A Guide To Studying Abroad in Belize
You might be surprised how much adventure you can pack into a country the size of New Hampshire, but Belize isn’t your average study abroad destination. With Caribbean coastline on one side and Mayan ruins on the other, this Central American country offers endless opportunities. Whether you’re snorkeling on one of the world’s largest coral reefs, monitoring jaguars and howler monkeys, or exploring ancient architecture, a study abroad program in Belize is sure to enhance your academic goals while offering a whole lot of fun in the process.
Its small size and population make it one of the best kept secrets in Central America. As a former British colony, Belize has created a fascinating mix of cultures and languages, meaning you’ll be able to visit Mayan temples, learn about Garifuna settlements, and practice Belize Kriol, spoken by 45 percent of the population. Here are the best places to study abroad in Belize.
Belize City is the country’s largest city with about 57,000 residents, but its daily hustle and bustle make the city feel much larger. Many study abroad programs begin in Belize City before venturing into the country for field studies, so you’ll likely get a taste of urban Belizean life here.
Many programs take place in the western Cayo district. Belize’s capital city, Belmopan, is found here, along with San Ignacio, the district’s cultural and economic hub. Primarily an agricultural region, Cayo district is also a jumping off point for sightseeing and outdoor adventures. Visit the ruins of an ancient city or go underground to check out archeological sites filled with ceramics, stoneware, and skeletal remains. For those more interested in marine life, hop over to Caye Caulker, a small island off the coast of mainland Belize. The Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO world heritage site that can be visited from the Caye, is home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.
Rich in both history and wildlife, Belize is a great destination for students of all interests. If the prospect of spotting a tapir doesn’t appeal, perhaps visiting a hilltop Mayan palace built in 1200 BC is up your alley. With so many avenues for research and investigation, you’ll surely find something to pique your interest. That said, there are certain areas of study that really come alive in Belize.
Due to its amazing biodiversity, students interested in ecology, marine biology, and zoology and wildlife sciences will find much to study, like world-class coral reefs, over 5,000 species of plants, and hundreds of animal species (including harpy eagles, manatees, and armadillos!).
Belize’s history also makes it a fascinating place for students of anthropology, archeology, and conservation and preservation. The country’s Mayan relics span several regions and the ruins offer clues as to how the civilization’s people lived and died. Belize is now sparsely populated, but at the peak of Mayan civilization, the area was home to over one million inhabitants.
Education and government business is all conducted in English, but you’ll likely hear Belize Kriole or Spanish on the streets as well. Classes in Belize follow a similar format to American or British academic systems, and holidays mirror traditional British Commonwealth holidays.
Studying abroad in Belize doesn’t have to break the bank, and many students find that costs are cheaper than in their home country. Though prices will vary widely depending on the area you’re in (the more touristy, the more expensive it’ll be), a thrifty traveler will be able to live well on a budget. Most study abroad program fees include tuition and housing, with some providing meals as well. Airfare is almost always separate and must be purchased individually.
Many study abroad programs in Belize will allow you to use financial aid to cover program costs, especially if you’ll be receiving credit from your home institution. There are also many scholarship and fundraising opportunities that can help you afford to study in Belize, and even provide enough spending money to keep up your daily fry jack habit.
When you’re done scuba diving and you’ve polished off a plate of garnaches, you’ll need somewhere to recharge for the next day’s adventures. Most students who study in Belize stay in housing arranged by their program provider, which is often a dormitory or a guest house. Many programs move around the country, so you’ll likely stay in a combination of lodging types. Some programs organize homestays, which means you’ll get special insight into Belizean life and hopefully get to try some homemade chimole.
You may be required to obtain a student visa depending on the length of time you’ll be in the country. For summer programs, a tourist visa is usually sufficient. If you’re planning to study abroad in Belize for longer, verify with your program what kind of visa you’ll need before departure, and make sure you have enough time to apply, as visa processing can take a month or more. Check out the GoAbroad Embassy Directory for more details.
Studying in Belize is a great way for first-time study abroad students to dip their feet into a new culture with a language that’s familiar. While some parts of Belize have heavily invested in tourist infrastructure, other less-developed regions could cause some culture shock for first-time travelers.
Most study abroad programs that travel to Belize are short-term programs that run in the summer or winter intersession. There aren’t a lot of options to study for a semester or year without enrolling directly in a local Belizean university. If you find you love it enough, you can always research ways to stay longer.
In Belize, you’re guaranteed to be amazed on a daily basis. From the biodiversity of the rainforests and the reefs to the enduring architecture of ancient civilizations, there’s always something new to learn. Throw in annual lobster festivals and some catchy punta music, and that’s a recipe for never wanting to return home. Take a deep dive into Belize - you won’t regret it!
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