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  • Melissa Boo

First Impressions

Between the awkward timing of a red-eye flight, some airport shuttle confusion, and a room that wouldn’t be ready for hours, our arrival in Reykjavik was a lot of mixups to manage on just a few hours of sleep!


After blearily blinking our way off the plane, we had our first chance to practice travel-resiliency when there was an issue with our airport shuttle ticket. We hadn’t had a chance to covert dollars to króna yet to buy a new ticket, and at 4am, all the kiosks in the airport were closed. But a patient bus attendant walked us over to a shuttle and explained our situation to a bus driver who could take us to our hotel.


I’m still not sure if this was the same shuttle we booked, or if the language barrier just made it easier to give us a free ride, but it was definitely a moment to appreciate a stranger’s empathy (and/or pity). It also made me think of all the times I've seen people in the US lash out at others over language barriers, and I wonder if they've ever tried to communicate without English, or how many languages they speak...


Once we were on the bus, it was time for some window-watching to scope out the landscape. It was still completely dark out when we boarded, but as our trip went on, we started to be able to see this surreal landscape. I’ll always remember being surprised by the endless fields of dark, volcanic rock covered in neon lichen and mosses. It seemed like we were on another planet (or maybe a laser tag room…?).


As we got closer to the city, we could see a pale grey line of the seashore. Boats and boathouses began to pop up on the horizon, bringing bright bursts of red, yellow, green, and blue roofs into view. And as we got to the main highways and roads of the city, the sun came up, and we got to see the familiar parts of a city: traffic lights, lane lines, street signs, lamp posts, sidewalks… just different enough from home to be new and exciting, but familiar enough to feel a sense of arrival.


Our patient bus driver let us know when it was our stop, and that we’d have to walk a bit with our luggage. So we sleepily schlepped our way up hills and sidewalks to our hotel. At this point, it was around 6am, and we were crushed when the host told us our room wouldn’t be ready till 10am! Without a lobby for us to wait in, she offered to hold our luggage at the desk while we wandered around town - and off we went…


I remember joy and gratitude breaking through the grogginess of that walk; I was so happy to be somewhere that was already well into autumn! Familiar crunchy leaves, sparking frost and morning dew, and crisp ocean breezes greeted us as we meandered down the road - with no idea where we would find somewhere open to wait.


Eventually, we found a much larger, fancier hotel, and invited our travel-weary selves in. I felt so self-conscious in my comfy airplane clothes, with my eyes barely open and my brain barely working, but somehow, we talked our way into the breakfast buffet. I have never been so grateful for a cup of coffee and chocolate in my life! I remember my dad being amazed by the breakfast spread, and we both took a moment to appreciate the care that went into the dishes and ingredients - they proudly boasted about local butter, milk, eggs, and breads. At the time, in 2015, this wasn’t very common in the US, and I realized it was extra important here as a cold, island nation, where they needed to import a lot of their food and produce. That local-food pride came from resilience way more than the grenwashed self-righteousness we might roll our eyes at today.


We watched the clock, loaded up on wi-fi, and went back to our hotel as soon as we could! I don’t remember the rest of the day at all - I think I slept through most of it, and I have a faint memory of ordering pizza…? Clearly, the rest of this jet-lagged day wasn’t memorable! But the next day was one of my favorites...


Life/Travel Lessons

  • Convert some cash to the local currency *before* you leave

  • Download Google Translate and check your international coverage/SIM card *before* you get on the plane

  • Always ask about the early check-in policy :)


And a little teacher-talk…

Growing up in New York, our moment of local-food-appreciation was an eye-opener. I realized I had taken for granted living in a coastal, temperate, metropolitan area, where not only could we grow our own food year-round, but we could affordably import food. Asking students to consider what "local food" means for communities that are in harsh climates, away from the coast, or in remote locations invites conversations about so many important food systems topics: food preservation, and how it informs traditions, cuisine, microbiology, and public health; food access, and how system inequities can make this basic human need unaffordable; ag tech, and how climate and water control technologies can shorten the distance from farm-to-plate, etc. It might be helpful to share a few climates to demonstrate how these social, economic, and geographic factors contribute to food access - perhaps Iceland, the UAE, and Indigenous communities in North America.

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