I traveled out of the country once before in 2013 and had been looking for another opportunity to travel with a group of people ever since. There is something special about experiencing another culture and seeing how people interact in places different from the United States. I started graduate school in the fall of 2015 and in the spring I saw a flyer in the hallway looking for graduate students in agriculture to travel to Belize and work with farmers over there. I had never really thought about going to Belize, but it sounded like a great opportunity, so I applied and was chosen to go abroad. I read about the diversity of Belize and was inspired to engulf myself in Belizean culture.
Why did you choose to study abroad with Toucan Educational Programs (TEP)?
I chose my program because it was seeking graduate students in agriculture, which I am, and was essentially all expenses paid through a grant from my institution.
What was your favorite part about Belize?
My favorite part about Belize was definitely the culture. Belize has Mayan, Mestizo, Garifuna, Kriol, Asian, and so many more groups of people that interact together in everyday life. Every group is distinct, but the cultures blend together in a beautiful way.
What made your experience abroad unique?
What made my experience unique is the reason for my trip. I was able to work with farmers all over the country and understand their strengths and challenges. Through Belizean farming and agriculture, I was able to get a better insight on Belize as a whole.
What surprised you most about Belize?
What surprised me the most about Belize was that even though it is the only Central American country with English as the official language, there are so many different languages spoken, including Spanish, Mayan, Garifuna, and Kriol. I was also surprised to find no fast food or chains anywhere in the country too.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Every participant should know to keep an open mind and to open themselves up to the unfamiliar.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
Local staff handled all of the logistics, included housing, transportation, and activity suggestions.
What was the hardest part about studying abroad?
The hardest part about studying abroad was the length of time that I was there. I started to feel homesick after a while, even though I was there for one month.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
One thing that I would've done differently is take more photos. As I reflect on the trip, I realize that I don't have very many photos of everything that I saw.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
A typical day would be to wake up at an inn in San Ignacio and walk to breakfast. After breakfast, get picked up and go visit the farmers or go attend a presentation, or even go see a site.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoyed free time by relaxing around the inn, trying a new restaurant or stand, or going to do a cultural activity.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
It was an inn with several rooms, and a dining area and kitchen that was open for guest use. What I liked best was the location; it was in San Ignacio, which has plenty to offer in food and activities.
What is one thing you wish you would have known before studying abroad in Belize?
Actually, I can't think of anything that I would have wanted to know before going to Belize. Bug bites and infrastructure are just two things that I would have liked to have been prepared for. But I adjusted with no real problems other than discomfort from the bites.
Do you have any packing tips for students headed to Belize?
Pack casual, comfortable clothing. Items for if it rains, which is almost guaranteed during the wet season. Good walking shoes, especially if touring Mayan sites. Many toiletries and other necessities are available in local convenience stores in Belize. Don't expect to see specific clothing or shoe brands; most things are pretty generic.
What do you feel the biggest benefit of studying abroad is?
The biggest benefit is learning new things. Having experiences with people from different cultures and living the life of locals, even if it is just for a little while.
Studying abroad is an opportunity to gain knowledge that you just can't get in a classroom, and real world experiences that look awesome on resumes and serve as great conversation pieces when networking.
Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?
Now that I'm home, I often find myself looking in the grocery store for different produce that is grown in Belize and I look to see if it came from there. I also find myself missing certain foods that I enjoyed there, like fried plantain chips and fresh seafood.
Would you recommend TEP to others? Why?
I would recommend my program and provider because it is an opportunity to experience another country, different cultures, and become a well rounded person.
If you could study abroad again, where would you go?
Definitely to India or Spain.
Brittany was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago. She is currently a graduate student studying agricultural education, but she has experience teaching high school students under her belt and plans to continue doing so after graduation. Brittany traveled to Kenya in 2013 and Belize in 2016, and she is currently planning her next adventure.