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Six weeks in Iceland: Perham grad discovers heritage, adventure

Submitted photo 2010 Perham High School graduate Emily Wurgler stands at the bottom of Mount Esja in Iceland, where she is staying and studying for six weeks, learning more about her Icelandic heritage. 1 / 3
Submitted photo Emily Wurgler’s group went on a day trip to visit Kerið, a crater lake on the western side of the island.2 / 3
Submitted photo A view of the capitol city, Reykjavik, from the roof of “The Pearl,” a historic landmark.3 / 3

Most college students’ summer plans center around a part-time job, internship, or a vacation or three.

Emily Wurgler, a 2010 graduate of Perham High School and current senior at Concordia College in Moorhead, has found a way to combine elements of all three – she is going on the “Snorri” program, a six-week trip to Iceland that’s part study abroad trip and part work-study program, all designed to help her and 14 other students of Icelandic descent discover their shared heritage.

“This trip is absolutely amazing,” Wurgler wrote in an e-mail at the conclusion of the first week. “The program director and the sponsors are doing everything in their power to really show us the best that Iceland has to offer.”

Some of those offerings include hiking up a mountain, visiting the Canadian embassy, whitewater rafting, cliff jumping, and participating in the festivities surrounding Icelandic National Day, which commemorates the country’s independence, on June 17.

“We have done so many things just this first week, it seems like we’ve been here for three already,” she wrote.

She notes that one similarity between her new environs and Perham is that she keeps “seeing people around town that I’ve met before,” which lends to a familiar “small hometown feel.”

She found out about the trip from her “afi” (Icelandic for “grandfather”) and was inspired to participate after a semester abroad in Norway.

Wurgler explained that the trip consists of two weeks in Reykjavik, the capital, taking language and history classes and exploring the city and its landmarks.

The classes are just like any other Wurgler took at Perham High School, she said, “but it’s nice because you have a lecture for 45 minutes and then there’s a 15-minute break.”

The comprehensive class material was complemented by an informational meeting with a pair of genealogists, who revealed how every member of the student group was related to one another –and to several famous Icelanders, including Bjork and Jonsi, the lead singer of Sigur Ros.

After completing several crash courses in Reykjavik, Wurgler will spend three weeks working on a farm in Skagafjörður, one of the northernmost portions of the island.

“My job will basically be being a farmhand,” she wrote. “On the farm, there are 20 horses and 400 sheep.  There is also a large amount of eider duck nests near the farm, so they gather the down from the ducks and sell that.”

The final week of the trip will consist of a road trip, to explore the country as a whole.

Although she’s only been in Iceland for a week so far, Wurgler said she’s stepped out of her comfort zone several times already, usually for the better.

She tried uncooked smoked salmon for the first time – “in normal cases I love salmon, but it’s not cooked, it’s chewy and it freaks me out. I have also tried caviar on top of said smoked salmon. That was a stretch for me,” she wrote. “But when in Iceland…”

Wurgler and her fellow students have also sampled Brennivin, a liqueur unique to the country and known for having a harsh, acquired taste.

“It’s called ‘black death’ for a reason,” she said.

She has also had difficulty adjusting to Iceland’s perpetual summer daylight, writing that “the sun literally never goes down. My brain still hasn’t fully comprehended it.”

Wurgler has five more weeks remaining on the Snorri trip, and is excited to see what else is in store.

“My favorite part has been all of it,” she said. “It has been the trip of a lifetime so far, and it’s only been a week!”