When thinking about if I wanted to study abroad, there were many things that crossed my mind – I didn’t know if I could go for such an extended period of time, there are a lot of costs, and most importantly, did I really want to be away from USC for an entire semester?
Then I came across the ‘Problems without Passports’ programs through USC Dornsife. These programs are a few weeks long in the summer. Students enroll in one class, and for part of the course, you go abroad to a different city in the world. There are a handful of different courses based in different academic departments, and based in different countries, and one of the great things about this program is that there are multiple opportunities for funding. Not only was I able to receive exceptional funding from my scholarship to help with the tuition costs, but I also received funding through SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fund) to help with the cost of travel.
The course that I chose to participate in was an Environmental Studies class titled ENST 485: Role of the Environment in the Collapse of Human Societies. For 12 days, with 18 other students, one professor and one TA, we researched and learned about the ancient Maya while in the jungles of southern Belize.
Belize! I had never been to Central America before, and it was definitely the part of the course I was looking forward to the most. The majority of the trip, we were down in southern Belize, away from the main cities, in the small villages south of Punta Gorda. Our daily activities ranged from visiting ancient Mayan temples and ruins, to hiking 2 hours to the entrance of the Yok Balum cave that had stalagmites and stalactites (environmental lingo) that are thousands of years old growing inside.
We visited a cacao farm and learned all about how cacao is processed, and did a few days of service-learning in the local elementary and high schools. The coolest thing (and my favorite part of the trip by far) was when we swam through the Hokeb Ha cave to find a waterfall inside at the end of the cave. In the evenings we had discussions about our days’ activities and about the assigned readings for the day.
The last 3 days of the trip were meant to be more relaxing; we traveled up to Placencia, a beach resort town on the eastern coast of Belize. We relaxed on the white sandy beach, cooled down (Belize is ridiculously humid) in the clear blue water, visited a jaguar reserve, and snorkeled for an entire day off the Laughing Bird Caye (a very small island, probably 50 ft. wide and 250 ft. long).
After returning from Belize, we had a week and a half of class left to complete on-campus, where we had a midterm (no one likes taking an exam days after returning from a trip abroad in a place as cool as Belize) and wrote a National Science Foundation (NSF) paper proposing how we could study the collapse of the Maya. At the end of 3 weeks, we had traveled to a different country, immersed ourselves in a new culture, and learned about how past civilizations relied on their environment, and how we can use those societies as a case study for today’s issues.
Before actually starting the course, I told myself that at the very least, I would think of this class as my abridged version of a study abroad program. Coming out of this course, it was an absolutely loaded experience. This was definitely one of the most memorable classes I’ve ever taken at USC, for more reasons than one.
**Note: There is no way that I could have blogged about the entire trip and course in one post, so if you’re interested, you can visit the blog we had devoted to the course here.