Spring Break marked a full-scale return to international travel for our school with 32 students from Grade 8 and 9 traveling to Iceland. For me, the inevitable uncertainties that come with an adventure to Iceland led to so many rich educational moments. For the students, it pushed them to build their capacity for self-advocacy as they navigated group dynamics, unfamiliar food and customs, challenging weather, fatigue, and learning to find the fun in unfamiliar situations. It never ceases to amaze me how challenges like these can become some of our fondest memories.
With every group discussion, we were pleasantly reminded how each participant came away with their own unique takeaway that was different from everyone else. Beyond the predictable teachable moments relating to the northern lights, glaciers, thermal springs, and frozen waterfalls, one student reflected on what stood out to her:
“I learned about the elves. It was a little funny at first, but I now know this is important to the culture and beliefs of those who live in Iceland. The elves protect nature, and if you ever take a rock or take something from Iceland, you must ask the elves for permission and thank them too.”
At the trip’s outset, we emphasized the importance of building a strong bond within our group and being ready to help each other out as well as get to know everyone better. A few days into the trip, one could see different friend groups sitting together and interacting, laughing, and joking. I always remind students to take notice of the positive feelings in moments like this. The feeling of accomplishment and the bond between students and teachers thanks to a shared adventure is one of my favourite things about experiential education. You can’t buy this feeling from a mall or obtain it from scrolling on your phone - it must be attained by exploring your boundaries, trying new things, and taking risks to bond with people you may otherwise not take the time to get to know. To this sentiment, one student shared, ”For me it was the lava hike because while it was very tiring due to it being all uphill, the feeling at the end was amazing because I saw the whole view and felt so accomplished.”
On top of the interpersonal journey we all navigated, Iceland was an inspirational place to visit. The scenery was breathtaking everywhere we looked. The students loved our in-country guide, Omar, who helped them understand how the Icelandic people have survived and thrived in this unique and harsh environment for over 1,000 years. Along the way, through learning about geothermal power, how societies had to adapt to natural disasters, and about Iceland’s history as one of the world’s first democracies, the students gained a whole new appreciation for aspects of home that they always take for granted. As an example, we were all captivated by the tour of a geothermally-powered greenhouse where the owners grow some of the most delicious tomatoes you could ever try. For a lot of students, it got them to think about large-scale food production for the first time.
I would like to express a heartfelt thanks to our partners at Insight Global Education and especially to the teacher chaperones Bethan Haston, Calindy Ramsden, and Rachel Pezim for giving up their own time during spring break to facilitate this unforgettable experience.