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Icelandic Roots Philanthropy: The Snorri Programs - Part 2

In Part 1 of this series we mentioned how we've awarded 22 individual scholarships to Snorri Program participants since 2015. Part 1 featured the words of Amber, Shelby, and Kjersten. This week we are concluding our look at the Snorri Program with the words of Jessie and Alyssa.

(To learn more about the Snorri Programs, you can visit their website here.)

(Photos left to right: Jessie with Icelandic Language teacher Sigríður in classroom, Jessie's cousin Guðný is holding an old photo of family, Jessie and her cousin Guðný at Skogafoss)



My name is Jessie, and I am from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Over this past summer I had the opportunity to visit Iceland through the Snorri Program. On June 16th, our group of 13 participants from across Canada and America came together in Reykjavík. Guided by our amazing and fearless group leader, Sandra, we participated in cultural programs and and took daily Icelandic language lessons.

By the end of two weeks, what began as a group of timid acquaintances was beginning to become a temporary family, which wasn’t a stretch since we are all very distant cousins to each other.

A bus took me to Hvolsvöllur, a small industrial town in the south of Iceland where Jóhanna, my host mother, welcomed me at the bus stop with open arms. During my stay with Jóhanna, I learnt of my ties to their family through our Icelandic-Canadian connection. I then finished the rest of my homestay at Buland, the small scale dairy farm run by Jóhanna’s sister, Guðný.

As we drove to the farm we discussed our shared ancestry. To my surprise, she began to become emotional from the driver’s seat beside me as she talked about the horrible treatment of our forefathers which were farming slaves in Iceland during the mid 1800’s. I remember how impacted I felt when I broke the ice through my research into the lives of Rebekka and Thordur, my Icelandic grandparents who came to Gimli in 1887. Guðný’s sadness towards those that came before her reminded me that one generation’s suffering does remain in memory by future generations. To be Icelandic means to belong to a people who, despite hardship and displacement, have maintained their culture and vast genealogical records which continue to be built upon every time a new baby is born.

At Buland I met her husband Guðmundur, son Halldór, and Simone, a friend visiting from Denmark. On days when I was not cooking, milking, gardening, or whatever needed attention that day, Simone and I borrowed the old car and drove to some of the most breathtaking hiking spots, waterfalls and black sand beaches that I have ever seen.

My stay in Iceland came full circle as our original group got back together for a week long road trip around the western coast. One highlight was the climb up the cliff-sided birding island of Drangey, which was rewarded with a stunning view.

This experience not only transformed my definition of family, but helped me to get in touch with my roots in a way that only visiting Iceland could. My newly discovered cousins Guðný and Jóhanna have invited me back to visit and work at Buland in the future, and I am confident that these overseas connections, forged stronger during this past summer, will be lasting.

I want to extend my most sincere thanks to Icelandic Roots for their financial support through the Snorri scholarship.

Alyssa eating ice cream with her dad, fiancé, and mom.
Alyssa eating ice cream with her dad, fiancé, and mom.



Wow! I can’t believe how much I have grown, and how my life has changed since my Snorri Experience over 3 years ago! I had just graduated from university, unsure whether I wanted to continue with the career path I had chosen 5 years earlier, and all I knew was that I had always wanted to go to my Afi’s ancestral homeland of Iceland. It was a dream to see this tiny country I always thought I had a special connection to because it was so unknown and exotic to everyone else I knew growing up. However, it’s where everyone called their grandfathers Afi, just like me.

I was overjoyed when I received my acceptance email, and gratefully stunned when I was chosen for one of 2 generous scholarships from Icelandic Roots. The Icelandic Roots’ Database has also been equally meaningful to me in its efforts connecting us Western Icelanders with Icelanders ‘proper’. I have used it multiple times over the past few years, most importantly to calculate my relationship to the cute guy I met, who is now my fiancé.

(He is only* my 7th cousin by the way)

Alyssa is in the foreground wearing a pink tank shot and blue jeans with two white Icelandic sheep just behind her to her left. Background is trees and a clothesline.
Alyssa during her Snorri trip

My first Icelandic experience was unforgettable, thanks to the Snorri Program and Icelandic Roots. I fell in love first with the language while beginning language classes online, as well as watching cartoons in Icelandic on the flight. Then, I spent 3 weeks living in Akureyri with my distant cousins, where I became rooted in this town which reminded me so much of home, quaint but dynamic: home to all the amenities for Northern Iceland yet still with a small town feel. And finally I soaked in the climate, as someone who always complained about the heat, even in temperate Victoria BC, I will take Iceland’s winter any day to enjoy the 20 degree Celsius (70 F) MAX in the summer.

All the while, since the moment I met my first “born and raised” Icelanders from the Snorri West program in 2015, the reason I decided to apply in the first place, I have admired the people and culture of Iceland more and more each day.

It took me just over a year to find a way to move to Iceland with the plans to be here a year or two, but it took less than 4 months to meet Pálmi, my now fiancé. So I think it’s safe to say that if you believe in destiny, the Snorri Program was imperative in my life’s journey. And even if you don’t believe in destiny, I sure am happy with the direction my life has taken since the Snorri program.

Thank you so much to Amber, Shelby, Kjersten, Jessie, and Alyssa for submitting their write ups and photos for us to share.

And thank you to all our supporters that make awarding these scholarships possible.

We look forward to meeting our 2020 applicants! - Deadline for scholarships is April 15th. Application deadline for the Snorri Program is January 8th. Apply online


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

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