CAS '21 Ailbhe Yasmin Wallis

PGS: Travel to Iceland

Program Abroad:

  • Penn Global Seminars (PGS): Case Studies in Environmental Sustainability, Travel to Iceland

My Experience Abroad:

I am a rising junior in the college majoring in Earth Science with a concentration in Geology. I love all aspects of my major from paleontology and geobiology to mineralogy and biogeochemistry. However, most of all, I love studying a major where I constantly have the opportunity to go out into nature. I have always been an avid traveler and spent my youth flying back and forth between the U.S. and Ireland to visit my adoptive family. Today, I continue to cherish my time spent exploring the magnificent beauty of different landscapes around the world. However, as I learn more and more through my coursework, I am beginning to recognize the sheer power and destructive force that coexists with that beauty and serenity. Iceland was so incredible from an educational perspective because I was able to actually witness and admire the breathtaking geology that I have been studying, effectively reminding me why I was so inspired to become a geologist in the first place. I truly feel so lucky to be in a position where I am able to work towards both discerning the nature of geological formations and phenomena as well as understanding our relationship to those features. Over the course of the semester, I worked on a case study manuscript detailing the nature of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier and volcano system. I focused on analyzing the 2010 eruption from a risk mitigation perspective, evaluating the eruption management procedures that were in place at that time. I am continuing my work on the project under the supervision of the professor who led the seminar, and I hope to formally publish the manuscript within the next year. As I begin work on my undergraduate research thesis and continue to work towards understanding the geological forces at play in our world, I hope to delve further into the intricacies of phreatomagmatism and geophysics and deepen my understanding of those concepts, and I will never forget the incredible beauty of Hveragerði and Þingvellir.

My experience in Iceland was unique because it was so personally impactful and meaningful. The trip itself was unforgettable thanks to Iceland's spectacular geology and fascinating history of renewable energy production. However, its impacts were much more far-reaching than just sparking my interest in volcanism. The trip also inspired me to make more ambitious goals regarding my continuing education and my future. As we drove around the island, we met up with various researchers and scholars along the way. Meeting all of these incredible scientists helped me to realize that I would like to continue my studies to the graduate level. I have also decided to go abroad for my master's degree in order to continue to experience new traditions, learn about other cultures, and explore new landscapes. At the moment, I am most interested in returning to the University of Iceland for my master's program, however, I am also strongly considering the University of Edinburgh. I will be heading to Costa Rica this fall for another PGS, and I hope to go abroad one more time through the Penn in the Alps program before I graduate with my geology degree in the spring of 2021 and move on to grad school!

Other Highlights:

  • Magnificent volcanic landscape including expansive lava fields and massive fissures opening up into the earth

  • Black sand basalt beaches with incredible hexagonal columns

  • A warm and welcoming community of native Icelanders eager to teach us about the beautiful landscapes of their home (including our lovely native Icelandic tour guide and bus driver, Andrés)

On the Penn Abroad Blog:

Learning to Love Science Again in Iceland