Alumni Spotlight: Joe Thompson


Joe Thompson is a renewable energy and sustainability advocate living in Orange County, CA. He graduated in 2017 with a degree in Civil Engineering and is shifting careers to sustainable development.

Why did you choose this program?

The chance to see my number 1 travel destination (Iceland) and the Aurora Borealis started the itch. Coupled with the opportunity to learn about a topic I knew hardly anything about.

The GREEN Program offered both bucket-list adventures and industry-led academics in a unique, one-of-a-kind environment perfect for students with limited time to study abroad (such as engineering majors).

Personal and professional motivations were both at play as was the desire to grow, learn, and lead in an international setting.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The program provider (The GREEN Program) set everything! Aside from my academic advisor's initial email forward, my university had nothing to do with setting up my trip. I had to make the preliminary arrangements (flights) and that was it. Once I arrived in Iceland, everything was taken care of (room/board, food, transportation, etc.). The only thing that was required was additional spending money for our nights/mornings in Reykjavík or for a quick snack along the road.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Traveling abroad is both exciting and terrifying, especially when you're involved in academic work. My best advice (besides having comfortable, waterproof hiking boots and a solid thermal base layer) is keep an open mind. The trip unfolds in such a way as to prevent you from knowing what happens next. The reason: to keep you living in the present moment, to keep your mind focused on the task in front of you, and to experience (not just see) the wild beauty of Mother Nature's icy hot splendor.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

The average day is quite long (6AM-11PM) and filled with classes, lectures, site visits, outdoor exploration and hiking. The goal here is not to discover what you will do on the trip each day but rather get a feeling for what the day will bring. By remaining open, you invite the "go with the flow" attitude to take over and let your five sense soak up everything around you. There are very busy days ahead that will push you beyond your comfort zone. Being open will ensure that your experiences and memories last a lifetime.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear was how to deal with my social anxiety. In a foreign country, with no friends or family in sight, you must rely on your social skills to connect and make friends. To do this, the program had several "icebreakers" that helped break down the walls of anxiety. The most powerful tool I used to overcome this fear was my mind. After all, anxiety is up in your head. I practiced mindfulness (the curious awareness of the present moment) and meditation to help with moments were I felt the experience was "too much" or could "take a nasty turn". By connecting with my breath, I slowed down the unstoppable train of anxiety and was better equipped to handle the stresses and fast-paced nature of the program.

What was your favorite experience?

Watching wild arctic foxes run around the front of our porch at the Volcano Huts in Thórsmörk while the Northern Lights (green/purple) danced above us in the sky. After a week's worth of capstone project research and presentations, the reward was so sweet: a trip to the Valley of Thor to experience one of Mother Nature's most awe-inspiring and mysterious displays. With the academic part of the trip behind us, we were able to fully relax for the first time on the trip and enjoy the seclusion of being in the Highlands. The view from the top is jaw-dropping. It was a night that will remember for the rest of my life.