The students, now freshmen, in July traveled to the Central American country of Belize as part of Auburn’s new international studies course for high school honor students who have applied for admission to the university.
“We want them to think internationally early on,” said Andy Gillespie, assistant provost for international programs. “Then, throughout their undergraduate careers, they will relate their international experiences to their coursework.”
Plans for the trip began last spring when the Office of International Programs teamed up with the Office of Admissions to identify top applicants who might be interested in studying abroad.
“They had applied but had not committed yet to Auburn when we approached them with mailings,” Gillespie said. “They paid for their own travel while Auburn covered the cost of the course.”
Students earned two credit hours in international sustainability on the weeklong trip, which included lectures at the University of Belize on the history, people and government and on natural resources and land use; a visit to a citrus-produce facility where orange juice is made; a tour of a Mayan ruin and village; and a trip to a barrier island where they learned about the tourism industry.
Belize is an English-speaking country that was once a British colony. It has a diversity of peoples and cultures, such as Mayans, Spanish, Creoles and Garifuna, descendants of escaped slaves and native Indians. The landscape varies from tropical rainforests to coastal areas with coral reefs.
We were able to interact with people of various cultures and hear their opinions on the progress of their nation,” Auburn freshman Kate Duke said. “In addition to learning about sustainability and tourism, I was able to build some amazing friendships with the 15 other students who went on the trip. We have ‘Belizean’ reunions almost every week.”
Many teachable moments also occurred apart from the planned topics.
“One student asked, ‘Why is gas so expensive here (at $8 to $9 U.S. dollars a gallon)?’” Gillespie said. “So geology professor David King, who traveled with us, used the opportunity to discuss the oil trade and that Belize has no refineries.”
Gillespie will lead another group of pre-freshmen next summer to either Belize or Mexico. High school honor students interested in the trip can contact Deborah Weiss, Auburn Abroad assistant director, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Current Auburn students also can contact Weiss about study abroad opportunities.
“My goal is to get all students to go abroad and to change their view on life and to change them as students,” Gillespie said.
(Written by Charles Martin)