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My Roots Have Grown but I Don´t Know Where They Are

My first memories of learning about the Snorri Program were when I was 6 or 7 years old. My mom told me about this amazing trip in Iceland with other North American Icelanders that was six weeks long. I remember my immediate reaction was, “No way! I couldn’t be away from home with strangers for so long; besides I want to go to Iceland with you!”

Góðan daginn, My name is Alyssa Cartwright and I participated in ‘The Snorri Program – 2016’ this summer. I am writing about my time in Iceland this summer to thank and bring awareness to both The Snorri Program and The Icelandic Roots Foundation. They are each incredible at what they do and I would recommend both to any north American Icelander. My dad is of English heritage and my mom is half Scottish and half Icelandic that makes me only ¼ Icelandic by blood, yet I feel like my childhood was built mainly on Canadian and Icelandic Canadian traditions. I always thought it was a phenomenon of living in such a multicultural country, most people like to emphasize the most interesting side of their ancestry, as if they have to make themselves more interesting, but I have started to notice that the importance of preservation of history, heritage and culture seems to be very common in Icelanders and those with Icelandic ancestry. This sentiment is exemplified in the Icelandic Roots Foundation whose mission is “to educate, preserve, and promote Icelandic Heritage.”

I would like to take this time to thank Sunna Furstenau and the entire Icelandic Roots Foundation for choosing to grant me one of their scholarships. I was overwhelmed by their generosity, as I never imagined I could be awarded a scholarship that would cover nearly half the cost of the program. This incredible gift alleviated much stress and enabled me to save some money to better appreciate Iceland and all of its wonders during my time there.

Since receiving this gift and joining the database I have looked up my relation to every Icelandic person I know and every famous Icelander I can think of, and then some! And not only have I found some amazingly close connections, I found that one of my emigrating ancestors had only one sibling stay in Iceland Guðrun Jonasdóttir, and that she had a total of 17 children, only 4 of whom died in childhood, which I believe to be an impressive feat for the late 1800s early 1900s. When I arrived in Akureyri for the 3 week family and volunteer period, I found out that the cousin I would be living with was in fact one of Guðrun’s descendants. I have also started documenting my own family tree which currently only includes me and my direct ancestors; none of my cousins, brother, or aunts and uncles.

Last year the Snorri West Program 2015 came here to the West Coast, with the four participants staying Victoria for 5 days. After hosting Anna Lísa, Guðmundur, María, and Vala I didn’t want to just go to Iceland on a short vacation; these were four of the kindest and coolest people I had ever met and if even half of the people in Iceland were as awesome as them then I wanted to be friends with all of them!

That experience reminded me about the Snorri Program, and after looking at their website I knew it offered exactly what I needed, mainly:

  • Learning the language (something I have always dreamed of, but never had enough resources in my small city) for two weeks in Reykjavik.

  • Discovering, meeting and living with Icelandic relatives.

  • Something that would allow me to imagine and understand what life is really like as an Icelander.

  • Touring the sights. A chance to see more of the country, simply the cherry on top of a perfect combination.

My first two weeks in Iceland were a busy blend of classwork and field trips with my cohort of fellow Snorri participants, reconnecting with old friends, and meeting new family. With so much to do and so little time, it all left me feeling like I needed more time for a little bit of all of it! My favourite part during this time was taking courses at the University of Iceland because it was an opportunity I could not get in any other trip to Iceland; I was able to learn Icelandic, among many other things; and I was able to imagine what it felt like to be a student in Iceland it was relieving to see that there isn’t much difference from most of the courses I have taken in university in Canada. When I got home it was brought to my attention that our courses were paid for and provided by the Icelandic Roots Foundation. Once again, I was amazed by their abilities and generosity to not only myself, but all the Snorri Program participants.

After just two short weeks, I was out of time for now, and on to Akureyri to meet some of my closest relatives in Iceland, and stay with them for the next three weeks. While there, I lived with my cousin, his wife and two children, and was fortunate enough to be accepted as a volunteer at Íðavöllur Leikskólinn –a Kindergarten for children ages 2-5. It was a wonderful way to learn the language and modern culture, I spent my time in the oldest class, Jótunheimur, where the students happily taught me the colours, corrected my pronunciation, and answered my simple broken-sentence questions in such complicated stories that I often had to fake-it-you-make-it, and occasionally got myself stuck agreeing to something I shouldn’t have. It was a very unique and effective way to learn, as you had to learn fast or perhaps get laughed at by a small group of 4-5 year olds.

One day in Akureyri I went for a walk, listening to music, as always. Halfway through the second song I heard the phrase “My roots have grown but I don’t know where they are,” and I nearly stopped mid step. Something about it really resonated with me and still does. The Snorri Program is all about discovering more about your roots, but this phrase also made me realise I am more Icelandic than I thought. Mathematically, by blood I am twice as much English as I am Icelandic, looking at experiences, I am almost completely Canadian, but being in Iceland I saw so many aspects of Icelandic culture I associated with. All throughout my childhood, and even my adulthood so far, my closest and favourite influences have been my immediate family, but somehow, after less than three weeks in Iceland, I was already questioning my goals and outlook on life. Though not necessarily the best song in the world, it will now be considered one of my favourites forever, simply because I heard it at the right time.

By the time I left Akureyri I knew I wanted to come back and live there, or anywhere in Iceland. What really started to influence me was talking about the holidays. I found myself wishing I could experience these traditions so that I understood them better. As the plane left Akureyri I had three thoughts back to back so quickly they were almost simultaneous.

  1. Ahh, finally, home sweet home! I had missed Odinn’s guesthouse, and my Snorri family, and Reykjavik, and was excited to get back to this place where I knew I needn’t worry, as I feel so much safety and comfort.

  2. Homesickness! My first time feeling homesick all trip, and I wasn’t even thinking of my home. I had only been away from my family for a few minutes, from my newfound home for an hour or so, and I already missed it. This feeling was as, if not more, intense as when I leave Vancouver Island for any length of time. I can’t wait until I am back at this home with my family where everything is familiar and peaceful.

  3. Wait a minute, isn’t Victoria my home? I was surprised that my first reactions had nothing to do with Canada, but instantly not surprized to realize that I had grown so attached to Iceland that BOTH places felt like home, and a little ashamed that my hometown of 23 years could be nearly replaced so easily, but I know that no other place in the world will ever have this effect on me.

My final week in Iceland on the Snorri Program was spent back with my fellow Snorris, Ásta and Kent showed us around some amazing sights, excursions, and museums in western Iceland, as in one week, that’s all you have time for. It was cram-packed and loaded with fun! By the end of the week I felt a nearly perfect balance of exhausted and relaxed! Especially after all the learning and self-discovery of the previous 5 weeks, the driving time was a good time to reflect; the sights were, of course, incredible.

I’ve been home for a few months now and my desire and longing to return to Iceland has not lessened at all. Something about being in Iceland was unexplainably and perfectly peaceful. It gave me the feeling that everything would always be ok and that I was doing the right thing. I am currently planning and working towards finding employment, so that I can return to live and work for at least a year or so. The first avenue I am looking into is to work in a kindergarten, but I am not limiting myself to that alone, as the most important thing is living and experiencing Iceland as my ancestors would have, and my distant cousins do, especially since, as I’ve learned through Icelandic Roots, all Icelanders are related if you look back far enough.

Snorri Program, Snorri Plus, and Snorri West Programs are accepting applications now. To apply and learn more visit the website: and if you are chosen for the program and need assistance to go, send Scholarship Applications to us at Icelandic Roots.

Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

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