Geoff Peckham ‘08, News Co-Editor
There are a lot of different angles that could be taken when writing a travel column, in this case the Belize Jan-Term. You could be poetic, attempting to use flowery language to describe the scene, “and the horizon’s shades blended orange and red into a collage of beauty” or something cheesy like that. You could try to be funny, offering small tidbits of stories in an attempt to come off as witty. “Things I Learned in Belize: two coats of sunscreen are always better than one, don’t swim over coral, never listen to a man on the beach who claims to be a doctor but also insists he’s a Hollywood composer” (although those are good lessons to remember).
Or you could just reflect on what you’ve learned, and be honest with yourself about what you truly got out of such an experience. That’s why we’re supposed to do these Jan terms, to study beyond the conventional, to learn in an environment we might not have the chance to visit otherwise. And this trip to Belize that Dr. Herb Smith and Dr. Brian Wladkowski offer every year is undoubtedly one of the best experiences you can have while attending McDaniel.
“Fishing and Diving in Belize” has just finished up another year, and at first glance it may seem like one big party, an excuse to sit on the beach drinking rum for two weeks (“Welcome to the Caribbean, love!”) But that’s not what the trip is about. San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize is a special place. You have to go there to understand it. It becomes a bit more special every January when the Green Terror students arrive at the Blue Tang.
It’s in the opportunities that await the students, such as scuba diving with sharks, or reeling in a 40-pound fish. It’s in the integration with San Pedro, a small town in a third-world country, and it shows. McDaniel students are out of their element when they arrive, and the time spent away from the norm plays a large role in what you get out of this trip.
It’s in the interaction with the people of the town, whether it be playing softball or basketball with high schoolers, or dancing with a local housewife. It’s instead of getting your fast food fix from the golden arches, you’re getting it a from a small deli run out of an old woman’s personal kitchen (another thing I learned in Belize: Esperanza’s burritos will beat out Taco Bell’s any day of the week).
Did we do some partying? Sure, but so did the students who stayed on campus for their Jan term, as well as the students on all the other study-tours. We’re college students, that’s what we do. But there’s a difference between having a drink in a bar in Westminster or in your dorm room, and having a drink on a speed boat on the way back from exploring Mayan ruins, all while watching a beautiful Caribbean sunset over the horizon.
OK, I guess I couldn’t help but be a little cheesy.
This trip attracts certain types of people: enthused adventurers, spontaneous jokesters, beach bums and bunnies, zealous party-goers, and focused independence seekers, among others. As a result, certain chemistry is created amongst those who decide to go. Combined with the setting, and the resulting dynamic leads to some pretty great memories, touching as a surprise birthday party or zany as a spontaneous skinny dip, that may make some other Jan-term students jealous.
People take opportunities like this for those memories, even if they aren’t all good ones. It would be naive to think there wasn’t the drama in the background that is inherent for all young adults, no matter where they are. And to put it bluntly, sometimes incidents happen. Like confrontations with locals, no matter how accidental the cause. But these elements are just as integral to a trip like this, because you learn from them too. And sometimes, even through the bad, good things can emerge, like fellow students sticking up for one another when it counts.
We learned how to fish. We learned how to dive. We learned how to snorkel and which fish was what and even which fish tasted best. But what sticks out, and if you ask any of the other 26 students I’m sure they’ll agree with me, is the people we interacted with. The culture we engaged with, and who we engaged in it with. That is what makes such a trip so enjoyable, and what helps us learn the most. Because when you combine all the elements mentioned above, what you really learn about is yourself. What you’re capable of, what you truly enjoy, what you can live with and what you can’t live without. And it doesn’t hurt making great friends along the way.
So to those who’ve gone to Belize before, those who will go in the future, and most importantly, to those who went in 2008, all I can say is, “Don’t stop Belizing, hold on to that island feeling.”