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The Experience of a Lifetime

Note: The 2024 Snorri Program application deadline is mid-January. Find out more at

By Emily Gudbjartson

Going to Iceland with the Snorri Program this past summer was truly the experience of a

lifetime. Before travelling, I was warned that with being away for 5 weeks, I might experience quite a bit of culture shock. I was anticipating this feeling, but it never happened because Iceland immediately felt like home. Every moment in Iceland was special to me and it stole my heart from the moment I arrived.

Emily Gudbjartson in Reykjavík
Emily Gudbjartson in Reykjavík

Our first two weeks in Iceland were spent in Reykjavík. During this time, we got to

connect and form relationships with our fellow Snorris. Together we participated in many activities, explored downtown, and attended classes at Háskóli Íslands. We had numerous language classes where we enhanced our Icelandic skills and prepared to communicate with locals and our homestay families. Additionally, we had classes on Icelandic history, genealogy, politics, folklore, and visited many museums and places significant to Icelandic culture and history. These classes and tours provided us with a perfect basis of knowledge to build on throughout our time in Iceland. We also got the opportunity to attend the Icelandic National Day celebrations downtown. The sense of pride that Icelanders have for their country is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The streets were packed with people parading and waving Icelandic flags. The more time I spent in Iceland, the more I grew to understand why Icelanders are so proud of their country. As our time in Reykjavík was quickly coming to an end, I was beginning to get nervous to leave the group and go north for my homestay placement.

For my homestay experience I stayed with my relatives Gógó and Maggi in Skagaströnd,

a small town of about 500 people. Gógó’s younger brother and his family also live in

Skagaströnd just two streets over, with children similar in age to me. They all welcomed me into their homes with open arms and I immediately felt comfortable around them.

We participated in lots of activities all together with both families. Maggi was the mayor of Skagaströnd for several years and had immense knowledge about the town and

surrounding areas. One of Maggi’s hobbies is woodcarving. He carves Christmas elves titled “The Unruly Yule Lads” and sells them at the Jólahúsið in Akureyri. I was fascinated by his creations and asked him if he would teach me. Maggi was excited that I had expressed interest in his hobby and was more than willing to share his skills. We spent many hours together carving and painting the yule lads which ventured back to Canada with me. This time was extremely meaningful and something that will stick with me forever. Maggi truly inspired me and since returning to Canada I have purchased some wood carving tools of my own so I can continue to carve.

Unruly Yule Lads

Maggi’s wife Gógó spoke minimal English which was a bit of a barrier but also a learning experience for both of us. Gógó made amazing food and traditional Icelandic treats like hjónabandssæla and pönnukökurs. She always made sure I was well-fed and even taught me how to make pönnukökurs. Gógó and I also connected over music as we both

sing and play guitar.

Maggi and Gógó took me to meet some more of my family (Gógó’s siblings) in Akureyri. Something that the siblings do when they’re all together is sing. They played a few songs for me and sang in multiple-part harmonies. This was so amazing to hear and made me feel so at home and connected to them all.

A landmark in Skagaströnd of great significance is Spákonufell. Spákonufell is a

mountain that overlooks the town. Sagas tell of a prophetess named Þórdís who used to climb to the top of Spákonufell every day to cast her spells. It is rumored that Þórdís hid treasure at the top of the mountain and cast a spell on it so that only an unbaptised female could find it.

After seeing and hearing the tales of this mountain I was determined to climb to the top and that is exactly what we did. A group of us set out to climb the mountain and they told me that it would be an easy hike. For a Canadian prairie girl used to “hiking’ exclusively on ground that is mostly flat, climbing up over 600m was the furthest thing from easy. It was quite possibly one of the most physically challenging things I have ever done but also one of the most rewarding.

At the top, I didn’t find any gold but perhaps the real treasure was the beauty seen while

overlooking the quiet oceanside town.

Saying goodbye to my family in Skagaströnd was extremely difficult. I shed many tears

including those on the days leading up to my final day with them. It was amazing that in just two short weeks I had formed such strong connections that will last a lifetime.

Once I regrouped with my fellow Snorris for the final week in Iceland, we set out on our

adventure tour. During the tour, we stopped at various locations including the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Thingvellir National Park, numerous waterfalls, the Icelandic Emigration Centre, Vesturfarasetrið, in Hofsós, and Akureyri to name a few places. Tons of fun was had, and I was so lucky to get to experience all of these beautiful places with my Snorri cousins.

Though I have been back in Canada for over 3 months, there hasn’t been a day pass by

that I haven’t thought about my time in Iceland as it truly felt like home. I was captivated by the beauty of not only the land but also the culture and its people.

I often think that the quality of life Iceland offers is substantially greater than what I have been witnessing in Canada presently and have seriously considered what my life would look like if I moved there. 5 weeks in Iceland was a perfect introduction and left me wanting to experience more.

I cannot wait to return to Iceland someday to visit my family and continue to explore much more of what this amazing country has to offer.

My time in Iceland with the Snorri program is something that I will hold close to my heart forever. I want to express my sincere gratitude towards the Icelandic Roots organization that helped make this life-changing experience possible.

Takk fyrir!


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