MANSFIELD, Pa. – 16 Mansfield University students and three faculty returned to Belize after a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19. From May 25 to June 8, students traveled throughout Belize to learn about this small English-speaking, democratic, Central American country as part of a general education course, PSC 3385 Field Research Abroad.
Accounting, business, graphic design, history, liberal studies, marketing, political science, and psychology majors participated in the trip. The students gathered field research on four topics: sustainable development, globalization, multiculturalism, and politics.
Professors Jeffrey Bosworth and Jonathan C. Rothermel, who organized the trip, have taken 120 students to Belize since 2014. They describe Belize as being on the frontlines of globalization. It is a country that is highly impacted by globalization and is dependent on foreign investment, trade, and tourism.
While the agricultural sector, especially sugar and citrus, makes up a significant portion of Belize’s economy, tourism is vital to its economic growth. Students asked Belizeans about the benefits and costs associated with their reliance on tourism – both overnight and cruise ship tourism. They also researched Belize’s capacity to engage in sustainable development practices.
Preserving Belize’s natural resources, such as the second largest barrier reef in the world, are priorities for Belizeans. Larissa Fisher, a political science major, observed, “Compared to the US, Belizeans seemed more concerned for the environment, and it made me be more conscientious of how my actions affect the environment.” Currently, Belize has a one of the highest rates of land preservation in the Western Hemisphere.
There is a saying in Belize that when the US sneezes Belize catches a cold. Some students focused on the effects of globalization on Belize. The reach of US media is evident in Belize, and Belizeans are knowledgeable about happenings in the US. The students were happy to have access to wifi and the occasional cheeseburger (although no one will see the Golden Arches in Belize, there are no fast-food franchises in Belize).
There is a growing expatriate community in many parts of Belize. Students took a boat expedition with Belizean environmentalists who pointed out that mangroves, essential for the ecosystem, are being destroyed to make way for seafront vacation and retirement homes on the Placencia peninsula.
Students toured Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce Factory. Marie Sharp started her business in the early 1980s. Today, the hot sauce is ubiquitous throughout Belize and a source of pride for the country. While several students brought back hot sauce for friends and family, the hot sauce is already being exported to over 1,400 Walmarts in the USA (although not yet in the Mansfield Walmart).
Another theme of the course is the multiculturalism of Belize. Various groups have emigrated to Belize throughout its history, often seeking refuge. While Mestizos make up the largest ethnic group, Creoles, Garifuna, Chinese, Mennonites, Lebanese, East Indians, and of course, the indigenous Maya make up the rest. Students explored the notion of what it means to be Belizean, while embracing the cultural diversity in Belize.
Students participated in a Garifuna drumming demonstration, made chocolate in a Mayan village, learned about voluntary conservation projects involving howler monkeys in a Creole village, toured a dairy factory in a Mennonite community, and visited a distillery in a Mestizo district.
Finally, Belize has a competitive two-party system, and like the US, many Belizeans are cynical about the ability of the two parties to work together for the good of the country. Unlike the US, Belize has a parliamentary democracy. Mr. Eddie Webster, the Clerk of Parliament, spoke with students at the National Assembly, which is comprised of 31 members in the House of Representatives. A former member of the National Assembly and the first Mennonite to be elected to national government offered a unique perspective of Belizean politics during a group interview.
There were some inspirational moments on the trip. Doreth Pascascio, a Town Councillor and women’s rights advocate in Orange Walk Town, gave a motivating talk to students about the importance of positivity and working with others for the common good. Ms. Raquel Vega from Mahogany Heights explained how poverty in her village was leading to higher rates of crime. She shared her personal testimony of receiving a second chance, which motivates her to find ways to help her community. She organizes a free school lunch program and has plans for a vocational training center in her community.
Of course, students also had time to enjoy all that Belize has to offer, including visits to several Mayan sites, zip lining, cave tubing, canoeing, and snorkeling.
For some students, it was their first time traveling outside the United States. Overall, students found Belizeans to be warm and friendly, despite obvious economic differences. Lena Penny, an accounting major, said, “I went on this trip excited to simply step out of my comfort zone, but I came home with a greater appreciation for those around me and a new found love of travel.”
The following students attended the trip: Larissa Fisher, Isaac Franklin, Kadie Hennigan, Deacon Hogan, Gianna Mackreth, Lena Penny, Max Reifer, Bailey Richardson, Brody Route, Sam Scafidi, Samantha Shemeluk, Aniya Sicovitch, Maddie Smith, Will Turner, Adriannah Wheeler, and Kristina Zenga. Faculty included Jeffrey Bosworth, Jonathan C. Rothermel, and Adrianne McEvoy.
For more information about Mansfield University’s Belize study abroad trip, visit mansfield.edu//international/programs/belize.cfm