My name is Susan Lloyd, and I am a 2011 graduate of Xavier University with B.A. degrees in Economics and International Studies. I also minored in Gender and Diversity Studies and Peace Studies at Xavier. I am a Brueggeman Fellow alum from 2010-2011, but I am still shoulders-deep in my Brueggeman project to this day.
I hail from Akron, Ohio, where I am currently living until I discern my next step. I have plans to pursue a graduate degree in public health, and am interested in researching the links between economic and social circumstances and health, as well as holistic community approaches to addressing pertinent health issues, both in the United States and internationally. I know that traveling will be a part of my future, as my experiences as a student on Xavier’s Academic Service Learning Semester in Ghana and as a Brueggeman Fellow in Iceland have fostered a deep curiosity about other cultures. These travels have drastically altered my perspective on countless issues and have challenged me both academically and personally, and I look forward to embarking on my next adventure!
The inspiration for my Brueggeman Project came from Eric Weiner’s book, The Geography of Bliss. While his chapter on Iceland had little to do with my growing interest in sustainability movements, his descriptions and comments on Icelanders fostered a strong curiosity about Iceland and the Icelandic people. Iceland makes it into U.S. news in two main fashions – instigator of the 2008 financial crisis and world innovator in renewable energy utilization. I initially set out to see, first of all, if Iceland was indeed a leader in “sustainability” as it was espoused to be in the media, and secondly, if this movement was rooted in a shared history and culture – something that we, for the most part, lack in the United States. Iceland was my proposed destination most of all because of its media attention in the “green,” “eco-friendly,” and “sustainable” arenas, but also because Icelanders have such a proud and meticulously recorded history that has been remote from the rest of the world for a large part of human existence on the island – I figured if there was anywhere in the world that strong cultural ties impacted current sustainability movements, it would be Iceland.
I lived and worked in a small eco-village called Solheimar in southwest Iceland, and was soon disappointed in Iceland’s lack of conscientiousness toward the environment. As I interacted and spoke with Icelanders, I also was surprised by the intricate links between saving the environment and saving the national identity of Iceland. My project, which is still very much in progress, will describe more of the details that led to my disappointment, as well as the challenges Iceland currently is facing in terms of sustaining itself as a nation following the financial crisis of 2008. I certainly did not find what I was looking for in terms of my proposed project, but my research grew in countless directions as I worked and traveled alongside Icelanders.
Iceland is at a crucial point as its people consider the values that have been cultivated throughout the nation’s history and how the country should move forward following the financial crisis with these values in mind. Many Icelanders view the recent developments of aluminum smelting as the country’s only option, while others perceive the government’s decision to invite aluminum corporations to process aluminum in Iceland as a betrayal of themselves and their land. Despite the controversy, I experienced optimism of the Icelandic future in several ways – I saw hope in an organic barley farmer trying to promote local food production and re-forestation. I saw hope in young Icelanders who were going against the grain of the last three decades of “flott” (a most versatile word in Icelandic, essentially meaning “the coolest”) young Reykjavik businessmen by studying agricultural and fishing sciences. I found hope in the election of comedian Jón Gnarr as the mayor of Reykjavik, a prime example of the eccentric and creative history Icelanders have fostered - and in the last few decades, largely forgotten.
So, despite my disappointment in Iceland’s “sustainability-ness,” I learned and experienced so much more than I ever imagined setting out on this journey two years ago. I never expected to fall so head over heels for that tiny island in the North Atlantic and the people who live on it. Icelanders, particularly younger men, from my observations, live every moment with reckless abandon – I think, in some part due to the fact that for generations, Icelanders have lived never knowing when the next volcano would erupt and potentially blow up the entire nation. As I spent the summer anxiously awaiting the expected eruption of two volcanoes, I was surrounded by Icelanders who paid close attention to the daily weather reports yet nonchalantly said things like, “Don’t worry, Hekla doesn’t produce an ash cloud, only lava.” I didn’t understand why no one but me was concerned about an impending lava flood as I repeatedly had nightmares starring Hekla’s eruption.
I stood with only the Arctic Ocean between myself and the North Pole. I enjoyed 24 hours of light each day for the majority of the summer and saw a glimpse of the Northern Lights as the nights began to grow dark towards the end of August. I developed relationships with plants and with people, and nursed a severe caffeine dependence from the traditional two coffee breaks in the Icelandic workday (and at the start of the workday, and after lunch, and at the end of the workday…). I went hunting for natural hot springs, fully participated in an Icelandic “festival weekend,” and ate the Icelandic delicacy of rotten shark and the traditional meal of boiled sheep head and mashed turnips, both of which help explain the lack of a word meaning “delicious” in the Icelandic language. I learned, and am still learning, countless aspects of this thing we call “sustainability” that I had never before considered. I would have experienced none of these incredible opportunities without the Brueggeman Fellows Program, for which I am ever grateful – for providing an environment to explore and question and a means to make this kind of research possible.
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I am currently living in Akron, Ohio