Dr. Jesse Peters, dean of the Esther G. Maynor Honors College at UNC Pembroke, led a small group of adventurous students on a week-long tour of the tiny Central American nation of Belize in May.
The international adventure was part of an honors course titled “Cultures in Contact.”
“The course is designed to introduce students to a specific world culture through a variety of methods, including a field experience,” he said. “Because the students studied sociological, economic, and historical information about this country, they were able to ask good questions of the people they met.
“Our ultimate goal is to encourage further international study on the part of our honors students,” he said. “Belize was our ‘contact zone’ or the lens through which to view and learn about interacting with other cultures.”
The trip was funded in part by the Esther Maynor endowment that provides scholarship and international experiences for Honors College students at UNCP. Six students participated in the first journey.
“It was a whirlwind experience and pretty fantastic,” Dr. Peters said.
About the size of Vermont, Belize offers an incredible variety of cultures from ancient Mayan ruins and indigenous villages to the modern cities of the former British colony and varied geography from mountains to coast.
“It was hot and humid, and the rooms were not air conditioned,” Dr. Peters said. “Belize is a place where there seems to be so much tolerance, so many cultures coming together without all the tensions Americans often feel.”
The adventurers visited several Mayan villages, ancient and modern, and the Cockscomb Jaguar Reserve in the rainforest. “A Mayan herbal healer talked to us about medicines found in the rainforest,” Dr. Peters said.
“At the coast, we visited the drum center at the Garafuna village of Hopkins, which was settled in the 1700s by escaped slaves,” he continued. Traveling by boat, they made their way to the coast and snorkeled on a barrier reef. The group spent the last two nights at the Creole village of Crooked Tree, home to cashew trees and Jabiru storks (among hundreds of other bird species). “That was the most friendly community I have ever visited,” said Dr. Peters.
It was a good beginning for infusing international study into the Honors College curriculum. Because of the academic rigor of the course, the students were not your average tourists. “I was so proud of the way these students began to look beyond the surface and really start to reevaluate themselves and the worlds around them,” Dr. Peters said.
The country’s slogan is “Believe in Belize,” and student reaction supported it.
“Having a British presence here eliminates the language barrier and makes it very safe,’ said Glenn Crawford.
“It is amazing - the culture, the people, the places,” said Jason Moore
Dr. Peters echoed the students’ sentiments.
“Belize is a four-hour flight and offers an incredibly varied cultural experience,” Dr. Peters said. “In the future, I hope to see our students travel around the world.”