In my quest to find fulfillment in life and work for retirement, it was the best way I could learn about the places, people, land, and environments that interest me.
Why did you choose Toucan Education Programs (TEP)?
Finding TEP was LUCK. But I recognized a good thing right off in what and how I was questioned about the learning experience I wanted exactly. I could tell they knew everything about Belize, are very well connected in all parts of the country, and cared about the finest of details.
What was your favorite part about Belize?
There was so much! The homestay was rich, the local family was large and fun. I like to explore on foot and see things up close, and the happy, busy town of San Ignacio, with its twin Santa Elena across the river, had a lot to offer in dining, music, markets, and intimate scenes of various people, making it work well. I really liked working at San Ignacio Community Hospital with the very nice staff throughout the campus.
What made your experience in Belize unique?
I travel a lot alone. Normally I use my own instincts, loosely plan, leave things open, and spontaneously go with what seems right. This time I had some of that, but I never would have discovered so much, seen and done so much, and been tied-in and made friends the way I did without TEP’s careful direction and range.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
Oh, I almost felt like I had parents sometimes, between my homestay family and TEP. TEP checked in with me several times a week, took me on planned excursions or just out to eat, and made sure all was going well or asked how else they could help me. I was given a local cell phone with emergency numbers, helpful numbers, health insurance, bottled water, books, and brochures, even one on the Creole language.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
Not eaten so much! No, that's not it. The food was too good. Slept more! No, sleep is overrated. Early mornings before work with my house hosts were not to be traded for anything. Oh, I would have brought more appropriate clothes; shorts and skirts specifically, because it was rather hot. Really if I had to do it over again I’d hope to do everything exactly the same.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
Get up at 5:30 a.m. and shower. Have a great discussion with my homestay parents about Belize’s food, laws, politics, or customs over coffee and veggie omelets. Take a taxi or walk the one and half miles to work, but often get offered a lift on the way. Work and learn for eight hours at the hospital in any clinic that could use help that day.
Take an hour to walk home, taking different routes, stopping often in the shade, to chat with anyone or for ice cream, and taking photos. I'd shower, put on cool clothes, and rest til 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., when I would join the family. Usually there were guests over for a beer, or sometimes I helped with making the always traditional Belizean cuisine dinner. Then we’d have a sit down dinner with the guests, clean up, and either visit some more or retire early to my room to write or study. Then shower again and sleep by 11 pm. or 12:00 a.m.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
Mostly I explored on foot with my camera. I like going off the beaten path, where I can get up close to the faces, sounds, smells, and textures of life. The language was hard for me to understand or even hear right, so I liked to hear people talking, their TVs, their music, and engage with them as much as I could.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I love my "homestay parents." He used to be a politician, a really social guy who could answer any question in great detail. His wife owns a popular traditional Belizean restaurant; she is also very social and took time at home with every meal, too. They are well established with lots of local family and grandkids, are well off, have a big home, and I had my own little house in the back, much more then I needed, but also very welcomed.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Be clear about what you want, and TEP will deliver.
Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?
I feel a little lonesome in the U.S., just working here and doing the same old stuff. It's as if real life is outside of my "life" in Central America, as that is where I take the risks, delve into what is different, try on other ways of doing things and ways of thinking. I learned that it is hard everywhere, and people use neverending methods to cope. Most people I found in Central America go beyond that, and they are predominantly happy, even joyful, even when they have so much less. My life here is getting more simple too, so perhaps I'll get it right here someday. I think I'll always go traveling again, just knowing more is out there.
Would you recommend TEP to others? Why?
Yes, the small team at TEP are focused, committed, and proud of their in depth knowledge of everything Belize and they love to share it in safe and authentic environments. Their aim is to score high and I give them the highest ratings in all categories, especially considering the small size of the company and its relatively short time in operation. They will take care of you very well!
Becca is a semi-retired, neonatal mom and baby nurse from both California and Montana. Her month-long volunteer placement at a hospital in San Ignacio, Belize gave her the chance to try out her plans of living and working in Central America, preferably Nicaragua, someday.