from fear to laughter, from anxiety to awe. It is not for the faint of heart, as the program is physically demanding, emotionally draining, and mentally taxing. But by the end of my trip, when my emotions settled, Iceland appeared as the abyss of my Hero’s Journey. I came out a motivated, confident, passionate leader working hard to protect our future.
The power of being in the moment is the key to the success of this short-term, experimental study abroad program. You are not given the agenda until the night before for the next day, thus forced to live in the now. For the first time in a long time, I slowed down my mind and lived, leaving the conditional “what ifs” behind. It was as if the psychological smog had cleared and my life finally had a purpose.
The GREEN Program transformed my entire life.
Now, I am a confident global citizen, passionate about SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and in particular, renewable energy. I author a blog, educating viewers on the basics of clean energy sourcing and storage.
None of this would have been possible had it not been for a chance email from my academic advisor. She said, “Joe, I think you would find this interesting.” That was it. Little did she know that that simple email would be the catalyst for changing the course of a student’s professional and personal life forever.
To her and everyone who participated in my program, I say, “Takk fyrir.” I am who I was meant to be because of you.
Learning here is more than just books, lectures, or a capstone project – it is life-based. Your GREEN leader pushes you to be an active leader and teammate while generating a network of students and professionals with a single shared bond.
I invite you to check out what The GREEN Program has to offer.
Shake up your life and jump into the exciting world of sustainability!