It’s not every day you get the opportunity to travel abroad on a fully-funded University trip and make life-long friends and memories.
Last year I saw a bunch of students in Iceland with bright pink University of Derby bobble hats sharing images on social media accompanied with #DerbyUniPassport. That’s when I did a bit of investigating into what the hashtag was all about and I came across the International Travel Award scheme, courtesy of the Student Experience Framework. I signed up to make sure I’d be notified next time the applications opened and that happened to be last November, 2018. After completing the online application it was a waiting game to hear if I had been accepted.
Out of the 700 applicants I was one of the chosen 40 invited on this trip of a lifetime. It was time to start packing my warm clothes and waterproof trousers!
Most of our first day was spent travelling and getting to know the other students that were fortunate enough to be on the trip. We arrived at our hotel mid evening which meant we had a short time to unpack, befriend our roommates and get dinner before we headed out on the first adventure of the week – The Northern Lights.
We travelled out of Reykjavík to a location where there would be less light pollution in the hope of seeing the sky light up green. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t in our favour and we didn’t see the Northern Lights, however the trip was still a great opportunity to bond with everyone and be let loose in the snow for the first time.
We were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights later on in the week which was such a special moment and we all got super excited.
Journey across the South Shore
Iceland has a lot of natural sights such as waterfalls, glaciers and volcanoes. We started out early on the Tuesday and headed on our journey across the South Shore.
We started with a glacier walk which pushed me and many others out of our comfort zone. Being one of the least outdoorsy adventurous people, you’d not see me wearing crampons and a harness while walking with an axe too often! However, it was so worth the feeling of accomplishment afterwards and seeing the picturesque sights of Iceland.
Thankfully, our next stop was a lot more relaxing! This was Reynisfjara, also known as a black sand beach, which has a claim to fame in season 7 of Game of Thrones. This was followed by our final two stops of the day to see some stunning waterfalls: Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss.
With a free day on the cards on Wednesday, we all split off to do different things around Iceland. A group went horseback riding, while others went to an outdoor swimming pool, snowmobiling, shopping or museum hopping.
I opted for the more relaxed option of sight-seeing and shopping in Reykjavík, starting off with a trip to the famous Hallgrímskirkja Church. The views of the city from the top were breathtakingly beautiful, with pretty snowy streets and buildings in sight for miles. This was followed by a stop off for one of the best cinnamon buns I’ve ever had at an Icelandic Bakery before hitting the shopping streets.
Just before heading back for a well needed rest, we visited the much talked about Phallological Museum and Solfar Sun Voyager sculpture. It’s fair to say we made the most out of seeing every corner of the city in a short space of time!
The Golden Circle
Another day on the coach saw us complete the Golden Circle Trip to see more natural wonders. We started off with Þingvellier National Park which holds a lot of rich history about Iceland, located between two tectonic plates (North American and Eurasian) and in a gorgeous valley.
Just when we thought we’d already seen some incredible waterfalls, we visited Gullfoss Waterfall and wow, it was HUGE! It was simply a ‘be there’ moment, pictures don’t serve their justice with how breathtaking it was.
The final stop on the Golden Circle Tour was the Great Geysir, also known as the hot springs. A geothermal area whereby heated groundwater erupts every 3-5 minutes and it’s utterly incredible to see.
As an evening social we entered a music quiz at a local bar in Reykjavík, one of the University of Derby teams did us proud and won the quiz, resulting in 10 free beers!
Walking tour and Blue Lagoon
Although we’d already explored Reykjavík on our own, we had a walking tour of the city by a super friendly local university student. She had so many interesting facts about the city that we wouldn’t have known otherwise – such as the super low crime rate and geothermally heated ponds for the wildlife.
Arguably, we saved the best activity of the trip until last, the Blue Lagoon – it was truly incredible. The whole experience was surreal and extremely relaxing, stepping from -3 degrees outside to 38 degree geothermally heated water. There was no other way we could create a perfect ending to the trip.
This trip has had so many benefits for me, on a personal and educational level. I’ve grown my confidence meeting new people and travelling to new places while appreciating new cultural experiences. I had no idea what a glacier was beforehand so it’s fair to say this trip has also educated me in the realms of Geography a fair bit! Additionally, I’ve had the opportunity to build on my work experience by creating content e.g. blog posts that will help me in the field of work I want to pursue.
I’m honestly so thankful for this opportunity that the University has given me, and it’s a credit to the University that they can take students year in year out on these trips of a lifetime, no matter your financial or personal situations.
You can read about each day in more detail on Katie’s personal blog: www.katie-lauren.blog