There’s a place I dream about
Where the sun never goes out
And the sky is deep and blue
Won’t you take me there with you
There’s a world I’ve always known
Somewhere far away from home
When I close my eyes I see
All the space and mystery
Oh, we can begin again
Shed our skin, let the sun shine in
At the edge of the ocean
We can start over again
— Ivy, Edge of the Ocean
Fire and Ice – Icelandic Summers (2005 and 2006)
Many months ago, when I began planning this trip and telling people about my intentions, I was met with a fair amount of skepticism. “You’re going where? To do work? And YOU’RE paying THEM???”
July 16, 2005
Here I am, in Keflavik International Airport in Iceland. I have some time to kill before the rest of the volunteers arrive from Heathrow, and I’m falling asleep reading my book, so I’ll try to do some explaining for those that don’t understand what brought me here…
Why not? I’m not sure what prompted me to look into volunteering in Iceland in the first place. It might have been my utter lack of knowledge about the country. What better place for an adventure than one which I knew nothing about? As I started doing some research, though, I became fascinated by this little island of volcanoes and glaciers and volatile weather, and the people who call it home. I also wanted the political anonymity that Iceland provides. Other countries on my “to do” list are suffering through civil unrest, military coups, and all manner of instability. But is there anyone who doesn’t like Icelanders?? They don’t even have their own military.
I work for a great company (www.primacommunications.com) that can offer me the flexibility right now. Financially, it’s probably not the most responsible decision I could’ve made. But at the moment, I am only responsible for myself and my three houseplants (safe with Mom and Dad), so I figure it’s my prerogative to be idealistic and fiscally unstable. I can make more money later, but I can’t produce opportunities like this on demand. The majority of my most compelling life experiences were during (or prompted by) an interruption in my income, and I’d rather have a life rich in experiences than rich in savings.
So, why am I working here?
Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I would like to see more people volunteer their time, energy, and resources to help others. I also believe that living in other cultures provides an important distance from which we are better able to understand and critically evaluate our own culture. The temporary transplant also does wonders for the recognition that regardless of geography and language, we are not so different after all.
I think visiting and working in the less polished parts of a country do more to foster genuine understanding and cultural exchange than participating in the conventional “tourism” industry. It’s my belief that cultures often fall into a downward spiral of self-exploitation, trying to fit into a convenient all-inclusive tour package, and the truth of the land becomes diluted and bastardized until it has deteriorated to a caricature of itself. Volunteering in a foreign country seems to me to be the most earnest way to show respect and appreciation for our differences, and also gives me an opportunity to put my face and my values on the American image.
Food for the adventurous and altruistic spirit can be found at www.volunteerabroad.com. Just choose the country, find a program, and go change the world. It’s easier than you think.
I booked my trip in Iceland through the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, or BTCV, but once there I worked with and for Umhverfisstofnun, Iceland’s Environment and Food Agency. I paid to participate in two two-week programs that ran back-to-back in different parts of the country. Volunteers are responsible for their own travel expenses to get to Iceland, but once in the country, the program participation fees cover travel, food, and camping fees. I was the only American in either of my holiday groups- the rest were from the UK. Days after arriving in Iceland, I knew that four weeks would not be enough, so I started making arrangements to change my flights home and stay longer. I assumed it would be a fairly simple thing- I wanted the same flights, same times, just two weeks later. Turns out, trying to change tickets with Travelocity is like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree (“Jelly” if you’re British). My dad eventually saved the day (the way only dads can) and I was able to stay in Iceland until the end of August without going bankrupt. (At least, not yet…)
Here are some of the people, places, and stories. (Journal excerpts are in blue.)