By Demi Vitkute
I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to go to Iceland with CPLA. Iceland is the most fascinating country I’ve ever visited, and from stunning, untouched nature to extremely intelligent and humble people, it surprised me in many ways. I always considered Lithuania small with a population of only three million people, but Iceland’s population is only 320 thousand, and 200 thousand of those people live in and around the capital city of Reykjavik. The country’s size is disproportionally large given its small population. The island is 103,000 square kilometers, or 40,000 square miles. It’s close to a quarter larger than Ireland, about the size of the state of Ohio.
We visited a professor at the University of Iceland, who upon learning that I was Lithuanian asked, “Do you remember that Iceland was the first country to recognize Lithuania’s independence?” Iceland did so on February 11, 1991. He explained that other countries at the time said that no one would remember this event, but Iceland only cared that Lithuania remembered. And we do. “Small countries stand up for each other,” said the professor.
We also had a chance to meet Mr. Hedinn, a policy analyst at the Iceland Prime Minister’s office who previously spent five years working on mental health for the World Health Organization. His book is currently a bestseller in Iceland, and he’s planning on translating and publishing it in many different languages and countries. Rarely do you meet people who can be called role models, and who are so inspiring that you want to be them. Without a doubt, Mr. Hedinn is one of those people. We discussed with him a variety of topics ranging from philosophy to gay rights, and made a note to ourselves to pick up some Marcus Aurelius books, since Hedinn kept on referencing them.
I asked Mr. Hedinn what countries, in his opinion, had the worst conditions regarding mental health institutions. He said Albania and Lithuania. It wasn’t easy hearing this about my native country, but it was eye opening.
Between our meetings and visits, the group was able to explore the country independently. We went on an eight and a half hour excursion to the Golden Circle and saw the geysers, waterfalls, mountains, and glaciers. Every time I look at the photo I took of the Gullfoss Waterfall, it reminds me what it felt like to stand at the edge of the earth.