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Students help others as they experience Belize

04/02/2014

This year's Alternative Spring Break trip to Belize was more than just an opportunity for service; it provided 17 students with the chance to explore the culture and beauty of Central America.

A popular destination for MCLA's alternative spring breakers, each year provides a new experience, according to Spencer Moser, coordinator of the Center for Service and Citizenship.

"It's an international trip that offers a strong cross-cultural element and community service," he said. "And, it's affordable."

According to Abby Egan '14, because the "amazing" and "activity-packed" trip incorporated culture-immersed community service, it resulted in "the best seven days of my life."

This year, the students focused on three main projects - they built a sidewalk at an elementary school between classrooms and the rest rooms, painted and refurbished two picnic tables and a large trash bin, and spent time in the classrooms as they conducted reading tutorials and taught lessons.

In addition to the service projects, the students went on a night tour of the Belize Zoo, where they saw a black jaguar and held a python. They also canoed down the Sibun River and discovered its importance to the region, climbed up the Xunantunich temple and learned about the Mayan civilization.

"Hiking the Mayan temple was a surreal experience," said Jenny Baptiste '14. "Hearing our Mayan tour guide speak with so much pride as he told us the story of his ancestors and the strength they possessed to build these big temples with their bare hands set the tone."

"To me, it was not just the Mayans' story, but also the story of humankind. I would have never imagined that I would be standing on top of a Mayan temple. It's a moment I will never forget!"

The students also toured a local village and spend two nights on the coast, where they snorkeled on the coral reef and saw the full splendor of Belize's ocean life - not only the beautiful fish, but also sharks and stingrays.

According to Georgia Costigan '14, "Having the service component in the trip made my spring break so much more gratifying and empowering compared to a trip that did not. It impacted my life in so many ways, and made me feel like I can conquer anything I put my mind to and have the greatest capability of helping others in need."

In fact, the experience had such an impact on Costigan - who's majoring in art and early childhood education - that she's considering making volunteer work part of her career.

"Whether I was shoveling cement or playing with the kids, I loved every single second of working at the school. It made me feel like I can really make a difference in someone else's life, and that is what affected me the most. It was amazing, and the greatest experience I've ever had," Costigan said.

Egan called the experience "transformative."

 "A trip such as this one connects people in a way that sharing a class or graduating together just can't accomplish alone," Egan said.

Moser said the opportunity to see the world through a different cultural lens provides insight into our lives: "It makes us scrutinize why we do the things we do in our own home, and I think that perspective is really important for someone who's graduating from a liberal arts school.

"It's a high impact opportunity that helps students to get a sense of who they are in a global society. Hands-on, experiential learning is essential to a liberal arts education."