During the summer of 2014, I was able to participate in WMU’s two-week, study abroad Tropical Biology course in Belize. Going into college, I knew study abroad was something I really wanted to do, but I was not completely sure I would be able to fit it into my schedule or afford it. This course worked well for me because it counted as a capstone experience for my major and it took place in the summer session, so I was not abroad for an entire semester. Because of this convenient time frame, it did not interfere with courses I had already scheduled for certain semesters during the regular academic year.
As for affordability, it was actually easier than expected. WMU and the Lee Honors College offer several different scholarships specifically for students studying abroad. I was awarded scholarships from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Haenicke Institute for Global Engagement and the Colin J. Gould Memorial Scholarship from the Lee Honors College. I also talked to the financial aid advisors and was awarded a small amount in student loans. Together, these made study abroad a financial reality for me.
I am very grateful for everything that made study abroad a possibility because the experience was so rewarding. This trip took place in Belize, a small country in Central America. We started off the trip by spending a week at Belize Foundation for Research & Environmental Education (BFREE), a field station next to the Bladen Nature Reserve, Deep River Forest Reserve and the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Combined, these three make up one of the largest protected tropical rainforest ecosystems left in Central America. We spent the week studying the rainforest as well as working on group projects, putting scientific method to practice. We were able to see some amazing wildlife, including Agami herons, howler monkeys, spider monkeys and many more plants and animals.
After our week at BFREE, we stayed over night at a Mayan village called San Felipe. We had the opportunity to tour a cocoa plantation, make our own chocolate and learn more about the Mayan culture and every-day life. The only experience I enjoyed in San Felipe as much as making chocolate was helping my host family with dinner. They taught us how to make homemade tortillas.
After our homestay we traveled to a small island near Belize called Tobacco Caye where we spent a week snorkeling and studying the coral reefs. Belize is home to the Belize Barrier Reef, part of one of the largest reef systems in the world, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. Our last night there was spent in San Ignacio, a city in the western part of Belize. There we toured the ruins of Xunantunich, which was a ceremonial center for the ancient Mayans.
Overall this study abroad experience was an amazing opportunity during my time here at WMU. Not only was I able to learn about two diverse and unique ecosystems, but I also learned more about a new country and culture. I loved getting to see wildlife that I had never seen before, and the Mayan ruins really amazed me. I learned on this trip that the tallest man-made structure in Belize today is still a Mayan ruin. I would highly recommend this or any other study abroad trip to any student considering the program. It is an amazing experience and more affordable than most people realize.
Summer I 2014