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Students Explore Culture and Environment in Belize

Students Explore Culture and Environment in Belize

This spring, 12 Northfield Mount Hermon students and three faculty members traveled to Belize for an experiential learning excursion, where they explored the Central American nation’s natural beauty, learned about conservation efforts, and took part in service projects.

During the nine-day trip, the group visited a number of examples of Belize’s marine and terrestrial ecosystems. They hiked in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, snorkeled at the Belize Barrier Reef, and explored underground caves. They also participated in service and research projects at the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center and on the Belize Barrier Reef. The trip also included visits to Mayan sites at Caracol and Xunantunich.

The trip was part of NMH’s travel program, which offers students numerous opportunities to learn about other cultures and environments through interdisciplinary academic, service, and cultural exchange trips. 

Students Patience Beasley '25 of Middleboro, Massachusetts, and Unandi Lungu ’25 of Randolph, Vermont, shared their reflections on the experience.

 

A Life-Changing Opportunity

By Patience Beasley '25

Belize was the first international experience I have ever had, and it was definitely life-changing for me. 

I grew up in a more conservative area, where global warming is just “fake news”. So I really never understood the impact humans had on the universe — especially how Americans have such an impact on different countries across the world. On our last days in Belize, we went to Tobacco Caye- a small island. We learned a lot about climate change and how the ocean plays such a big part in climate change. We went scuba diving and searched for different coral and fishes- especially the red lionfish. We learned that the red lionfish is an invasive species that puts stress on the coral and eats a lot of fish that help the coral get the right nutrients. From lack of nutrients, the coral reefs lose color and begin to bleach, which is detrimental to fish who need these coral for nutrients.

We also learned about how important mangroves are to our ocean and environment. Mangroves are a protective layer. They look almost like trees. There are multiple types of mangroves, but the most important to the ocean are the red mangroves. The red mangroves provide a breeding ground for fish families for their babies to be safe and have enough nutrients. In Tobacco Caye, some part of the mangroves were ripped out for tourists, which cause fewer places to hibernate for baby fish and also erosion of the island. The erosion causes the sand to decrease and leave just the bedrock. While we students were playing volleyball we could feel the bedrock on the island. It made the impact on our feet really hurt because there wasn't a protective layer in the sand. The mangroves would prevent the sand from eroding and increase the amount of sand on the island. If the sand keeps eroding, the water will rise above the bedrock, until eventually there will be no island anymore.

Even on such a small island far away from the land, there was still so much trash that traveled up from the sea. Not only trash, but what we call nurdles. Nurdles are tiny little pieces of plastic that are melted to make plastic materials for certain objects. The environmental leaders on Tobacco Caye made a game to see how many nurdles you can collect. In just one minute, people found hundreds of nurdles. I was so amazed that an island so far away could have so many tiny pieces of plastic on its land. It really made me think of my own impact and how important it is for us to watch our environmental footprints on earth. I started to think about it a lot, so I had a really nice conversation with my teacher, Darik Velez, about how important this matter is, and it was really eye-opening for me. With this information, I told everyone, like my friend, parents, siblings, and teachers. Even if they didn’t take it seriously, I made sure they knew I was serious about it. I wish everyone could have the experience I had, because it was really life-changing for me.

 

New Experience and New Friendships

By Unandi Lungu ’25 

When I signed up for the Belize trip, I hoped to immerse myself in new cultures and get to know new people. NMH is a large campus, and you don’t get to know everyone. I had the chance to interact with many people in my travel group that I had never talked to on campus. I established great friendships that carried over to my time at NMH and made that experience more memorable. When I was in Belize, I always met new Belizians, as our travel group did not stay in one place for a long time. We stayed at three locations, and the fun increased every time we went to a new spot. I gained new friendships, new cultures, and a new experience, having never been out of the country before 

students sitting on steps

The best part of the trip was the meals. Since everyone in that group had never been to Belize, having every meal and discussing something new was always refreshing and entertaining. This was also a place where we built our friendships and were able to be united. 

The most fun I had was riding horses in Belize. We were able to experience the countryside and then ride in a town on the road. We passed many people on the road, and some of our horses started galloping unexpectedly. It was unforgettable fun. The most surprising thing we did was go inside a cave in a “lazy river,” a mellow, low-current river where one is supposed to be “lazy.” I had no idea how engaging the activities on this trip would be, but going into a “lazy river” was quickly the most surprising activity. I did not realize how many lights you needed in a cave and thought it would be more illuminated.

On the trip, I learned about the biology and environment of Belize. Tobacco Caye, an island and the final destination on our trip, is home to the second-largest barrier reef in the world, next to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia; we learned about the importance of mangrove trees and how they protect the land from erosion and provide food and habitat for the booby birds. It was a good change of pace as not even science class can capture how an oceanic environment or ecosystem works when inaccessible. The Tobacco Caye environment was a place you would learn about in science class and not get to see, but we got to see and learn about it, which was a surreal experience. To be on the boat, snorkeling in the ocean during the daytime and nighttime, and seeing octopi, squids, hermit crabs, stingrays, nurse sharks, or seahorses is a moment I will cherish forever.

I will take away the most memories from this experience. It was my first time traveling, and I was pretty nervous about this program as I did not know who would be on the trip. However, being on a journey with people for 10 days can get you close to them and create hilarious memories that will last. During my time here, I often left my phone in my room or in my bag as I knew I would never go back to Belize and wanted to experience everything it had to offer.

I enjoyed getting my hair done while I was at Tobacco Caye. I met many friendly employees at the resorts we stayed at, learned more about their lives, and asked one of them to do my hair. It was to the point where we were sad when we were leaving because of how friendly and hospitable everyone was. The most memorable activities as a group included horseback riding, cave tubing, spelunking, snorkeling, volleyball, and going to the zoo and seeing spider monkeys! These were only some of the activities we did but the most unforgettable in terms of forming our group chemistry, getting to know each other better, and having fun! 

To a student considering an NMH travel program: If you are tired of experiencing the same thing for every break — going back home, staying up until 2 am, and waking up at 2 pm — you should go on an NMH travel program. It is an opportunity to experience something you have never experienced before and get to know many new people. I don’t regret going on this trip even though I missed home and my dog because I made new NMH friends and unforgettable memories.

 

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