I’ve been back home for two days now and it’s taken this long to realize that I’m not still in Belize. Being back in New Jersey is definitely a shock. The first smell when I got into Fort Lauderdale was Auntie Anne’s Pretzels and honestly, the smell made me sick. I really miss the smells of Belize and Belizean food. My stomach has also shrunk because I can only finish half of my meals here at home before I feel full. I somehow lost 21 pounds in the month that I was in Belize, all through just smaller portions, healthier food options provided and being active every day. Oh, and a lot of sweating and drinking water. I drank 6000 mL of water a day and was still thirsty by the end!
Adjusting to the lack of humidity back home has been a little difficult too. In Belize it was in the 90s for most of the time we were there, and the time spent in the 90s it was always close to 100% humidity. Coming back to a cool 67 degree New Jersey afternoon has left me shivering. The times that it has been close to 80 and I can find myself basking in the sun are the times I’m now happiest.
I love that I’m not fending for my life against bugs anymore. Doctor flies, horse flies, mosquitos, ticks, flood flies. I was getting tired of feeling something crawling on me and it actually be a bug. Some of my bug bites still itch, but it’s a nice constant reminder of where I spent the last month of my life. I’m thrilled not having to put bug spray on before going to bed every night though I really missed feeling clean while I slept.
Looking back on why I decided to study abroad, I didn’t really take into consideration how much the trip was going to change my perspective. Everyone that I had spoken to had said that the CELA trip is life changing and you come home a new person, but I didn’t really buy into that for me. I took the Large Animal Veterinary Practices in the Tropics course not because I want to go to vet school, but because I wanted to be sure that my choice of not going to vet school was justified. While everything I learned in the Large Animal course was amazing and I was more than capable of doing the tasks, it showed me that large animal vet medicine is not something that I want to pursue for a career. Our time working with small animals at the clinic in Placencia also showed me that while I love animals, I want to work with them from a different side. This was exactly what I wanted out of this course— to be sure that I wasn’t going to have regretted not applying to vet school. I had no prior experience working with animals in any capacity before this course, but I still had made the decision to pursue a different career path. Now I can say with confidence that while I don’t want to become a veterinarian, there are tons of other things that I can pursue and I at least gave the experiences a shot!
I don’t know what I was expecting out of the Wildlife Health, Ecology and Conservation course. I knew that we would be spending a fair amount of time at the Belize Zoo, and I was told that we were given opportunities to work with animals in a way that you can’t get in the States. Looking over the syllabus, the course was a lot more hands-off compared to the Large Animal course. That took some time for me to get used to. It was also a huge adjustment going from the air-conditioned luxury of the Midas Resort to the dormitory style housing and no air conditioning at the Tropical Education Center. There are two big things that I took away from my time in the Wildlife course. The first is that wildlife exploitation is a real and serious issue, and the course really made me think about my role in destroying wildlife’s habitat and the ways in which I can make positive change. The other second is that I really loved my time working with the raptors at the Belize Raptor Center, and I really want to work more with these animals in the future. I’ve looked into the NJ Raptor Center and the opportunities there are for me to work with raptors back home. That is something that I would have never known about myself if I hadn’t come to Belize and had the experiences that I had here, so I’m super thankful that I was able to learn something new about myself.
All-in-all, I’m really happy that I studied abroad in Belize for a month. I can say that— I lived in Belize for a whole month! I met some great people that I look forward to staying in contact with and I met some people that really challenged me to be the better person in situations. Every moment was a learning opportunity, but every moment I was constantly “on” and it did get pretty exhausting. About two weeks in I did start to feel the stress of being only half-way through the trip, but those feelings usually subsided once we were busy with whatever activity we had planned for the day. And hey, I left 20 pounds in Belize! That’s pretty good if you ask me. I really will miss the pools of knowledge that Dr. T, Ruben, Dr. Kneeland and Jane were for us and I really hope that our relationship didn’t end when I flew home. Love the power of the internet!
Any animal science major at Rutgers should study through CELA (and use my name as a reference, Deanna Bullock! Haha) because you will really get experiences unlike anything here in the States. If money is an issue (like it was for me), really look into your options: I was awarded the SEBS, Rutgers Study Abroad Office, and the Douglass Residential College scholarships that covered the program costs plus my spending money while on the trip. I am so fortunate that I was able to go to Belize and not worry about the financial burden when I came home. I was visited by a CELA ambassador my freshman year, and that presentation stuck with me up to the summer before my senior year. The greatest advice I got before this trip was, “Do it afraid.” That applies to anything, but I found it extremely applicable to the application process of the study abroad and then to my actual experiences while in Belize.
I appreciate everyone (the three of you) that have stuck around for all of my blogs, and I wish you the best of luck. I hope that more students get the opportunity to meet the wonderful people of Belize, because that country has so much to give. :^)