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25 Students. 4 Leaders. 1 Epic & Unforgettable Adventure

As the 25 National Geographic 2016 Iceland Student Expedition Group C students exited their flights in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and largest city, the group came together for the first time exhausted and unsure; not only were they all utterly jet lagged, but they were surrounded by complete strangers. Introductions and first conversations took place with a sense of hesitation, a sense of wondering how a group of high school students from entirely unique and different backgrounds could possibly form any sort of bond in just two short weeks.

Underneath the “what if’s” and fears that were flooding these teens’ minds, however, was the knowledge that they were, in fact, very similar to one another. What gave the students the confidence to start forming the relationships that they would end up cherishing so dearly by the end of their trip was the understanding that every participant around them possessed an unquenchable curiosity, an undying need to explore the aspects of the world they didn’t understand. Why else would they have chosen Iceland, a nation so rich in unexplored culture and natural phenomena, as their National Geographic expedition?

From the very first moment of their voyage, the students and leaders alike recognized the importance of appreciating every moment of their time together, as even before friendships were solidified, they all knew that the opportunity they were being provided with was one that didn’t simply appear on anyone’s doorstep.

Because of this unspoken but mutual understanding they all possessed, not a second was taken for granted; there wasn’t a single minute they weren’t all trying to do more, see more, explore more. Every chance they were given, this group was actively learning and consuming as much of the country as they could possibly manage.

Fortunately, in addition to their own thirst for knowledge, the students had access to invaluable resources that allowed them to further enhance their learning experience: the leaders and National Geographic expert, and the Icelandic landscape itself. The leaders M Jackson, Britt Basel, and James Bernal as well as the National Geographic expert Ford Cochran answered any and all questions, and flawlessly demonstrated their incredible depth of knowledge throughout the trip. However, they had help in their explanations as well with the Icelandic landscape. Because this terrain has been almost untouched by humans, the students were able to escape the normal classroom environment and witness firsthand the phenomena being discussed by their expert guides, especially because of the diversity present within Iceland’s various landscapes.

Whether it was through wandering Reykjavik, Höfn, and Akureyri, hiking through lava fields, snowy calderas, a glacier, and steep mountain trails, camping through rain and endless shine, kayaking through an iceberg lagoon, climbing up the ice of a moulin, exploring many waterfalls, listening to lectures and presentations given by their leaders, interacting with the local populations, looking out the windows of the bus, or swimming in any water they could find, these students were bent on experiencing the Icelandic culture and landscape in a method that went beyond just being a visitor or tourist. These teens wanted to be true travelers, and they did all they could to stick to the standard of exploration set by the organization they got to be a part of during their adventure.

This group wasn’t just looking to accumulate these experiences for themselves, however: they were also determined to capture and share what they were learning through photography and science. With their on-assignment projects and live broadcast on National Geographic’s Facebook page, the participants were able to reach an audience they never could have imagined interacting with before; they quickly learned that through their experience in Iceland, they were being given the chance to showcase their passion to the entire world.

Overall, despite a few mildly rough moments, every aspect of the trip surpassed the students’ expectations of what their expedition would look like: with their unbreakable bond of friendship, long list of memories being immersed into everything Icelandic, and dedication to maximizing their experiences, they each went above and beyond what was even thought to be possible upon their arrival in the country.

It was an adventure to remember: for the students and leaders present, this expedition will forever be cherished as a time they could limitlessly explore new surroundings, from a perspective they will never again possess or replicate, with a group unlike any other. In simple terms, it was a voyage no one will ever be able to recreate.

(Abbreviated) Journal of Exploration:

Wandering through Reykjavik: photography students were tasked a scavenger hunt that challenged them to experiment with camera functions & photography skills as well as begin to interact with locals & Icelandic city culture. Prompt for this picture: capture graffiti from an individual or personal perspective.

Thingvellir National Park: A relatively touristy location, this gorgeous park gave students the opportunity to meander down side paths and small trails to photograph the endless landscapes present. Each turn of every track led to a new wonder, a landmark both unique and similar to the one just behind. It was, simply put, spectacular.

Chasing Waterfalls: On day 3, the group explored 4 different waterfalls: Gulfoss, Seljalandsfoss, a discovered waterfall they ate lunch at and coined "Nirfoss" (meaning "new waterfall" in Icelandic), and Skógafoss. What the students found fascinating about this particular day of adventure was just how varied the waterfalls appeared: each was so unique and different from one another, yet they could all be tied together and viewed in a similar fashion. This picture was taken at Skógafoss, in the hopes that the viewer would be able to gain a perspective of just how large and powerful this waterfall is by seeing the relative sizes of the tourists below.

Jökulsárlón: This iceberg lagoon provided students incredible photographic opportunities: with the stunning backdrop of mountains, low clouds, and glaciers, as well as the many icebergs, bergs, and bergie bits floating around the lagoon, each angle and each step brought a new perspective and angle to capture.

After experiencing icebergs in the morning, the students had the chance to witness climate change firsthand as they hiked up a glacier and heard the ice melt below their feet. They learned to ice-climb in a small moulin (with 2 waterfalls) and tried out their skills with help from guides. To top it off, they completed 10 minutes of silent meditation to better appreciate their surroundings.

On this day the students got to experience yet another way of viewing a glacier. In small groups, they kayaked around a lagoon that hadn't even existed 30 years prior, but because of climate change and global warming was now enormous and ever-shifting. Because of the constant movement of the icebergs, the kayakers had to create their own path through the ice.

Since the last few days had been action-packed and exhausting, the "chill day" the students were offered while in Höfn was much appreciated. During their stay in this small town, the students explored and wandered while attempting to tell a story through photographs, furthering their knowledge of Icleandic culture.

Look familiar? As the travelers continued to make their way around the island, they had the chance to visit and hike through this cave, which was used for a scene in the TV show Game of Thrones. Exploring this cave was just a small part of a larger hike through lava fields and up/around a volcano's crater (luckily no longer active).

No picture could do this beautiful location justice, but hopefully you get a glimpse of just how magnificent these overlapping calderas are. After another long hike, the students arrived at these two lakes: one (the front) warm, the other cold as ice. Although the students struggled down the muddy paths, swimming in the milky blue water made every discomfort worth it.

As their trip began to come to a close, the students continued to explore various locations including a major city and a horse-breeding farm. To culminate their experience, each student gave a presentation regarding either photography or science that encompassed what they had learned throughout their experience in Iceland.

Make sure to go watch the live Facebook broadcast to learn more!



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