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UF in Belize: My Experience Abroad Learning About Non-Profits and Sustainability

By Anni Walter

Hi, I’m Anni. I'm a student at UF studying Family,Youth, and Community Sciences with a minor in Florida Teaching. This past summer I had the opportunity to study abroad in Belize for a month focusing on NGOs (non-profit organizations) and sustainability. Through the program we visited 10 non profits, traveled through different areas of Belize, and dove deeper into nature and knowing ourselves.

Belize sunrise and mountains

The opportunity to attend an immersive semester abroad was never something I considered for myself before this trip. Even after knowing I would be attending, it didn’t seem as if it was reality, but I mustered up the courage. I got accustomed to being in Belize, surrounded by passionate peers, locals from all different backgrounds, and beautiful views. The country is small, still developing, and full of growth. Witnessing the locals working to conserve and sustainably develop the country, not for only themselves, but for the future of their communities was inspiring. In Belize they value their past, present, and future.

Traveling as study abroad parents

Getting There

All 18 of us hopped onto the short flight to Belize. I began the trip knowing little else than that I was going to a different country and was getting class credit for it. I knew the program focused on nonprofits and sustainability, so I figured there was no way I wouldn't enjoy it. What I wasn’t prepared for was what a huge impact the experience would have on me. Living in a different country, immersed in nature, surrounded by like-minded peers, and taking time to slow down was mind opening.

Home base

Monkey bay: a wildlife sanctuary. We spent our time lounging in hammocks, walking or running the trails, and making our way down to the Sibun river. We got accustomed to living with no air conditioning, filtered rain water, and learning about local non-profits and the impact they have on the local communities.

Monkey Bay in Belize

The Education

We visited ten non-profits during the month, ranging from human services to environmental protection. We also visited the cockscomb basin which is located in the Chiquibul National Forest.

Learning about Mayan culture in Belize

We saw Mayan ruins and explored local communities. Our time with the organizations really opened my eyes to the disconnect between the community and those outside the community. Non-profits from outside the community try to help by providing what they believe the communities and people want, instead of communicating and figuring out what the community and people actually need and want to better their lives.

The United States Embassy in Belize

The Environment

The people of Belize care deeply about their land and are well informed about the environment around them. Our guides, Justin and Maleto, could both name every bird around us based on their call. They knew the local fauna and flora and were well-versed in the negative impacts altering their environment. Every day we went on early morning hikes to connect with the Belize nature.

Learning about nature in Belize

Canoeing down the Sibun River

As we canoed down the Sibun River they named the trees, spotted birds and detailed the wonders they did for the ecosystem. Sadly, they were also able to identify the areas people were pumping water or sifting soil, which has altered the flow of the river– where most of Belize gets their water.

The Takeaways

I could write and talk about Belize and my experience for hours. The experiences and relationships formed there have changed my life and continue to transform my life months after. As I've been back in The States, I have a new appreciation for the opportunities I've been given to be educated, to have access to amenities like AC and running water, and to travel. If your university offers the chance for you to study in a different country, do it. Being exposed to different cultures, learning about alternative ways of life, and experiencing the diversity of nature around the world is incredible.

A waterfall in Belize

College is a great chance to travel and have a once in a lifetime international experience. The people of Belize have inspired me to spend much more time in nature and revel in the sounds of the natural world. Being in a place where the people are so integrated in their environment was eye-opening and we all should spend a bit more time recognizing our connection to nature and taking better care of it.

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