Lessons from Belize

Sometimes learning that you don’t have all of the answers is the most important lesson a service program abroad can teach you. For two recent participants in a faculty-led program, this lesson has shaped their way of thinking in important ways. Paul Heath, majoring in International Business and Spanish, and Michaela Shenberger, majoring in Marketing, participated in the faculty-led program to Belize in Spring of 2015: A Glimpse of Culture and Issues. Students stayed in Punta Gorda, were immersed in the local culture, lived with a host family, and worked on a cacao  farm to gain hands-on experience of the global supply chain and traditional culture of Belize.

At the cacao farm, they were split into work groups where they helped the farm design signs, the website, and even product creation. Michaela said, “This is where we learned the most. At first, we were met with a lot of resistance because they have been doing the same process for decades.” The workers were grinding the cacao by hand. The students had brought a food processor for the purpose of making this more efficient, but learned that the grinding was a huge part of the local culture and their social life. Paul and Michaela agreed that what they learned on the farm was to listen more. They told me the group realized (after much frustration) they were asking the locals to change their lifestyle and not just their processes.

When asked about the highlights of their eight day trip, Michaela and Paul said it was the beauty of the country, seeing the Mayan ruins, and swimming in the caves. Students were immersed in the local culture. Paul said, “I learned that no matter where I am, I feel like you can have a different sense of family even when you are so far from home.”

Both Michaela and Paul encourage other students to participate in a study-abroad program. Michaela said, “Do it. It’s a different way to experience your peers. You will see them out of the classroom and really get to know them.” Likewise Paul encouraged, “Let your guard down, be open to new ideas, learn as much as you can. Step out of your comfort zone.”

While on the trip, Paul and Michaela bonded with their liaison, Nicole Andrewin. She was Appalachian’s connection in Belize. Nicole worked for Pro World, the company that Appalachian used to organize this trip through. Recently though, Pro World was pulled out of Belize, so Nicole is creating her own nonprofit called People Inspire People to be the new connection for universities and companies to travel to Belize for educational programs.

Paul and Michaela are currently doing an independent study with Nicole under their faculty advisor, Shannon Creighton, who was also their trip leader in Belize. They work to build her website and brochures, plan programs, and communicate with universities.They are applying what they learned in Belize, the importance of listening.  Paul told me, “this is her project, we go by what she wants, and we are learning to make it good and functional for her.”

Michaela will graduate this upcoming December and attend the Disney college program in the spring. Her future plans are to attend graduate school for Higher Education. Paul will graduate in  May of 2016 and will complete a year-long exchange in Chile immediately after graduation. His dream is to work abroad in Chile, ideally by befriending the creator of Patagonia during his exchange program.

To see more about Paul and Michaela's time in Belize, watch this video they made about their program:


Lessons from Belize
Published: Oct 13, 2015 11:29am