GoAbroad Interview

Nancy Adamson - Executive Director

Nancy Adamson - Executive Director

Nancy has 25 years of work in higher education under her belt, from university administration to Provost and President! She’s also a registered nurse! Upon retiring, Nancy started ISIS Belize to create more options for student internships and service learning in Belize.

Young men and students at the Community School.
Young men and students at the Guilsi Garifuna Community School.

Your programs focus strongly on their best feature – the fact that they are located in stunning Belize! Programs incorporate Belize’s natural beauty and resources. What is your favorite feature of Belize?

My favorite feature of Belize is its incredible cultural and ethnic diversity. In this small country of about 325,000 people there are three different Maya groups, Mennonites (both traditional and modern), Garifuna peoples, Creoles, Mestizos, immigrants from across Central America, “ex-pats” or “Gringos” from North America and Europe and Asian immigrants. There’s always a new perspective to learn about!

Before becoming Executive Director of ISIS Belize, you were the Provost and President of Galen University. What drew you to working directly with International Education programs after over seven years of working with a university?

One of the goals of higher education is to produce well-rounded graduates who can function well in a global and complex world. International experience is critical to that development.  Retiring from Galen University gave me the opportunity to explore more deeply how to offer international education programs that would meet the needs of North American students – inexpensive, shorter term, English speaking and safe. Belize offers students all those things as well as rich cultural and environmental opportunities.

Harpy eagle being treated

A harpy eagle gets its claws worked on at the zoo.

ISIS Belize provides two scholarships each year for pre-veterinary students that pay for half of a program abroad which is amazing! How competitive are these scholarships and what advice would you give to an applicant?

The pre-vet scholarships are awarded to students who demonstrate community involvement, a broad concern for animal health and welfare, have a good academic record and an interest in hands-on veterinary experiences in Belize. For me personally, one of the key aspects of the application is the student’s letter of introduction. It should leave us with a clear sense of who they are, what their goals for an international experience are, and what experience they bring to that experience.

You have a Ph.D. in History, this must offer you a unique perspective into programs abroad. How has this background helped you in your role at ISIS Belize?

My background in history helps me see things in perspective – to understand the overall history of study abroad programs in North America and how the changes in economy and politics influence choices about studying abroad. We are all part of trends far larger than our individual selves or countries.

Pediatric Health team

Pediatric Health team (internship).

You offer so many interesting courses abroad such as Global Health: Biology, Medicine and Public Health in the Tropics, or Indigenous Resurgence and Sustainable Development. What ISIS Belize program would you go on if you could leave tomorrow and why? 

I’d take the Indigenous Resurgence and Sustainable Development course. First, because Filberto Penados is a great teacher and person. Secondly, because I’m deeply interested in the future of our planet and think that we have much to learn from traditional knowledge and approaches, and that will help us find ways to develop sustainably with an eye to both the past and the future.

ISIS Belize now offers two sessions for studying abroad in January between semesters (J-Term). What was the motivation for establishing these options?

The break between semesters varies enormously across North America and we thought we would give students the opportunity, where they have the time, to take two back to back courses, thus spending more time in Belize and having a chance to explore it in more depth.

Why should someone choose a service learning or internship with ISIS Belize? What sets you apart from other international opportunities?

Snorkeling in Belize.

Snorkeling for the marine biology course.

Belize is an English speaking country, a developing country, and a very diverse country – I think those are what sets it apart from other international opportunities. For students who are not fluent in a second language, doing an internship in Belize means they can participate directly in the work of their placement agency and participate in the life of their host family and their friends – there are no language barriers. But, there are cultural differences which will challenge them to think about themselves, what culture means, and how it shapes all of us. And then there are the challenges of living in a developing country which will again push student outside their comfort zone and help them understand more about the global situation.

You help your students and interns use their experience abroad as professional development. In what ways do teach them to do this?

In both our courses and in the internships, we use reflection to help students understand what they are experiencing and what they are learning – about Belize and about themselves. This is done through discussion and through writing. In our experience, students learn more about themselves than about Belize – things like their own work ethic; how they deal with the unknown, with fear, with discomfort; what assumptions they make about others (mostly unconscious); what value family, friendship, technology, consumerism, etc, have in their lives.

What is one thing you have learned about Belize that truly surprised you? 

How deep culture is and how complex it is to understand. I’ve lived in Belize since 2000 and I am constantly learning more about myself, my cultural assumptions, and about those of my Belizean friends.

Building a house project.

One of ISIS’ service projects in Laguna Village.

It seems you are always exploring new study and intern abroad programs to help participants explore sustainability through hands on learning. Is there a new program or research topic you hope ISIS Belize will work with in the future?

I’d like to see more opportunities for business students in study abroad generally – but in Belize via ISIS in particular. We are exploring how to provide that – through courses and internships.