Being abroad in Iceland, during fall semester, was an amazing experience! After being in this country for nearly three months now, I can say with assurance that the natural and cultural landscape of Iceland is truly extraordinary. Trying to adequately epitomize this adventure wholly would be too extensive for the parameters of an article though, so I’ve chosen to concentrate on my involvement in the Sóleimar community.
Upon landing in Keflavik I remember not being able to see much of anything from my window seat; I soon realized Iceland was archetypical of a damp, overcast temperate climate. I had already met up with Sarah and Joe (fellow Smitties), Andrew, Jason, Brenton, Bryce, and Hank (one of our CELL instructors) at Logan International Airport in Boston, but it was in Iceland when we finally all came together. There were twelve of us: Andrew Siva, Brenton Kreiger, Bryce King, Dave Buenneke, Hans Tepel, Jason Brody, Jiaorui Jiong, Joseph Brod, Nicole Lorence, Sarah Harley, Serena Cueva, and myself. Karin Whittman and Hank Colletto would serve as our educators and mentors for the semester. Since our aeronautical peregrination was a red-eye flight, we were impaired the first few days from the ensuing jet lag, but during the following week and a half we gradual acclimatized to the village and our new home in the Brekkut guesthouse.
Before I elaborate upon our relationship with the community, a brief history of Sólheimar is necessary. Inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s theories on Anthroposophy (“Human Wisdom”) and Britain’s Camphill movement, Sesselja Hreindís Sigmundsdóttir founded Sólheimar (“The Home of the Sun”) in 1930 as an integrated home for children with and without disabilities. Sesselja’s emphasis on equality within her integrated community, and commitment to Sólheimar functioning as a home, not an institution, are still essential to the management of Sólheimar today. Another important date in the narrative of the community is April 1997, when “The Global Ecovillage Network” proclaimed Sólheimar the first sustainable village of the country. With more than one hundred people currently residing in Sólheimar, and forty-three individuals with special needs, the goal is now to give every individual an opportunity to live in a sustainable society.
A weekly aspect of our education in the Eco village was service learning in various departments of the community. Such subdivisions were: Sunna, a greenhouse complex and one of the largest producers of organic vegetables in Iceland; Ölur, the only organic forest nursery in Iceland, established in 1991;
Nærandi, the food production quarters in Sólheimar providing a wide range of baked food to not only the village, but also to stores in Reykjavik; Vala and Græna Kannan, the local shop and cafe in Sólheimar; and the candle-making, weaving, organic soap-making, art, ceramics and woodworking work shops.
Along with service learning, we had classes in: Icelandic history, language and culture; Global Warming, a course that identified our individual and collective power to shape an effective response to climate change, as well as an introduction to Iceland’s response to the crisis; Sustainability, a class that explored the field of sustainability, and identified the principles of voluntary simplicity in regard to there applications individual and communally; and Crossroads Thinking, a course that encouraged us to identify essential intellectual traits, question long-held assumptions or biases, evaluate ideas, reason honestly and open-mindedly, problem-solve, and form objective conclusions. These classes took place in Sesseljuhus and on weekend and day trips around Iceland. Additionally, for our Sólheimar Community project, I was given the chance to design and construct the framing for a community greenhouse, with Joe as an assistant. As a carpenter, I especially enjoyed this project and the opportunity to build a timber-framed structure from almost exclusively hand tools. In hindsight, I was privileged to get the chance to be involved in an assignment that had extant physical significance in the community.
Outside of class time, we had many ways to entertain ourselves. Sólheimar has a geothermal heated pool and hot tub, a gym and more importantly a ping-pong table, and miles of beautiful trails around the valley. Between activities with my fellow CELL students, home people, and EVS volunteers, I had no problem staying busy. Moreover, we were blessed with occasional outbursts of the Aura Borealis in the evenings; this phenomenon gradually occurred earlier in the evening in accordance to the six minutes of daily sunlight loss.
My experience in Sólheimar was nothing short of life changing. From my time in the ecovillage with this didactic sustainability study, I have identified several societal, environmental, and economical paradigms and am inspired to promote subsequent betterment. Additional, I would like to return to Sólheimar and volunteer in the community during an ecovillage tour, post college.