Professor Polack
Professor Polack, a distinguished computer science professor at the University of Mary Washington, possesses a deep curiosity for global exploration. Driven by a desire to broaden her understanding of different cultures and technological landscapes, she aspires to study abroad in countries across the world. Professor Polack's ambition to study abroad exemplifies her commitment to enriching both his own academic perspectives and the field of computer science as a whole.
View UMW Trip 2024
Iceland, where we spent weeks exploring the stunning landscapes of this Nordic island. One of the highlights of the trip was driving around the famous ring road, a 1,332-kilometer highway that circles the entire country. Along the way, we marveled at cascading waterfalls, rugged coastlines, and towering glaciers. We had the chance to immerse yourself in Icelandic culture, sampling traditional cuisine and learning about the country's history and geology. This unforgettable journey through Iceland's dramatic beauty left a lasting impression all of us.
View UMW Trip 2023
After leading a study abroad trip to Brazil and Argentina, where the students explored the wonders of the Amazon Rainforest, embarked on a captivating river cruise along the Amazon, and marveled at the breathtaking Iguazu Falls from both sides of the border, Professor Polack decided to create a photo book. With meticulous attention to detail, he curated a collection of photographs capturing the vibrant landscapes, fascinating wildlife, and joyous moments of the trip. I aimed to provide a visual narrative that would forever remind the students of their remarkable journey.

The Spirit of Iceland and the Legend of the Yule Lads

During this trip, I knew that I wanted to learn more about Icelandic folklore. I like to believe that there’s still whismsy and magic– and a little bit of truth– in folklore legends from various cultures.

When we went to Skaftafell for a glacier hike, I decided to interview our glacier guide- Ollie. Ollie is not native to Iceland, but he has been living here for quite some time and working in the tourism industry. In the interview, I asked Ollie a variety of questions related to Iceland and its culture- essentially picking his brain to see how much he actually knew (not that I would know if he was lying or not).

From the interview, I learned more about the “13 Yule Lads of Iceland”– the Icelandic Folklore tradition that is adjacent to The 12 Days of Christmas that we know in the US. I also wanted to know more about why it’s “frowned upon” to take rocks from Iceland. Throughout the trip, I had heard a variety of answers, from “its illegal” to “it’s bad luck.”

The 13 Yule Lads

The 13 Yule Lads are mythical characters from Icelandic folklore who are said to visit children in the thirteen nights leading up to Christmas. Each Yule Lad has their own unique personality, and they are known for either leaving gifts or playing tricks depending on the behavior of children. Some of the most well-known Yule Lads include:

  • Sheep-Cote Clod (Stekkjastaur): He harasses sheep, but he’s impaired by his stiff peg-legs.
  • Gully Gawk (Giljagaur): He hides in gullies and waits for the perfect opportunity to sneak into the cowshed to steal milk.
  • Stubby (Stúfur): This short fellow likes to steal pans to eat the crust left on them.
  • Spoon-Licker (Þvörusleikir): He’s obsessed with spoons and licks them clean.
  • Pot-Scraper (Pottaskefill): As his name suggests, he scrapes pots to eat any leftovers.
  • Bowl-Licker (Askasleikir): He hides under beds to steal bowls of food, especially those with leftover porridge.
  • Door-Slammer (Hurðaskellir): He likes to slam doors during the night, waking everyone up.
  • Skyr-Gobbler (Skyrgámur): Skyr is a traditional Icelandic yogurt-like dairy product, and this lad loves to gobble it all up.
  • Sausage-Swiper (Bjúgnakrækir): He has a particular fondness for sausages and will steal them whenever he gets the chance.
  • Window-Peeper (Gluggagægir): He peeks through windows to spot things he can steal.
  • Doorway-Sniffer (Gáttaþefur): He has a huge nose and uses it to sniff out cookies and cakes.
  • Meat-Hook (Ketkrókur): He uses a hook to steal meat, especially if it’s hung up to dry.
  • Candle-Stealer (Kertasníkir): He’s known for stealing candles, which were once a valuable item in Icelandic households.

    As a part of this folklore, there is also a cat named Jólakötturinn that is said to eat children if they do not receive some type of clothing to wear for Christmas. If that doesn’t scare children into being grateful for the clothing as gifts, then I’m not sure what will.

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