Mansfield leads state system honors trip to Belize

PHOTO PROVIDED
Mansfield university students, Caitlin Moran and Nate Romanauski, joined other college students from the state on a trip to Belize earlier this year.

PHOTO PROVIDED Mansfield university students, Caitlin Moran and Nate Romanauski, joined other college students from the state on a trip to Belize earlier this year.

MANSFIELD — Every summer, one of the 14 universities from Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education organizes a trip abroad exclusively for honors students.

This year, Mansfield University volunteered to host the trip. Twelve of the universities, including Mansfield, selected two honors students to enroll in the program.

The destination was a place where Mansfield University is becoming well known, thanks to Political Science professors Jeff Bosworth and Jonathan Rothermel, the small Central American country of Belize (population: est. 380,000).

For the last three years, Bosworth and Rothermel accompanied Mansfield students for a short-term, study abroad program in Belize. This summer they took the State System honors group.

Prior to the trip, students met at Mansfield for several days of intensive academic preparation. Students were briefed on aspects of Belizean history, politics, economics and culture.

Due to its small size, not too many scholars pay attention to Belizean politics. Belize has a competitive two-party, parliamentary system of government since it became independent from Great Britain in 1981.

However, politics is just one of many facets of Belize covered in the course, Field Research Abroad. There were a wide array of majors represented on the trip, including nursing, computer science, accounting, graphic design, environmental science, English literature, finance, biology, journalism, social work, political science, sociology, psychology, environmental studies, international studies, education, Spanish and biochemistry.

“By taking a broad perspective on development, globalization, the political process and social diversity of Belize, we seek to have our students experience an integrated approach to practical problems,” Bosworth said. “We hope that they move beyond narrow disciplines and draw upon their own interests and expertise as they confront real-world issues.”

The course promotes field research, which includes interviews and direct observations, in support of four broad research questions related to globalization, economic development, politics and multiculturalism.

Students met with politicians, business leaders, representatives from the Ministry of Tourism, University of Belize professors, and NGO representatives. In addition to group interviews facilitated by the professors, students were encouraged to engage directly with Belizeans.

Globalization has increasingly put pressure on the country to make available its resources for investment, but as students began to find out, there are economic, social, and environmental costs associated with globalization.

For example, tourism is a major component of the Belizean economy. Over one million cruise ship tourists and 385,000 overnight tourists visited Belize in 2016. The average overnight tourist spends just under seven days in Belize, while the average cruise ship tourist only spends five to six hours in the country. Questions are raised about the sustainability of tourism, especially as plans are being made to accommodate more cruise ship tourists.

By participating in common mass tourist activities such as cave tubing and zip lining, students gained a better perspective of the value of tourism to the development of the country.

After visiting a number of Mayan ruins, including Altun Ha, Lamanai, Xunantunich and the Actun Tunichil Muknal (or ATM) Cave, students were prompted to think critically about the preservation and exploitation of these sites.

Some students were afforded the opportunity to visit a local school and meet with school administrators. They learned about the costs of education for local families, which includes hundreds of dollars a year in books and uniforms.

The final three nights of the trip were spent on one of Belize’s many islands. From Caye Caulker, students snorkeled along the second largest barrier reef in the world.

Homework assignments and readings every night throughout the trip were geared toward the next day’s adventure.

Mansfield students attending the trip were Caitlin Moran and Nate Romanauski. Mansfield professors Linda Kennedy, geosciences and Lilace Guignard, outdoor recreation, provided assistance and shared their expertise with the students during the trip.