I vividly remember the day in the spring semester of my second year of graduate school when I received the letter from the Fulbright Association accepting my application to be a Scholar to Iceland. I carried that letter to my next class, which was taught by my mentor, Dr. Turley. The joy on his face, coupled with a hint of surprise, when I told him the life-changing news is etched in my mind. The year was 1994, and it would still be two years before earning my Ph.D. in Political Science at SIU-C, where I was attending on a Morris Doctoral Fellowship. As a young kid from rural Maine, I heard somewhere along the path of life that education was the fastest way to see the world, and that letter was the ticket.
Within months, my wife and I packed two suitcases and flew to Iceland, where we spent the second year of our marriage having an adventure that still resonates in our hearts.
A priority for a political science major was to visit Höfði House, which was the location of the 1986 Reykjavík Summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. This meeting was an important step toward ending the Cold War. Visiting that venue was valuable for me from an historical and an educational perspective, as my dissertation, published in 1996, was titled, Uncertainty and dissent: Iceland in the post-Cold War world.
While living in Reykjavík we enjoyed excursions across rivers, glaciers, and volcanos. We learned to ski the icy slopes, which were completely different than the mountains of Maine, while dodging boulders instead of trees. We rode stubborn Icelandic ponies, and summited the glacier-shrouded volcano, Snæfellsjökull, which was the centerpiece of Jules Verne’s, Journey to the Center of the Earth. We enjoyed exploring the Westman Islands off the coast of Iceland, home of the world-famous puffin.
One special cross-cultural moment of our time in Iceland was celebrating Christmas at the dairy farm of an Icelandic friend. My wife grew up on a tree farm, so we attentively learned how to boil their small tree and, once cut free from its twine holder, patiently watched it slowly spread its small branches. It was a cozy Christmas, and we greatly enjoyed the harmony and simplicity.
We’re still connected to the precious family that welcomed us into their home for Christmas in Iceland’s snowy and windswept countryside. We continue to tell the stories of the trip two young married students took to venture from Iceland to the European mainland for a “traincation” on the Eurail from Scandinavia to Sicily over winter break.
Those fascinating moments of living created indelible memories, scholarship, and stories. The year on Fulbright was glorious, and it set the stage for a life of cross-cultural exploration, as we have lived in four countries across three continents and six states.
Thank you, Fulbright Association, for launching the heart and mind of two young kids from rural America into a career of global exploration, cultural appreciation, and mutual understanding.
Philip William Calvert – Fulbright to Iceland 1994