McNair Scholars Alicia DenHerder and Keara Kangas spent spring break in Belize on a volunteer service trip coordinated through the International Programs Department at NMU. Ten other students and two NMU faculty members joined them in their travels. Read what they had to say about the trip:
What purpose did the trip serve?
Alicia reported that the trip was “beyond amazing… We volunteered at a local school in San Jose Succotz, which was about 15 minutes from where we were staying in San Ignacio. We worked with all different ages of kids in the classroom and tutored them individually in math, reading, and writing. We also built a sidewalk for their school and planted trees around the school as well.”
What were your impressions? What cultural differences did you observe?
Keara reports that it was a “great experience…The roads there are bumpy and small, people drive however they want. The culture there is very passionate about the Mayan people. It was very unexplainable the atmosphere there, the sites were amazing and the people were very kind. The best experience was at the ATM tour. This consisted of a 40 minute hike through the jungle and then a 3 hour expedition into a cave. We had head lamps and we were in water most of the time (even over our heads). This cave was a sacred ritual place for the Mayans. This was an untouched site and consisted of clay pottery and human bones.”
Alicia said that the trip “definitely opened my eyes to the large differences there are among cultures. Working in the classroom with kids whose native language is Spanish was very difficult at first and took some use of my intermediate Spanish speaking skills. After the first day of working with the children, I began noticing improvements throughout the week. There were many shocking cultural differences. One difference was that dogs in Belize are not pets, they are either used as guard dogs or are running around the streets as strays looking for food. Another cultural difference was the Belizean’s concept of time. In Belize, time is not taken as seriously. Say you have something planned for 11:00, it is not uncommon or frowned upon for someone to show up at 11:30. This was much different than how seriously we view time in America and although it took some getting used to, it was kind of nice to not worry about looking at the clock every few minutes!”
Alicia reports, “I benefited from traveling internationally immensely. Traveling abroad I can now say is one experience that I believe everyone should have at one point in their lives. I learned the extensive past of the Mayans and their culture and completed tours of Mayan ruins and caves which exposed Mayan artifacts and skeletal remains. We also had a drumming lesson, during which we learned more about their culture, dance and music. This trip not only allowed me to experience the historical and present cultures of Belize but also allowed me to make an impact by volunteering. I am more than ecstatic that I went on this trip and would strongly recommend traveling or studying abroad to other NMU students!”
Keara adds: “This benefited me because I was opened to a new world of teaching and learning. The best part of the trip was the service project. Dealing with those kids, you got attached and they were all so sweet and took to us very well. They were full of spirit and it was inspirational to see how they could live in this area where the education was a struggle due to all the distractions.”