Belize in J-Term 2014 by Alana Linde


Returning from the incredible experience that I was able to be witness to in Belize still has not completely sunk in yet. Yes, I am back in my apartment and beginning to settle back into my usual routines – Netflix and organizing. However, the feeling I have still seems like I was able to preview a treasure chest. Belize has enabled me to see the world by just travelling to one place. How could such a small country have revealed so many things that I will hold near to me for the remainder of my life, and sparked an interest to create more memories while traveling?

I left Belize with firm faith that people are genuinely good. As I read in the Wheatley article, I was introduced to this notion, and it was engraved after leaving Belize. Whether it was the hospitality of the staff at  Blue Tang Inn, the graciously accommodating tour guides for our excursions, the cooperating teachers and students at Holy Cross Anglican School, or just the locals casting out a friendly hello while in passing, I felt truly welcomed. Something that I really began to appreciate and now miss is the emphasis on establishing and developing relationships with just about anyone on the island. Even though many of the locals thought I was just another ‘Gringo,’ each person I spoke to was kind, courteous, and took the time to strike up conversation. I loved being able to walk down the beach and make eye contact and say hello to each person as I passed them. The good I saw in the people of Belize gives me hope that once more people travel and witness it, they will realize to stop taking everything to seriously.

I have learned that the American culture is very fast-paced and cut-throat. The need for immediacy and accuracy is of utmost importance as opposed to authenticity and quality. It is unsettling that I now view myself as one that lives in a country that holds such things as highly as we do. A quote from Lydia Brown will stick with me forever. “It doesn’t matter how far up the ladder you climb if it is leaning against the wrong building.”  This cannot ring more true to me in all that I do. I became an education major because I did not like how competitive nature of the business sector. I seek doing things for the common good, not for selfish promotions. I see no point in being a social climber or greedy. If you see the good in people, that is all you really need. This is why the concept of being genuinely good and the application articulated by Lydia really go hand in hand. Going forward I know that the education world will be continually progressing in a way that I may not always agree with, but seeing the good in my students, coworkers, and administration will enable me to get more insight out of an otherwise unpleasant experience.

Along the lines of being genuine, I also learned that less is more. As we listened to an engaging orientation from Lydia, the volunteer coordinator, and Miss Grace, the schools’ principal, we took a somber walk into the lives of the San Mateo community. I think this really allowed me to put into perspective where some of the students I interacted with were coming from. It make me appreciate all that I take for granted back home and truly be thankful for the life that I have been given. We were told that the students did not understand what poverty actually was. I agree. If you took any one of the children from Holy Cross, you would see that they are forever grateful for what they have. Lizbeth was a student of mine from Holy Cross, and on my last day of teaching, she took a necklace off herself to give to me. Seeing the generosity from this student was utterly humbling.

To apply the fact that less is more to my lifestyle, I feel that it is crucial to accept things for how they are at face value. I will admit that it was difficult for me to come to grips with how some of the things were done in Belize. Local shops, the Marco site, the school, they have all been doing what they are doing for many years, and they see no desire to make a change just to yield a higher profit or get better, faster results. It wasn’t until a few days into the trip where I realized that Belizeans don’t have the mentality to always be reinventing the wheel. I see a school with no technology, but I realize that students are still learning the same material as students back home, but they have less to get distracted with. Also, because Belize is a developing country, I was able to accept the beauty of the island before it has been completely consumed by man-made products. Sometimes change is a good thing, but seeing the true beauty of something is where you marvel at the finer details.

Reading articles to understand something is beneficial, but I have learned from many education courses that people learn best by doing. Having the opportunity to freshen up on the true meaning of service-learning, my time in Belize enabled me to see truth to this important and increasingly popular way of learning. SERVICE-LEARNING is an invaluable experiential way to learn about others and the community while seeking the common good of all. I valued being able to see first-hand what it was like for the teachers and students of Holy Cross on a day-to-day basis. Having this experience as a memory will help me with just about anything I do in life. After being able to see what the teachers go through on a daily basis, it gives me a sense that I will be able to make just about anything work, no matter the circumstances.

I know that from this experience I have been changed. My greatest struggle with this trip was dealing with the small timeline we were given. I had no idea how I was going to be able to make an impact on students in five days’ time.  It wasn’t until I heard the message, “It takes a lot of little people, doing a lot of little things, in a lot of little places to accomplish great things,” that I realized that no matter what I do in life, all of the little things will add up and amount to something truly amazing. Knowing that I don’t need to conquer the world to be known shines light on the notion of service. This was put on my heart the day we returned to Des Moines as well. “Service is the overflow which pours from a life filled with love and devotion.” I came to Belize with the goal to make an impact on students in some way shape or form, but I think I left being impacted by the students, teachers, and natives more so than impacting them. It is amazing what the give and take of travel will do for your heart and soul. I feel as though I left a little piece of me in Belize, because I brought home so many invaluable insights and memories that I will hold near to me. I believe that I had the opportunity to go on this trip because it was a call to do something for others and to understand more about myself and my place in this great big world. I am pleased to say that I will be returning to the place that captured my heart this summer.

by Alana Linde