Planned Spring Break In BelizeBy Susan Bush
12:00AM / Saturday, February 25, 2006
North Adams - When Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts student Jessica Sokol meets her "host family" in the warm Central American country of Belize, she plans to offer a New England-style gift.
|MCLA junior Teddy Bourgeois plans to travel to Belize as part of a MCLA alternative spring break contingent.|
"I'm really looking forward to meeting [the family] and I'm going to bring them something, maybe maple syrup," Sokol said during a Feb. 25 arts and crafts bazaar held to raise funds for the 2006 MCLA alternative spring break trip.
The event was held at the Venable Gymnasium.
Belize is known as a country of pristine rainforests, unmarred coral reefs and an abundance of natural beauty, but Sokol is looking most forward to a first-hand glimpse of specific mammals living within a Belize sanctuary.
MCLA junior Jessica Sokol of Enfield, Conn., and senior Kevin Sullivan of Holland, Mass., staffed a CD, book, and movie table during a Feb. 25 alternative spring break fundraiser.
"I am very excited about the chance to see a howler monkey," she said.
A group of about 12 students plan to spend March 8 -17 in Belize, said Spencer Moser, MCLA director of the Center for Service and Citizenship and the advisor for the trip. While in Belize, students will be involved with "cultural immersion," which includes staying with Belize families, and "community service," which will focus on environmental issues such as assisting with clean water initiatives. Elena Traister, a professor at MCLA, will accompany the students as well, Moser said.
Teddy Bourgeois, 21, a junior from Hudson, Mass., is eager to begin the trip.
"We're excited about what we are going to be doing," he said. "We'll be working with some youth groups on environmental issues and focused on clean water. A lot of Belize is untouched, virgin rainforest and that's something that really appealed to me."
Experiencing spring break as a part of a beach party crowd or hanging out in his hometown paled when compared to an educational, enriching trip to Belize, Bourgeois said.
"The service aspect was a very big part of it for me," he said. "The whole party scene didn't appeal to me. My high school had a community service learning graduation requirement and I like community service learning. It's an important part of any education. It's citizen education and it makes you aware that there are other people in the world beside yourself."
Isaac Sussman, a 22-year-old college senior from Cambridge, Mass., is anticipating the trip.
"This is something that a friend of mine told me about," he said. "I really like traveling and we'll be trying to learn about the culture. I like that we'll experience so much."
Moser said that he spent years involved with international education and has numerous contacts as a result of that experience. He was able to arrange the trip through the Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary organization. Belize is a safe country for the students to visit and experience the culture, he said.
MCLA Director of The Center for Service and Citizenship Spencer Moser
A Country of Beauty, History, And Harmony
"In and of itself, [Belize] has never had a coup or revolution," Moser said. "There isn't that undercurrent. It's a very safe environment. I've been there and it's beautiful, and the people are very laid back."
While English is the most predominant language spoken in Belize, the country is known as a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual society. Belize is known for racial harmony and religious tolerance, and has earned a reputation for hosting a friendly population. There are about 200,000 people in the country, including those associated with Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Spanish, Maya, English, Mennonite, Lebanese, Chinese, and East Indian cultures.
Archaeologists believe that Belize was once the home of 1 to 2 million Mayans. The Mayan civilization existed from about 1,000 B.C. to about 1500 A.D.; the precise cause of the civilizations's disappearance remains unknown. The students are expected to visit Mayan ruins as well as visit the rainforest and tour other locales while in Belize, Moser said.
"Belize is becoming known to the world as an ecological Mecca," he said, and noted that the Belize government is committed to preserving the natural beauty and ecological balances within the country.
Past MCLA alternative spring break trips have centered on the United States; in 2004, students traveled to Washington, D.C. and in 2005, students trekked to the southwest and the Navajo Nation.
"This time, we were looking for something that wasn't domestic," Bourgeois said.
Sokol was among those who visited Navajo Nation, and wanted to continue with alternative spring break participation, she said.
"I had an excellent time last year," she said. "I remember so much about the culture. This year, it will be exciting to leave the country."
Alternative spring break students plan to offer a public presentation about the trip following their return to the college.
Louise and John McClay and nine-year-old Holly McClay of Bennington, Vt. were among the vendors at the MCLA alternative spring break fundraiser.
Moser said that he has expectations for the trip.
"I'm hoping that the students are thoughtful, graceful travelers and act as ambassadors of MCLA, of Massachusetts, and of the United States," he said. "I hope that they gain an understanding of the challenges, concerns, and interests of the local people. I hope they are able to share culturally with their Belize families. I hope they erase any stereotypes they might have about what a Central American family might be like, and I hope that they can break any stereotypes of what Americans might be."
Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or at 802-823-9367.