I looked at several programs before I settled on the Belize trip with CCSA. I knew I wanted to visit a central or south American country. Eastern is a consortium school for CCSA, which made the logistics of arranging and paying for the trip much easier and meant I had an on-campus advisor to ask questions of.
I have also always wanted to visit Belize since my parents first told me stories about how beautiful it was when I was in elementary school and CCSA offers a course, Tropical Biology, that both sounded interesting and fit perfectly with my intent to do my graduate work in marine biology.
The trip is designed so that students are completely immersed within the environment and culture of Belize. We spent the first week at a field station run by Blue Creek, a small Mayan village, in the rainforest, the second week on South Water Caye off the coast of Dangriga, and the last couple days in a San Ignacio; a "big city."
We spent a lot of time in the forest, hiking, swimming, catching iguanas, and taking night hikes, while staying at Blue Creek. We also connected with the community, doing home visits, having a party to learn the local dances, and buying crafts the girls of the village made locally. The Mayans taught us how they lived off the land, harvesting only what they needed and working as a community to ensure everyone had everything they needed.
On the island, we spent most of our time snorkeling on the different reef types, but were also able to talk to the local workers who stayed on the tiny island for weeks at a time, away from family and friends, in order to ensure we had food to eat and clean accommodations. We helped in analysis of coral health around the island, visited the Smithsonian Research Station on the next caye, and were able to SCUBA dive if already certified.
In San Ignacio, we experienced more urban Belize life, staying in a small, family run resort and participating in more tourist-directed activities. We visited Caracol, the largest Mayan ruin in central America, saw many waterfalls and cave systems, and visited the local out-door market. I was also able to go grocery shopping with the owners daughter, visiting seven different shops to get everything.
This trip takes you through both major biological systems of Belize, as well as allowing you to experience more urban life within the country. Although academic work was emphasized, the professors also understood when it would be more valuable to let the students become immersed in the moment rather than having them analyze every aspect of the trip. Belize itself provides a unique experience simply through the cultural diversity of the country.
Every Belizean speaks English, the villagers of Blue Creek spoke one or two Mayan languages, the workers on South Water Caye spoke Kriole (not to be confused with Creole, although I could not tell you the difference), and the citizens of San Ignacio spoke Spanish. There are also large populations of ex-patriots within the county. The US is called a melting pot, but it doesn't compare to the amount of cultural diversity within this comparable tiny country.