The Caribbean nation of Belize served as the latest destination for William Woods’ Woods Around the World program, which is set to mark its tenth anniversary in 2018. 18 individuals, including 11 WWU students and supervising faculty, made the journey to Belize from December 29 – January 5, 2018, just the latest excursion in what has been a decade of once-in-a-lifetime experiences for students through this unique program at The Woods.
Woods Around the World started in 2008 with a trip to Peru. The trips are designed to be educational, cultural immersion trips that sometimes involve service aspects as well. Students learn about the destination a year ahead and are then able to sign up for the trip and the accompanying class. The class is focused on cultural diversity and preparing students to visit a new country.
To help students with the cost of these trips, William Woods also has the Project 123 community service program. Project 123 is an opportunity where students can perform 123 hours of community service to offset the cost of their travel. As always, on the Belize trip, Woods Around the World partnered with EF Tours, a company that provides educational tours around the world.
“EF provides a fulltime tour director who is with us at all times,” said Travis Tamerius, Director of the Center for Ethics and Global Studies, explaining how EF Tours provide support for the trips. “We also have expert guides that show up in different locations. They are locals who know the history of a landscape, who will educate us at the different locations that we see. This is very helpful because we typically do a lot of moving around within a given country based upon our itinerary.”
The group flew into Belize City on their first day of the trip, which quickly made an impression.
“It’s like the country of Belize is just south of Mexico, and then you have the island part,” said Nic Keithley, ’18. “The mainland part is kind of like Mexico, so it’s not the luxurious place that you’d thought it’d be, which was kind of eye-opening.”
It did not take long for many of the students on the trip to realize just how different Belize is from the United States.
“Something I really learned from this trip was how different our cultures are – they do things differently there,” said Megan Tolias ‘20. “We spent New Year’s down there, and they did this huge firework display in the town, with fireworks are going off everywhere. And our tour director, he spoke Creole, which was interesting.”
On the second day the tour went to the Lamanai ruins, which required an hour long boat ride.
“My favorite thing was split 50/50 between climbing the Mayan ruins and snorkeling, which is something I’ve never done before but always wanted to do,” said Leah Easley ‘21. “The water was so warm and our guides were really great, it was really beautiful. The Mayan ruins were really cool and again the guides were so knowledgeable and informed us of all this history.”
Other activities on the itinerary included visiting a local school; a jungle hike; zip-lining; touring the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich; visiting Chaa Creek Natural History Center; and trips to an animal sanctuary and a zoo.
“I loved being on the beach, and doing the snorkeling and scuba diving,” added Keithley. “I felt like it was a really nice contrast between what you did on the mainland and what you did on the island, which I really liked.”
Woods Around the World has two upcoming trips scheduled and with these trips the program will have achieved the distinction of visiting all 7 continents in its 10 years. Next up are journeys to Argentina and Antarctica, which will be followed by a spring break trip to India.
“The temperature change on that trip in going from Buenos Aires (Argentina) then down to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the planet, and then to Antarctica, will be about a 100 degree difference. So it’ll be a packing challenge,” Tamerius said. “But this being the tenth year of our program, we knew we wanted to mark the occasion with a very memorable year, which we are certainly doing.”
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