With Grimsson Fellowship to the President’s House near the Arctic Circle | Polarjournal
Ísafjörður has a history dating back to the 9th century and is now an aspiring municipality that is home to tourism and fishing as well as an important biotech company. This is where the recipients of the Grímsson Fellowship can live and realize their work. Image: Störlast Wiki Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Research work in the Arctic always poses a logistical challenge, which is also not cheap. That’s why researchers are especially grateful for fellowships that allow them to stay for an extended period of time. One such fellowship is awarded by the Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson Center, and what makes it special is that the fellows live in the birthplace of a former president.

Launched in November 2022, the Center’s Grímsson Fellowship allows winners to spend two to six weeks in Ísafjörður, the main town in Iceland’s Westfjords. They can conduct their work on topics such as climate change, the environment, health, sustainability, social and natural sciences there. History or art and literature are also desired as topics. The fellowship will also cover travel expenses and some living expenses during the period. The Center’s program is open not only to scientists, but also to artists, authors and experts on the mentioned topics regardless of nationality. The aim is to promote collaboration, knowledge exchange and the building of a network of relationships between Icelandic and international communities.

Researching and writing in another country is usually often associated with staying in a hotel, B&B, or even a tent. However, the scholarship of the Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson Center allows the winners to spend several weeks in the birthplace of the Center’s founder and former president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. For this purpose, part of the blue house in the middle of Ísafjörður was specially converted into a guest house. The fellows thus have around 140 square meters with a kitchen, living room and several bedrooms on three floors at their disposal. The size of the house and the fact that the fellowship also covers part of the living expenses allows the fellows to bring their families along as well.

The house itself was built by Norwegians at the beginning of the 20th century and moved to Ísafjörður in 1930 by Grímsson’s father Grímur Kristgeirsson. Here is where the future president of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, was born in 1943 and where he spent his childhood. Considered one of Iceland’s most popular presidents, he acted from 1996 to 2016 and is still a sought-after diplomat today, seeking to foster international cooperation among a wide range of Arctic stakeholders with the establishment of the Arctic Circle and his Center 2021.

The village of Ísafjörður itself has been known since the 9th century and was a fishing center in the early 20th century, when Grímsson’s father came here. Today, the main town of the Westfjords, with a population of around 3,900, is a popular tourist destination. Fishing is also playing a more important role again, especially since Kerecis, a biotech company based here, produces biomedical products from fish skin.

The library, housed in the former hospital of Ísafjörður, is also available to the winners. In addition, they can work at the local university. Image: Smiley Tourist Wiki Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

In addition to living and working in this historic house, the winners also have free access to the library and cooperation with the University of the Westfjords in Ísafjörður. The only string attached to the fellowship is to participate in a seminar, a dialogue session or give a guest lecture at the local university or another one in Iceland. In addition to the Center, sponsors of the fellowship include the universities of Reykjavik, Akureyri and Iceland and the Ísafjörður-based biotech company Kerecis. The scholarships for this year and the years 2024 and 2025 have already been awarded. For 2025 and 2026, the call will be launched early next year.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

Link to the Grímsson Scholarship website

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