Erika Scheibe, a sophomore biology major at The College of Idaho, gives a firsthand account of a recent C of I study abroad experience in Belize, where students accompanied Professors Chris Walser and Don Mansfield to learn about the subtropical ecosystems and culture of the vibrant Central American nation.
Click here to check out photos from Belize on the C of I Flickr page!
I look out over a lush tropical landscape that I’ve only ever read about. In front of me in the thick Belizean air rolls an unceasing ocean of hills displaying every shade of green imaginable–lime, jungle, and emerald all enmeshed in one fluid landscape. A flock of rare, brightly hued scarlet macaws rest on their qualmwood tree above me, capturing my interest for hours. I spot a snowy egret flying by, its scintillating white feathers standing in sharp contrast against the dark greenery. In the distance, a black howler monkey bellows its evening call to neighboring troops. The fading sign that shepherds travelers towards the humid outdoors from the small Belize City airport describes Belize perfectly; “Welcome to Belize: Mother Nature’s best kept secret.” During Winter Term 2016, I had the opportunity to uncover these secrets by studying the ecology of Belize through guided jungle walks, snorkeling adventures, and my own independent research.
After studying the ecology of Belize throughout fall semester, it was eye-opening to visit the small Central American country first-hand. Through The College of Idaho’s study abroad program, 15 students alongside biology professors Dr. Don Mansfield and Dr. Chris Walser had the opportunity to explore and learn about the vast jungle, savanna and cave ecosystems that make up Belize, as well as the coastal, reef, and mangrove ecosystems of the Caribbean.
We flew from the heart of a cold Idaho winter to arrive in balmy Belize with temperatures in the sunny 70s. Once there, we were introduced to the wild flora and fauna on a scenic and informative jungle walk at the Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, our home base for a portion of our trip. We examined the many medicinal, poisonous and intriguing plants of the savanna and forest ecosystems. Learning about the cacti that grow on trees, the bright-yellow flowers denoting St. John’s wort, the splotchy black poisonwood tree and its antidote, the gumbo-limbo tree, provided an engaging outdoor lesson. Our time on the mainland—from hiking through thick jungle growth with knowledgeable local scientists sharing facts on the lifeforms of Belize to discovering ancient Mayan pottery hidden away in gleaming limestone caves—was a time well spent.
The second portion of our trip involved quite a change of scenery; we boated into the calm cerulean waters of the Caribbean to the Tobacco Caye Marine Station. Here, we had the opportunity for daily snorkels on the beautiful Barrier Reef and nearby mangroves, where we were all surprised by the myriad of diverse ocean life. One instance I will never forget happened while I was observing a little sergeant major fish. I looked past the tiny striped fish at the reef below me and was surprised to see a 7 foot long spotted eagle ray swimming ever-so gracefully beneath me, beating its “wings” or pectoral fins slowly; the way it moved resembled a bird flying in slow motion. We also had the opportunity to conduct research on the caye’s under-studied reefs and mangroves and then present our findings to resident scientists and curious locals.
Our Winter Term study abroad adventure exposed us to a colorful new culture. In addition to our study of subtropical ecosystems, we gained insight into the diverse and rapidly changing country of Belize. We were able to expand our knowledge and ability to pose questions from an ecological perspective. We simultaneously widened our worldview by opening our minds to a new culture, a new political landscape, and a new people with a different set of experiences from our own. Our little group of C of I students also learned a lot about ourselves. The trip helped us gain the tools and background to better plan for future careers. And finally, the trip served as a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience to be cherished forever. As we return to chilly Idaho, each and every one of us is wishing to return one day to bask in the Central American sunshine.
Click here to read more of Erika’s Belize experiences in her blog, Earth’s Witness. Every year, dozens of College of Idaho students participate in study away experiences with their peers and professors. To learn more about study away opportunities at the C of I, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu/study-away.
The College of Idaho has a 125-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.