A Learning Experience for Everyone Past Review

By (Environmental Studies, Linguistics, Bard College at Simon's Rock) - abroad from 02/03/2015 to 04/27/2015 with

Center for Ecological Living & Learning: Solheimar - Iceland Program

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I think it was worthwhile. I certainly gained and learned a lot. My reason for not choosing the same programme again if I could is almost exclusively language-related. This programme could be very good for someone who was looking for something different than I was. I am an environmental studies/linguistics major, and the language component was not at all what I expected. If I could choose again, I know now I would choose an immersion programme.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 2 weeks - 1 month

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

A lot of interesting information and some good activities. Good experience in public speaking through oral presentations and a lot of time and opportunity for reflection. The film-showings, farm tours, and hikes/travel were enriching and enjoyable. However, I didn't find the curriculum challenging. The second half of the semester's environmental study became a bit repetitive, and it was not always clear on what criteria we were being evaluated. What language instruction we were given was great, but it was unfortunately lacking.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The programme was very structured. Too much at times, but mostly it was good to know what we were to do and what was expected of us. There was very little flexibility in schedule. For instance, it was implied that if a session of workshops (candlemaking, weaving, pottery, etc.) was missed for personal reasons, it would come out of our grade, but there wasn't a whole lot of transparency where grades were concerned. I believe this was due to the administrators preference that the students focus on being present and doing their best, which I commend. However, it was concerning and caused some anxiety to not know what our grades were or what exact effects we could expect our activities to have on them.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Housing was lovely, overall. Our apartment was light, spacious, and the rooms and furnishings comfortable. My one regret was that there were not enough single rooms for everyone. This wouldn't be a problem ordinarily, but the CELL programme is structured in such a way that you and your fellow students are together for almost all of the time you're there, with few to no breaks. No complaints about my roommate, but I found it virtually impossible to find solitude when I needed it, particularly when the weather was bad, which caused some strain.

* Food:

Generally good. Some students took issue with the perceived imposition of a vegetarian diet in the meals that students cooked for everyone else (dinner). While I understand this, I personally didn't mind it, as vegetarianism proved an interesting and welcome challenge for me. However, I do feel it should be specified in advertisements/contracts of the programme, to avoid disgruntled meat-eaters. The food supplied for cooking, while rather bread-heavy, was of overall good quality and taste, though we sometimes ran low and found ourselves scrounging the night or two before grocery runs. We were encouraged to eat lunch in the Sólheimar dining hall with the rest of the village's inhabitants. This was a good experience, I think, and I appreciated the encouragement to mingle. That being said, I found it regrettable that there was little flexibility in this area. Oftentimes it felt like we were being told, rather than encouraged, and I think we would have preferred to have the option to stay back if we needed, given the high level of introversion in our group. It was also a concern among the students that the professors, while living in the same house just down the hall and proving excellent social and academic resources during "class time," had little to do with us once we were back in the apartment and, while the students took turns cooking dinner in pairs, the professors never took cooking shifts, but always ate with us. While I understand that planning and organising the programme is a time commitment, and it was nothing personal, the group at large found this demoralising.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Sadly, I was not impressed in this area. The programme is founded on excellent ideals - the theme being "Sustainability Through Community," the programme attempts to develop many aspects of a students character. Community building, environmental stewardship and responsibility, cultural awareness, and relations with differently-abled individuals among the most prominent. While I consider all of these ideals more than worthy goals, I fear the programme is stretching itself beyond its means by attempting to address all of them. After all, it's a lot to ask from a 3-week-long programme The environmental portion of the curriculum was great for a good part of the semester. I think this is one of the programme's strongest aspects, and one that has certainly had an impact on my life - I consider myself a more thoughtful and responsible environmental citisen as a result of this programme, and I feel they could do well to focus on that a bit more, and maybe build up the curriculum to be more challenging. The community-building aspect of the programme was also fairly well done, but mostly within our own little group of Americans. By the end we were all fairly close and have kept in touch in the months afterward, largely due to being thrown together and living in close quarters for three months. However, language and/or ability barriers made building relationships with the rest of the village difficult. Some interactions were mandated, particularly with Home people (the disabled population of the village), such as workshops. But these were rarely fruitful, due to the fact that many of the Home people spoke little English, we knew less Icelandic, and none of us had training or experience in working with people with disabilities, so there was a lot of smiling and nodding. Naturally, this also took a toll on our cultural immersion experience. We rarely got out of the village and had very little freedom to do so independently, or even to explore the culture on our trips to Reykjavík. This was largely due, I believe, to the goal of the programme to build community with the people of the village, but this goal encountered the problems listed above... Each of the goals of the programme are admirable and have the potential to foster a lot of personal growth. The strongest aspect is without doubt the environmental education part, unsurprisingly, as this is what the instructors excel at in their lives at home. But I feel that the CELL experience would be an overall more fulfilling and satisfying one if it focused on that aspect and maybe one other, like cultural/language immersion, with the other goals as complementary. The language class also encompassed cultural education and was probably my favourite part of the CELL experience, and the instructor, Herdís, was wonderful. Howeverm we only met for Icelandic lessons once a week, and were told that this was because we were too busy with other classes, community building, and field trips to have class more often (see what I'm getting at?). There was no pressure and negligible encouragement to use the language skills we did gain, partially because the instructors did not speak more than a few words. I strongly feel that the instructors should attend Icelandic class as well as the students, in order to enrich the cultural experience for all involved.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I had no significant health complaints while in Iceland, but I understand that physical injuries were well-attended and appropriately followed-up on. Emotional support was also in fairly good supply, provided it didn't interfere too much with your attendance and performance, though the lack of solitude unquestionably took a toll on those with emotional issues, particularly those without single rooms.

* Safety:

Iceland has an almost negligible crime rate, and Sólheimar is even safer. No complaints.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? No


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Most things were provided for in the rather up-there price tag of the programme - we were only responsible for snacks and any personal shopping we wanted.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $20


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

See cultural immersion comments.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Beginner
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? None in target language
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Independent study and being extroverted and motivated enough to talk to native speakers on your own.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Apartment
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Herdís and the Icelandic language
  • Hiking and scenery
  • Environmental education portion, esp. films and trips.
* What could be improved?
  • Language instruction/cultural opportunities.
  • Scope of programme - if it stretched itself less.
  • Intra-country travel and freedom.
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? As indicated above, the language element was not what i was hoping for. That's the main thing.