Environment, Culture, and Tourism in Iceland Posted on January 11th, 2024 by

My name is Jorge Koenen and I am currently a junior at Gustavus. Here I will share my key experiences and observations from my time in Iceland this JTerm that will aim to analyze certain aspects of customs and culture. To prepare for our JTerm abroad in Iceland, we were assigned various readings, visuals such as YouTube videos, and auditory material like podcasts, all created by notable authors and creators who lead in their research on tourism in Iceland and how it impacts the Icelanders, culture, and the world as a whole. 


To begin, what I found interesting was learning about the origin of the term “Scandinavia”. Thinking about how Iceland may or may not be considered a Scandinavian country was fascinating as I had not thought about the nuances of that word before. What struck me from our first reading, The Historical Meaning of Scandinavia by Hilson, was how the term – Scandinavia – can be used to describe not only people, but the geography and topography (a reference to the large peninsula that makes up the present day Norway and Sweden). Also, many people include Denmark in the definition of “Scandinavia” because of the cultural, linguistic, and historical similarities between the three countries. Ultimately, it seems that many people find it generally difficult to examine just one Scandinavian country and assign a concise meaning for the term “Scandinavia” associated with just that country because there are many significant similarities between the northern countries that should be considered when attempting to define the word. 


Iceland is a country that is primarily known for its natural environment. The country uses its rugged landscapes and breathtaking scenery to draw in tourists. What I find interesting is how in an article about tourism that we read called the Dilemmas of Nature-Based Tourism in Iceland (2021) by Sorrell and Plante, “Tourists idealize a pure, pristine, untouched wilderness, but they generally want to be able to experience their ideal with the modern amenities that come with an affluent world” (Sorrell and Plante, 2). What I have observed so far in Iceland that relates to this idea is how in certain tourist destinations, there are rope fences to keep people on the designated trails to maintain the integrity of the surrounding environment. As I walk, I see people stepping over the rope to walk on the other side to avoid ice and puddles of water. Because so many people are doing that, the land is becoming eroded by the repeated foot traffic. Even though tourists want to visit a place that is “pristine” or “untouched”, especially a country like Iceland that solely markets this environment, many neglect to follow the park guidelines which are meant to be in place to keep the environment intact so others can enjoy. As I have observed, tourism is essential and has its positives and negatives, as it provides important income for locals as well as much needed jobs for both Icelanders and international workers.    


Overall, through media and other sources, the northern lights, glaciers, and volcanoes (to name a few) are what is most commonly associated with the country. I do not see the country promoting and sharing the culture of the country as much as the environment is promoted. Iceland has a very interesting and important history that has ultimately shaped the way the country is today. As I have the opportunity to study tourism and culture, I would like to continue to understand ways that Iceland can maintain both culture and its environment through the way they share their country with the world.


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