Commonwealth University students travel to Belize to research politics, culture, economy


Fourteen Commonwealth University students, from the Mansfield and Lock Haven locations, recently returned from studying abroad in the Central American country of Belize. The students were part of a faculty-led, short-term study abroad program that has been introducing students to Belize since 2014.

Students who attended the trip were Ally Fisher, of Owego, New York; Paige Grant, of Galeton; Charisma Grega, of Mansfield; Jeffrey Griffiths, of Lykens; Anissa Lytle, of York; Kelly McFillin, of Conshohocken; Hailey Morgan, of Mount Carmel; Erica Parks, of Elmira, New York; Kat Rowen, of Albrightsville; Hailey Thomas, of Columbia Crossroads; Kathryn Tice, of Covington; and Brittany Tiffany, of Lowman, New York, from the Mansfield location and Katie Gingrich, of Annville; and Megan Reniker, of Lititz, from the Lock Haven location. Faculty who accompanied the students on the trip were Drs. Jeffrey Bosworth and Jonathan C. Rothermel from the Mansfield location.

While in Belize from May 23 to June 6, students researched the politics, culture and economy of Belize. Students chose from one of four major research questions focusing on cultural identity, globalization, sustainable development or democracy, and while in-country they gathered field notes on their research topic.

Belize is a developing country, and the contrast in wealth was noted by students. However, students also observed the friendly demeanor and optimism of Belizeans.

"We grow up with very consumerist values and think that money equals wealth and happiness. Belize proves that this is not the case," said Grega, an elementary education major.

Drs. Bosworth and Rothermel facilitated opportunities for students to talk to a wide range of Belizeans, including community activists, business leaders and politicians. There also were impromptu opportunities for the students as well, when the president of the senate, the Honorable Carolyn Trench Sandiford, showed up while students were touring the National Assembly to answer their questions.

The small size of the country, a population estimated around 400,000 - a size similar to the state of Massachusetts, allowed students to experience a wide variety of the country's attractions. They climbed Mayan temples in Orange Walk also known as "Sugar City," participated in Garifuna drumming in Hopkins, cooled off in the surf of Placencia, learned to make tamales in San Ignacio and snorkeled in the second largest barrier reef in the world off the coast of Caye Caulker - among many other exciting adventures.

"Caye Caulker's motto - 'go slow' - rubbed off on me," said Reniker, an international studies major. "I now feel more appreciative of what I have and unbothered by what I don't."

On a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan, the capital of Belize, U.S. Ambassador Michelle Kwan - the former Olympian figure skater turned diplomat - took time out of her busy schedule to share her story with students and encourage them to pursue their dreams.

For most of the students, it was their first time leaving the country, and for at least five students, it was their first time on an airplane.

"I was anxious sometimes, but hands down, it was the best time in my life. I am so grateful I got to go," said Morgan, a sociology major.

Studying in Belize is a unique opportunity and unlike what most students have experienced, even those who have previously traveled abroad. "Going to Belize gave me a look into a different world and way of life that traveling in Europe just does not give you," said Fisher, a political science major.

These experiences also help students find out more about themselves, like Lytle, a psychology major. "I am now much more confident and can step out of my comfort zone to talk to people that I do not know much easier than before," Lytle said.

To make a financial contribution toward future trips to Belize, contact Jonathan Rothermel at