Alumni Spotlight: Jessica Aguilar

Jessica is a first-generation student and is in her third year at Michigan State University. She is doing her undergraduate degree in Psychology and plans to pursue her Master's degree when she graduates in May 2021.

She was an intern for the Toucan Education Program Summer 2019 and feels she grew immensely from her experience.

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Why did you choose this program?

The opportunity to become a part of this program was all thanks to serendipity. I was initially not planning to study abroad that Summer. Nevertheless, I knew that studying abroad was an investment and also knew of the potential growth I could have if I embarked on this journey.

Being in college you always hear that internships are key. This is what sparked my initial interest in the Intern program that Toucan Education Program (TEP) offers. Also, I wanted to explore a country/part of the world I hadn't yet. I went above and beyond to find fundings to go to this program and become an intern. This was one of the best financial and personal decisions I have made.

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

TEP staff ensured I had all of the necessary tools to succeed in the program. We had an in-depth orientation that was very clear and easy to follow. Alongside this, my internship supervisors worked with me on projects that I executed. For instance, with presentations that I did in surrounding schools in the town of Santa Elena in Belize. I also did work independently and this was a time to showcase my creativity and abilities.

There was so much room for both independence and teamwork. If I ever needed anything, whether that I needed to know how to get to the nearest grocery store or ideas on how to become a better presenter, TEP was always a quick text or call away.

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

A piece of advice before embarking on this journey would be to come open-minded. I never expected to receive all that I did. I discovered the true meaning of reciprocity while on this trip. I expected to serve a community, inspire, and impact Belize. Never did I imagine getting so much support, and personal growth in return, among other things. Be open to leaving Belize a changed person, for the better!

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

An average day for me was waking up at roughly 8 am, making breakfast, and getting dressed in my business casual clothing. I would catch a Taxi to my internship which was about an 8-minute drive. I worked from 9-4:30 pm.

During lunchtime, I would go to a nearby Pupuserilla. A place where they sold very delicious food accompanied by a refreshing agua fresca. Mmm, it brings back memories!

During my internship, I tutored two young ladies in Elementary school. I also assisted in planning a sustainable book club for the community, while making presentations on STI's and bullying, then presenting them to nearby schools.

After the day was over, I would catch a taxi back to my residence or get dropped off downtown and explore the gift shops and different places to eat.

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 not making an impact in the community or on the projects that I worked on at my internship. However, I realized that creating something that could become sustainable or be carried on even after I departed was my new goal. That is why I put in a great deal of work in giving everything that I did my absolute best.

I was in Belize for about a month on this program. I came to the realization that I needed to do more than a one month impact. I wanted to leave an initial footprint that others could follow long after I was gone. My views changed thanks to the mentorship and guidance of TEP and their staff, along with my internship supervisors.

What other things did you do in your trip?

Besides my internship, I did so much more.

I visited the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich and climbed all the way to the top of the great structure. I cooked a homemade meal beside Mayan women, made chocolate from scratch, and visited an island where the Garifuna people taught me how to cook one of their signature dishes.

In South Belize, I got the chance to swim in the Caribbean Sea while being housed in a Bungalow directly in front of the beautiful water. I also got to go to a gorgeous butterfly garden on my birthday while in Belize.

I immersed myself so well into the Belizean culture, but I know I still have a lot to learn, and this experience only made me more curious and excited to keep exploring this world that we live in.