Inspired by Iceland
My volunteering experience - testimony from Hella Wagner, April 2021

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone: such a cliché, yet it holds true. I’m Hella and I wandered quite far from mine when I decided to become a volunteer on Iceland, of all places. The opportunity found me at the best moment possible: fresh out of university, looking for my place and something meaningful to do, stuck in the middle of a pandemic, so I didn’t hesitate to apply.

Thankfully, I was accepted into the program and started to work as a volunteer for SEEDS in Reykjavík, late September of 2020. My main job was to lead environmental & photography camps. Little did I know that my tasks would be way more diverse than I expected, since a lot of camps couldn’t happen due to covid-related travel difficulties and restrictions. No need to worry about spending my days with nothing to do, though. Before long, I was involved in a series of solidarity projects, selling cloth at a Red Cross store on Monday, preparing food packages with Family Aid on Tuesday, then going to the Salvation Army to sort donations the next day, wrapping up the week with helping out at the Tool Library. Between these activities, I also attended to my original task as a camp leader and co-hosted virtual camps, which proved to be a nice alternative for those who couldn’t come in person.

In my free time I could go wherever and do whatever my heart desired. Well, realistically, with some physical and financial limitations, but the amazing thing about Iceland is that you can take a few minutes’ walk in the city to go on top of a hill or to the seaside, look around and feel like you’ve just jumped into an exquisite painting, free of charge. I saw places that looked like I was transported onto a different planet, landscapes that were so painfully beautiful I can’t even begin to describe, and aurora dancing in the sky that made me cry of happiness. I walked over lava fields collecting ocean-bound trash, ran into the sea in the freezing cold, planted trees on top of a mountain in storming wind and played games on long, cozy winter nights.

I got to do all of this with my fellow volunteers, with whom I also shared my living space. We were a big European melting pot, a group of different people who crossed paths at Miklabraut 40, yet we had a lot in common and kept each other company even in the quieter, uncertain times. I learned more from these people about their culture, customs and gastronomy (if I’m being honest, this last one should be at the head of the list, but let’s pretend we are intellectuals above all) than I ever could from books and lectures. I can say without any false sentimentalism that they were my family during these months and that I formed some valuable relations that I’m sure will far outlast my stay on Iceland.

I’m truly grateful for this opportunity and everyone who made it possible. Even though I had my worries in the beninging, it turned out to be hands down the best thing I could’ve done. I grew a lot as a person, I learned so much and I had an experience of a lifetime. In lack of better words of my own, let me wrap this up with a very fitting ancient Hungarian proverb: when life gives you lemons, go on an ESC!

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