Annual trip to Belize Exposes Mansfield University Students to Cultural Mosaic

MANSFIELD, PA  — Fourteen Mansfield University students traveled to Belize from May 16-30 as part of a field research course that focuses on the culture, economy, and politics of Belize. Belize is an English-speaking democracy in Central America and a mosaic of cultures, including Creole, Maya, Mestizo, Mennonite, and Garifuna cultures.

To date, Drs. Jeff Bosworth and Jonathan Rothermel have taken over a hundred students to Belize – 104 to be exact. This was their sixth trip with students. Dr. Rothermel explained, “Each trip is a new adventure. Although the group dynamics vary from trip to trip, ultimately the exposure to a new culture in a developing country has a net positive impact on our students.”

Mansfield University Students stand in front of “El Castillo” at the Xunantunich Ancient Maya archaeological site in western Belize.

Belize trip alumni, family members, and supporters track the group’s latest adventures via a Facebook page updated by Dr. Rothermel: @MUBelizeStudyAbroad. Many alumni have expressed interest in returning to Belize, and the professors are exploring the possibility of an alumni fundraising trip to Belize.

Each year Drs. Bosworth and Rothermel find ways to tweak the trip. For example, this year they incorporated a three-night stay in Hopkins Village to expose students to Garifuna culture along the southern coast. From there, they also took a day-trip to Placencia – an area that is attracting North American investors and retirees – and toured a banana farm.

Getting to know Belizeans and their diverse cultures was definitely a highlight of the trip. Angella Smith, an elementary education major, said, “One of the most rewarding lessons for me is that different is okay. People do not have to be the same to respect each other. Cultures can be different, and they all can be celebrated.”

Students also learned more about themselves. Kara Fetter, a political science major, said, “Belize made me more self-aware of my judgmental thoughts and actions and it challenged cultural truths held near and dear to my heart for twenty years. Belize opened my eyes to the rest of the world and changed my life for the better.”

Psychology major, Libby Anderson, reflected, “This trip taught me to not take my life for granted, not to be so materialistic, and that travel is the best medicine, especially if it is to Belize!”

A primary goal of the trip was to facilitate interactions with local Belizeans. Students interviewed Belizean community activists, politicians, bureaucrats, tour guides, business leaders, and professors.

The mayor of Orange Walk Town, Kevin Bernard, explained the economic and political challenges he faced at the local level in providing basic services. Interestingly, Kevin’s deputy mayor, Ian Cal, has a cousin who graduated from Mansfield University.

Students analyzed the challenges that Belize faces as a small developing country (e.g. poverty, crime, drug and human trafficking) but also enjoyed the wonders that attract over 1.7 million tourists per year to Belize. Students toured Mayan temples, snorkeled along the second largest barrier reef in the world, and ventured into one of the world’s most sacred caves.

Overall, students learned the value of being an informed traveler rather than a naive tourist. Further, students realized how fortunate they are, especially in a country with an average per capita GDP (adjusted by purchasing power parity) of just under $8,000. Business major, Jonah Brandt concluded, “I have learned to be content with what I have, because there is someone else out there with far less.”

The following Mansfield University students traveled to Belize: Elizabeth Anderson, Alexis Anthony, Jonah Brandt, Ky’le Cole, Ashley Dunning, Kara Fetter, Emily Jones, Kabria Hicks, Kory Kipferl, David McEuen, Sidney Mistysyn, Gabriella Seymour, Angella Smith, and Danielle Smith.