I live in Iceland. I have muttered these words for a few weeks now and it is still surreal. I live in a foreign country. This is interesting considering I just received a passport last year and visited Canada for the first time–the first time on any foreign soil. Now, I live near the Arctic circle. How did I get here? I had heard of Iceland before in a documentary, but I had never actually seen Iceland or its natural wonders. My journey started four years ago when I saw a movie called The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Originally, a short story written by James Thurber (1939), it was adapted for the screen twice, once in 1947 starring Danny Kaye and most recently in 2013 starring and directed by Ben Stiller. The modern version has come to be my favorite movie, not only because of its storyline but because of the magnificent landscape that is the backdrop to the film–a portion of which was filmed in Iceland. This is when I told myself that I would like to visit Iceland someday but it almost seemed like an impossible dream. So how did I get to Iceland?
At the beginning of the 2016 Fall semester, I saw a poster announcing one of the last informational meetings about the U.S. Fulbright Student Program at Oklahoma State University. I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Integrative Biology, and I knew of a professor who was a Fulbright scholar but I had no idea such an opportunity was available to students like myself. During the meeting, I learned the Fulbright program provides grants to students for English Teaching Assistance Programs, independent research and/or study to 140 countries. During the one academic year assignments, students are immersed into another culture by working, living, and learning from the people of that country. In this sense, the program facilitates cultural exchange and allows students to appreciate the viewpoints, customs, and beliefs of another country while engaging with the community. The thought of immersing myself into another culture sounded intriguing especially while conducting research. So, I asked myself “where would I go?
I could apply to virtually anywhere in the world. Now you may have recently heard that over the last decade or so, Iceland has become one of the top tourist destinations. But I didn’t select Iceland because it is the “in” thing to do. In fact, Iceland is interesting for many scientific reasons. First, it is an island, and islands often have unique plants and animals that can tells us about evolutionary relationships (think Charles Darwin and his finches). Second, Iceland is located at the interface of temperate and Arctic regions making it a unique area for study because it is more susceptible to perturbations in temperatures due to its small size and location compared to other northern landmasses. With global warming being a “hot” issue, it offers relevant and interesting topics for scientific research. Last, we know nothing about parasites in Arctic regions, and I happen to study parasites. This is important because with climate change, there are different hypotheses about how parasite communities will change and shift as temperatures rise around the globe, but the changes that will occur in tropic regions may not necessarily be what happens in Arctic and Antarctic regions. Even more important, the people of the Arctic rely closely on the fish, mammals, and birds that live there, potentially exposing them to food-borne pathogens.
These important topics are exactly what I proposed to Fulbright, and six months later, I learned the Fulbright Commission and the Ministry of Iceland thought they were important, too! I am so grateful for such an opportunity and will do my best to be an ambassador for science and the United States. I have been in Iceland for nearly three weeks now and have wanted to create this website to share my journey. Therefore, the main objectives of this website are to share information and tell a story about the people, their culture, the beautiful landscape, and the science that I am conducting on the island. This will include stories of trolls, elves, and yule lads. The history of its settling and early inhabitants described in the Icelandic Sagas. The natural history and beauty of the island including animals, weather, volcanoes, glaciers, and black sandy beaches. And of course, the science that brought me here. How will parasites respond to changes in temperature? How are parasites distributed throughout the land of fire and ice? And any other opportunity that may present itself.
During my year-long stay, it is my hope to serve as an inspiration to young ladies who are considering a career in science or for anyone who has ever dreamed of traveling to Iceland. So, save this website to your browser and please enjoy the beautiful landscape and stories from Iceland!