Why do I feel I am now a global citizen, and how do I feel I am going to pass on this experience to my community?
A citizen is a member of a community or nation, with both rights and responsibilities (thank you, Wikipedia!). I am an official citizen of the United States of America. In a broader sense, though, I have exercised my rights and responsibilities to become a global citizen as I have invested time, energy, and my heart in the country of Belize. My passport and my school have enabled me to be a responsible traveler and get to know the country of Belize through ten days of absolute saturation in the environment and culture. I had the close company and resource of my wonderful traveling group, so I had a sense of cultural familiarity in the presence of other Americans, but Belize became more and more transparent the more we experienced it as a team.
Belize made it easy for this American to adjust to cultural differences by providing some buffers of what I already know. Communicating in Belize was no problem at all – although the flavor of other languages – like Creole, Spanish, and Mayan – was all around, everyone we worked with spoke English (and if they didn’t, a kindly translator was close at hand.) The strong sun did require me to wear more sunscreen and drink more water than I do at home in March, but I know how to protect myself from more extreme environments – and we had good reminders from all our guides to take all precautions. I love outdoor activity, and so many things we did – hiking, caving the mind-blowing ATL caves, climbing up the Caracol Mayan ruins, zip-lining through the rainforest, observing animals in the Belize zoo, and snorkeling through an incredibly beautiful barrier reef till I had goosebumps – were outdoors.
What makes my cultural experience different is the expanse of foreign nature and culture I was able to see. I got to spend time with colorful, unfamiliar wildlife I had never seen before, on land, air, and on sea. My group breathed the air of the underworld as we swam through the dark ATL caves and saw amazing Mayan artifacts, thousands of years old – and stood in the sunlight with complex Mayan ruins dating from 500 BC. Bumping by bus over unpaved roads, our destinations never took more than two or three hours – Belize is about 8,500 square miles, smaller than the state of Massachusetts, so experiencing a good chunk of this country was possible for our group to accomplish in a relatively small timespan.
It’s significant to me that our group was treated so humanly by our guides. Monkey Bay, a wildlife refuge and our home base, allowed us guides who traveled with us to every strenuous, all-day activity, and provided us with some new ones, too. Our guides Trinidad and Malito drove us for hours, ate with us, talked to us, gave us advice, and joked with us. I think everyone in my group felt loved and intellectually enriched by Billi, our adventurous guide from Canada and a world traveler. Our home stays in the Mayan households gave us a clear picture of a couple days in a Mayan life. We ate and conversed daily with our families – the food was so amazing! – and I know I miss my host family already and can see their faces in my mind. This trip and experience was personal, not just academic or professional.
When I return to the United States, I’m foreseeing talking the ears off of my family, my friends, and the poor souls that happen to be in my company all about Belize and why they need to know about it. Though I hope my wanderlust-induced enthusiasm is infectious, I plan to do more to pass on the experience to my community. I would like to use the Kriol drum circle techniques in my music therapy sessions, and further discussion on the subject with my professor Dr. Rohrbacher, who is experienced in ethnomusicology. I would like to discuss the availability of priests in Catholic churches in Belize, as I’m now aware there’s a shortage in some areas. I also want to be a resource towards those who wish to experience Belizean culture, so I plan on acquiring more knowledge through reading, research, cooking, listening to punta rock, showing my pictures, and general love for this beautiful culture which is, now, all I can think about.