Worst Mistake I Have Made in my Educational Career Past Review

By (Appalachian State University) - abroad from 02/04/2019 to 04/29/2019 with

Center for Ecological Living & Learning: Solheimar - Iceland Program

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I gained experience in communicating through a language barrier, which was difficult at first but became a part of every day life. I made good friends with the Americans I stayed with and some of the workers in the greenhouses in Solheimar. I also got to hike in some really beautiful places.

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.

You could learn more about sustainability during a single week of classes at a university than I did during my entire time in Iceland. This program is not tailored for students who are driven to learn in depth, and is especially vague about the technical side of sustainability. There was little concrete learning that occurred. The assignments mainly consisted of leading class discussions on sustainability. The other assignments focused on reflective, 1-page writing about how we felt about a trip, or how we could become more sustainable in our own lives. The assignments were mostly busy work, and were not intellecually or academically challenging. I was most frustrated by this aspect of the program because it is advertised as one of the more rigorous study abroad programs academically. CELL confuses work load for actual learning, and you will be swamped with work but will learn very little from it. If your objective while in Iceland is to deepen your already existing knowledge of sustainability, DO NOT take this program. If your objective is to learn about sustainabiliy because you have absolutely no background at all and want an introduction to sustainability, then this is the prgram for you.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

When going into this program, is made clear that you are not allowed alcohol, smoking, or visitors. However, you are also not allowed independant travel, or to even ride in a car with anyone else from the village besides the professor. The program is incredibly limiting, and the instructor does not make an effort to expand your experience or cater to the interests of the group. For example, we had an opportunity to ride horses that belonged to someone in the village, who invited us to his farm, but we were not allowed to because the instructor deemed it too dangerous. We also had a hike that took us directly up to the side of a glacier, but were not allowed to walk a further 20 feet to the glacier to touch it because the instructor was concerned about safety, despite other tourists walking up to and on the glacier on the exact same path we were on. We are also not allowed to climb any rocks or boulders on beaches, not allowed close to the surf at the ocean, and were confined to a tight schedule on every trip and expedition. Your "adventerous" experiences will be limited, and your hikes will be short and easy. If you are an experienced hiker and climber, this program is not for you and will be more frustrating than anything else. The instructor was cold and uninterested, and seemed to have little passion for Iceland in general. Despite having worked in Iceland for eght years, he has no language skills and shows little interest in Icelandic culture. He treats the expeditions as a chore and seems overall uninterested in the students, and does not form personal bonds with students, even after three months of living together. Margharita, the local Icelandic contact, is the most reliable person you will meet, and she handles all of the planning, scheduling, and coordinating for the trips. Christiana, the Icelandic instructor, will be your saving grace. She was sweet and classes were always fun with her, and she would occasionally buy us oranges because she felt bad that we had such little access to fruit.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The housing was really nice. We lived in a large, blue, beautiful guesthouse, and since my group was so small, we each had our own small room. This is uncommon for the program, but there were only 4 of us, so it worked out well. The kitchen and bathroom was nice, and there were good laundry facilities. Occasionally, other travelers would stay for a night or two, as the rest of the empty rooms could be rented out.

* Food:

While you are here, you will be mostly vegeterian. The diet is VERY carb heavy, and protein is hard to come by. We mostly ate pasta and rice, with protein sources coming from quinoa, beans, and eggs in the morning. The food is alright, but will be rationed for you. You are allowed one piece of fruit per day, either an apple or a banana. The instructor has complete control over what food you have in the fridge at any one time, and restocks the main fridge from his own stash as we run out of things. It was a small thing but became very demoralizing to have so many aspects of our life controlled, even our food. There is also no flexibility in what foods we order, so you will eat from the same grocery list and ingredients for three months. We cooked in teams of two, so we would switch off every night. I really liked how we all ate dinner together, but you cook for the instructor every night, and he does not help cook or clean up. We ring a dinner bell for him and he leaves his apartment, eats with us, and then leaves when he finishes. You have access to vegetables for most of the semester, and once there was growth in the greenhouses, we had fresh produce, which was really nice. Important Note: If you are gluten free, you will have to buy your own food. I am not personally, but we were told this after arriving that anyone with a gluten dietary restriction would need to buy their own snacks and lunches for trips, which is a big deal considering how expensive food is in Iceland and how you already pay for your food as part of the program cost.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

There is absolutely no integration with Icelandic culture. Solheimar is a seperate entity in itself- the majority of the population is over 60 years old and disabled, and the whole town revolves around taking care of these "home people". There is very little information from CELL or the Solheimar website about this, as they protray Solheimar as just a normal town. This is not the case; there are no people in the college-aged range, and you will have little to no interaction with the wider Icelandic culture and society because you are confined to Solheimar at all times unless on a field trip with the instructor.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

There is a doctors office in Selfoss about 30 minutes away, and a hospital in Reykjavik, about 2 hours away. There is a good ambulance service if anything darastic happens, but otherwise it is difficult to see a doctor. Do not expect to be able to get any prescriptions while you are here.

* Safety:

Iceland is harmless, one of the safest countries you can travel in.

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

This program was a waste of time and money. I could have learned more from one week in University classes than I did in an entire semester. The administration was demoralizing and the program was not anywhere as adventurous or sustainable as it advertises itsself as.


* 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)

You only spend money while in town on food, drinks, or souvenirs if you chose. Everything in Iceland is VERY expensive, so its hard to save money while going out, but we rarely are in cities, so it evens out pretty well over the course of the semester.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $10
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Bring your own snacks, or buy the things you need at the Duty Free when you arrive at the airport.


* 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

The program only offered nine short Icelandic classes through the entire semester, and there was no grammer component.

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? None
How many hours per day did you use the language? 0

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Hotel
* 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?
  • the gym at Solheimar is really nice
  • Hiking trips
* What could be improved?
  • Needs a more flexible, relatable, and social instructor
  • Needs to be more academically challenging, less busy work
  • Needs more freedom for students
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish I had known that although Solheimar is considered an ecovillage, it is NOT sustainable. It has not been self sufficient since before 2007, and none of the old systems have been revived since the economic crash in 2008, although they are still advertised. For example, the "constructed wetland water filtration system" is a sewage tank that runs directly into a creek- there has not been a constructed wetland for the past 5 years, and there are no plans to revitalize it or to control sewage waste in the mean time. You will also have a huge carbon and ecological footprint in doing this program- although it is adverised as an opportunity to have little to no impact, you will not offset your footprint during the semester as advertised. There is also no contact with the local Icelandic youth, and you are confined to your own tiny bubble of Americans in a village of old, disabled people. Although they are lovel, friendly people, it was not an invigorating or particularly social experience.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Avid Adventurer
The wardrobe you packed was better suited for a semester of camping than club hopping. Outdoorsy, you might forgo a crazy night out for an early all-day adventure. You'd rather take in the rich culture of an old town than the metropolis of a modern city, but for you getting off the grid is ideal.