Go Global Office of Global Engagement

Iceland - Field Course: Systems Approaches to Regional Sustainability

ISCI 361 or 461 | 3 credits

Program overview

This course is led by Lee Groat and Denise Gabriel, Faculty of Science 

  • Course dates: The course will run during Summer Term 1
  • Travel dates:  May 1-9, 2024
  • Format: In-person   
  • Location(s): Iceland (see below for specific places)
  • Approximate fee: $3000-3250 (Go Global Fee, tuition and flights are not included) 
  • Funding available (click through to learn more about each award):  

Information Session Recording 

Passcode: &ifvaK+7

Apply by December 5, 2023

Application instructions here.

Apply Now

About the course                                                                                                               

Contemporary scientists agree that solutions to complex global challenges such as environmental sustainability calls for “systems thinking”: the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. Systems thinking as an approach to problem-solving argues that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation.

A scientific approach to examining the world that embraces systems thinking, therefore, demands that we consider landscapes, regions or whole continents as systems. In these systems, elements such as land, air, water, human societies, plants, and animals, interact in ways that influence the likelihood that the system will survive or perish.

This 3-credit summer intensive course  builds on ISCI 360, in which you will get a chance to examine the complex interconnecting components that contribute to the nature and status of the present-day system of a country, a region or a city. We intend to begin with a study of Iceland (as a completely self-contained nation-state ‘system’, Iceland offers a particularly valuable case study).

Check out 2023 Iceland participant Brianna Ragsdale's incredible video essay about her experience and the country:

Program eligibility  
General Global Seminar requirements

To participate in a Global Seminar, students must: 

  • Be in good-standing in their faculty (as defined by home faculty) 
  • In the year leading up to the Global Seminar, have full-time student status (as defined by home faculty)  
  • Have completed 2nd year requirements before the start of the program (i.e., eligible for 3rd or 4th year standing)  
  • Have at least a 70% academic average in your last full-time academic session before applying  
  • Maintain a 70% academic average leading up to the program  
  • Meet any program specific requirements listed below including pre-requisites before participating 
Program-specific requirements
  • This is an interdisciplinary program: All are welcome!* 

    *While the course is suitable for third to fourth-year students from a variety of majors and science disciplines, preference will be given to students registered in Integrated Sciences. If competitive, Integrated Sciences students will get priority.  

Final selection will be done by the lead faculty program directors. Spots in the program may be limited.  

Students who wish to participate in the summer after graduating may be eligible on a case-by-case basis. 

Experience and conditions in the Field

The summer intensive course offers you an opportunity to visit and experience Icelandic land, ecosystems, and communities first hand, and to hear the perspective from locals and local experts on contemporary and historical factors influencing (in this example) the Icelandic system.

In addition, the course will function as a data-gathering field trip to allow student teams to pursue a research project investigating the possible effects of perturbations of the Icelandic system.

A typical day in the program:

  • Attending lectures from selected local guest speakers on topics relevant to Iceland such as:
    • Climate change and Iceland
    • The shrinking glaciers and the volcanoes underneath
    • Flora and fauna (native and introduced)
    • Geneology and genetics
    • Renewable energy in Iceland
    • The debate over hydroelectricity and heavy industry
    • Fisheries
    • Whaling and whale watching
    • The debate over reforestation
    • Icelandic culture and history
  • Data gathering for students’ research projects

Locations visited:

  • Reykjavik, the country's capital and largest city
  • The Reykanes Peninsula: the fishing industry, geothermal areas (Krýsuvík, Gunnuhver), extinctions (the Great Auk), Bridge Between Continents, geothermal power (the Blue Lagoon)
  • The Golden Circle (Thingvellir National Park, Geysir, Gullfoss waterfall, Fridheimar Greenhouse, the Secret Lagoon)
  •  The Westmann Islands (Vestmannaeyjar): the 1973 eruption of Eldfell, puffins
  • The South Coast: LAVA Centre, Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Vík í Mýrdal, the Dyrhólaey peninsula (more puffins), Reynisfjara beach, Skaftafell, Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon
  • Many other locations, most not accessible outside of this course

Accommodation will be dormitory style in a range of modern hostels; students will be responsible for many of their own meals. Some group meals will be arranged by the program directors. 

Program fees and costs
Approximate program fees: $3000-$3250*

*The final fee depends on the number of students in the program. All Global Seminars only run if there is a minimum number of students enrolled.  

  • Accommodation  
  • Program- related travel in-country; (e.g. buses)  
  • Excursions and entrance fees  
  • 1 group meal
  • On-site guest lectures
Not Included:  
  • Go Global Fee
  • Flights  
  • UBC tuition for credits  
  • Visa/country entrance fees  
  • Health or travel insurance  
  • Most meals 
  • Personal spending money*  

Some examples of personal costs included: mobile communication, personal transportation that is not related to the learning outcomes of the program, additional meals that are not already identified as part of the Program Fee, immunizations, Visas, etc. 

Jump to top