May 17, 2012
Stepping off of the plane, as a wave of humidity hit my face, my first thought was “I love my major.” It was May 2011 and I had just breathed Belizean air for the first time. The country was in a state of drought, with an aftertaste of smoke in the air from the many spot wildfires covering the country, but for a Southern California native used to the desiccated air of the desert, it was an absolute sauna. I silently expressed gratitude to Environmental Studies, my parents, and even myself for taking this opportunity to visit a foreign, unfamiliar land. Adventure awaited in this diverse landscape.
The following 11 days are still burned in my memory with photographic detail. The sights: remote Maya ruins, pristine caves, dense jungle. The food: never have I seen so many interesting and delicious combinations of rice, beans, and chicken. I was introduced to cacao and as a seasoned coffee addict, I instantly fell in love with the bitter, textured and highly caffeinated drink. Our accommodations were incredible; the Sun Creek Lodge cabanas were the ideal way to sleep in the open air without surrendering ourselves to the bugs outside. Placencia was a postcard made real, with clear waters, white sand, palm trees and a cool ocean breeze. Outside of the Indiana Jones-style shenanigans on land, I even got an opportunity to indulge my favorite hobby, diving in the Laughing Bird Caye Marine Protected Area. I kept reminding myself that it was technically for course credit. Education has never been more effortless.
After that amazing week and a half, it was difficult to coax myself onto the departure flight. I became immersed in my summer job after the brief period of readjustment and euphoria that follows every journey abroad, wondering if I’d ever be able to return to the land of the Maya. I was overjoyed to see the email from Lisa Collins in my inbox this fall, inviting me to return with the next Belize class as the course TA. Breathlessly replying “YES!,” my mind swam with excitement mixed with a minor dose of anxiety regarding the responsibility that I had just accepted.
Since then, I have graduated and received my degree in Environmental Studies with a Biology emphasis. I am ready to end my USC undergraduate career in a blaze of glory, hiking through jungles, descending deep into massive caves, and diving in one of the most marvelous marine environments on earth, all the time sharing this experience with a group of students seeing these sights for the first time. I’m also eager to share these experiences with the audience reading this blog, as part of this trip’s main appeal is environmental outreach through cultural exchange. We will have experiences to share with Belizeans as their guests and bring knowledge and ideas home to enrich our own educational experience as Trojans. Stay tuned for a chronicle of this adventure.
Dan Killam is a newly minted USC alumni, holding a BS in Environmental Studies. He attended the 2011 Belize course and is returning as the course TA. His duties include maintaining this blog, logistical support and comic relief. He appreciates concise biographies as much as you do.