The faculty-led program in Belize satisfies the university's engaged learning requirement. To learn more about the program, please read students' engaged learning reflections below. These reflections respond to the connection between the course and the university's mission statement as well as exploring how these course impacted the students' personal, intellectual, civic, and/or professional development.
For ten days, I had the opportunity to travel Belize, learn firsthand about its ecosystems and culture, and further explore my own personal and professional interests in environmental policy. During my time abroad, my group and I heard lectures from Belizean nationals on topics like conservation, politics, resource management, history and cultural preservation, economics, and international environmental protection efforts. Each lesson and discussion we had about these topics expanded my knowledge and perspective of Belize and opened me to new angles of interpreting the information I was given.
The learning experience in Belize was non-stop and always full of hands on experiences and tangible examples of the things we were studying. When we discussed threats to mangroves we were standing next to a mangrove system at St. John’s college, and when we talked about coral bleaching and threats to the ocean’s nurseries we were floating above the reefs as we pulled on our snorkel gear. Every time we learned something new—about medicinal herbs, tropical savannahs, howler monkeys, or community-based conservation projects—we were presented with examples of each topic in everyday life. Learning was not just a classroom discussion for us but rather an opportunity to directly connect with the places we climbed, swam, saw, dove into, made, and walked through. We were pushed to learn different methods and thought processes to approach questions merely by witnessing time and again the interconnectedness of nature, politics, the people, and ecotourism. The greatest lesson I learned from Belize is that conservation is never just about conservation, but rather it connects to a host of other issues, and therefore it cannot be addressed as an independent task.
After reflecting upon my time in Belize, I have realized all the different ways the trip impacted me personally. First, the constant traveling and tight schedule pushed me to be more adaptable with each excursion and push past my exhaustion to make the most of every day. It was challenging some days, as I prefer a flexible schedule with more free time, but I learned to be more responsible with how I spent my time. The accommodations and some of the activities we took part in also pushed me out of my comfort zone at first; I had to quickly adjust to wearing long pants in the heat, the constant smell and feel of bug spray on my body, unexpected weather fluctuations, damp clothes, and always being a little bit smelly. Despite the structure of the trip, I also felt I had the opportunity to grow in my independence, especially in how I identify myself amidst the group. We often had time for reflection and writing throughout the trip, and I took advantage of that time to explore my thoughts and ideas about everything from the people I was traveling with to my friends and family back home. Some of my favorite personal moments in the trip were when I was in nature, tubing down a river as the clouds rolled in over cool green rainforest, or sitting at the top of the Tiger Fern trail in Cockscomb Basin to watch rain showers, mist, and patches of sunlight roll over the landscape.
Professionally speaking, this trip gave me a lot of insight into where my interests lie within environmental policy. The community-based conservation initiatives that we visited, like the Community Baboon Sanctuary and the Belize Zoo, repeatedly sparked my interest. I hope to take that interest and use it to focus my work in Chicago and begin cultivating ideas for my future career. Belize also impacted me intellectually by testing my ability to constantly shift perspectives. All of the issues we addressed had different lenses they needed to be viewed under, so I had to become comfortable considering the social aspects of overfishing and how economics fits into the issue as well the effects of tourism on fish/meat prices. The social issues we encountered also impacted my civic development by constantly pushing me to consider how my actions are affecting the people I am living amongst, and after I left how my actions still affect the country.
J-Term in Belize was an experience that tested me as a student, an environmentalist, a group member, and a social justice advocate. I hope to share the experiences I have had with others interested in a global platform of environmental policy and apply my knowledge to projects and future interests.
During my time in Belize I found myself to feel very connected to the country, the environment, and the people. This was surprising to me, considering the J-Term course was only ten days and I have very little knowledge of the country before arriving. Equally as surprising, was the way in which I found myself living up to the Jesuit values of Loyola University Chicago. Now, reflecting on the mission statement of my institution, I am able to recognize ways in which my time in Belize allowed me to expand my knowledge through learning, justice, and faith.
Though I do not consider myself a particularly religious person, I definitely think that faith played a role during my time in Belize. I was able to admire the country with awe at how beautifully put together and in synch the ecosystems of Belize are. I learned about the different ecosystems and how they are all connected. The harmony with which the landscape was put together is truly miraculous.
This connects to my expansion of knowledge through learning. Each hour I spent in Belize I learned something new. The trip was jam packed with information that I could not have learned in a classroom setting. I learned how to survive in the rainforest by recognizing edible plants as well as those that serve medicinal purposes. I learned the ways in which animals live and move. I learned about everything from the rocks and soil to the jaguars and tapirs. Things that I never thought I would see with my own eyes, like the keel-billed toucan. The difference really is shocking; you can read about something for days and weeks, but it never compares to seeing the real thing. We had read about all the ecosystems we visited prior to arriving in Belize, but my mental images did not do justice to the beautiful landscapes that were spread before me during the trip.
Through justice I was able to sympathize with the people of Belize. I witnessed poaching while I was snorkeling and though it was an upsetting experience, I was able to see past my own judgement, past the illegal act and consider the person behind it. A desperate person who needed help. Many people in Belize live in poverty, even those who are well off there, live in conditions far less comfortable than those standards of many Americans. I thought of the people working two or three jobs to put food on the table for their families. I took a lot of time to reflect on things that I took for granted and within me grew a great concern for the Belizean people. I care about them, a lot. I learned about how many people in the country do not have the luxury of choosing environmental conservation, and I want to change that. A country so rich in resources, on a planet that can produce so much, should not have so many people living in poverty. The Belizean people lived so happily and welcomed us with open arms everywhere we visited, it is impossible not to be smitten.
Overall my trip to Belize was truly life-changing. When I signed up for the class I thought I was getting myself into a ten-day vacation with a little science involved, but this was far from the reality. I was dirty, I was tired, but I grew in ways I did not ever think I could grow. I have now camped in wildlife basins, capsized a canoe on a river known to be home to crocodiles, snorkeled in water just feet away from eels and sharks, and I also learned more about conservation and ecology than I did in a whole semester in the classroom. I truly value this experience because it has given me a new appreciation not only for nature, but also for people.
While nations have borders that make them sovereign, my travels have taught me that no matter where you go people are people. And we are all sharing this planet, so we should be kind and just to one another.
Loyola’s mission statement is: “We are Chicago’s Jesuit Catholic university – a diverse community seeking God in all things and working to expand knowledge in the service of humanity through learning, justice, and faith.” The objectives of this course were “to understand the many social justice dimensions of environmental issues, to appreciate our own responsibility as citizens of our planet, and to transform our current unsustainable practices to those that are more life-giving.” After reflecting on my time in Belize, Loyola’s mission and the course objectives seem to go hand in hand. Throughout the entirety of the course, while focusing on its objectives, I feel that I not only connected with, but also performed the goals of the mission statement.
As I toured Belize and visited various towns, even just driving through towns of various socio-economic statuses, I understood the extent to which social justice plays in environmental issues. Before this trip, I did not comprehend that the two issues go hand in hand. Colin Young, a conservation supporter, gave a lecture during the trip and it really stuck with me. He opened my eyes to a social justice dimension of the environmental issue: not everyone can afford to think about conservation. The poverty rates are around 49% and rising in Belize. The lives of those in poverty, in addition to the poverty rates, need to be improved before Belizeans can afford to start to thinking about the protection of biodiversity. If someone lives in poverty, their top priority cannot be preserving the forest of endangered species. If cutting down a forest allows them to farm, thus providing an income for their family, that is what will be done. Connecting this to the mission statement, it forces me to think about justice. I believe that everyone deserves to live a sustainable life, meaning that they can sustain a lifestyle above poverty for themselves and their families. However, I also believe that the environment deserves justice. We need to utilize the environment in a sustainable matter that will continue to allow us to appreciate it, while allowing the lives of people to be supported through use of it.
This brings me to the course objective of discovering my own personal responsibility. This course impacted my personal and professional development. I feel that I have to do as much as I can to protect the environment. I learned that Belize has so much to offer and in some cases the locals are destroying it. At the beginning of the trip, I did not understand how the locals could chop down the forest right off the river or taking sand from cayes to create man-made ones. I was surprised that as a visitor to this country, I appreciated everything the ecosystems had to offer, but why did the locals not? As the trip continued, I realized that they may appreciate it, but they are doing these things in order to survive. It made me realize the responsibility I have to undertake in order to begin making a difference. As an Advertising and Public Relations major and Environmental Science and German Studies minors, I want to do all I can to protect the environment and biodiversity. This course made me realize that in the future, I hope that I am able to combine all of my studies and interests together. I am passionate about preserving the planet and I want to communicate the importance of “being green.” I hope to inspire people to preserve the planet and communicate the importance of environmental sustainability through creative advertising and meaningful public relations.
Through hands on learning and experience, I expanded my knowledge in the service of humanity. I will use the knowledge gained to help make a difference, with the ideals of learning, justice, and faith in mind as I do so. The time I spent abroad helped to mold me into the person I am today. I will continuously reflect upon those experiences as I finish my undergraduate career and enter the “real world” of business.