Cheyney Students Get Chance of a Lifetime in Study Abroad Trip to Belize
August 15, 2017
Cheyney University honors students, Veronica Baccera (l) and Shaneka Briggs (r), get friendly with iguanas at the Iguana Sanctuary in San Ignacio, Belize during their summer study abroad trip
When Cheyney University of Pennsylvania Senior Shaneka Briggs and Junior Veronica Baccera get back in the classroom next week, they’ll have much to share with their professors and their classmates. Both girls spent time over their summer break in Belize as part of the PA State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Honors Study Abroad program. Both received full scholarships to participate, as did students from other PASSHE schools. All were competitively selected in a process that included writing a statement of purpose, soliciting letters of support and preparing a portfolio.
“The best part was getting to go on an adventure every day,” remarked Briggs, who will finish her studies in December. The English major learned much about the Central American country—from its two-party democratic political system and globalization efforts to its social diversity and tourism industry, and so much more.
“It was mind-blowing to be able to explore and meet so many different people along the way,” she shared. The aspiring college professor took special interest in the schools, noting that once students pass the sixth grade, their education is no longer free. She’d like to travel more, study how other countries teach, and, perhaps, even teach abroad.
Baccera, a junior Graphic Design and Fine Arts double major from Kennett Square, PA, had never been on a plane before this trip, let alone, out of the country.
“I thought Belize was beautiful,” she gushed. “It was a completely different lifestyle, not only culturally, but the people, schools, food, daily life and art, was completely different.”
While learning about the many aspects of Belize, the girls and their comrades did a lot of physical activity in very hot and, often, humid temperatures, such as hiking through jungles and swimming through caves. While the adventures were sometimes challenging, both agree that they were always worth their efforts, especially when they visited Actun Tunichil Muknal, a famous archaeological site, designated by National Geographic as one of the most sacred caves in the world.
“We walked for one hour through the forest and swam across rivers to get to the ATM Cave,” Baccera recalled. “It was dark inside of the cave so we had helmets with lights on them. We swam and climbed for hours to reach the sacred Mayan grounds where we learned all about Mayan history and saw real Mayan Ceramics and sacrificial remains dating back to 600 AD, including the skeletal remains of a young 18-year-old woman who was sacrificed to Choc, the Mayan rain god, during a serious drought that killed many Mayans.”
In addition to evidence of ancient Mayan rituals there, the group visited Mayan Temples such as Xunantunich, Altun Ha, and Lamanai, met with politicians, business leaders, professors, tourism and non-governmental reps. The coursework while abroad involved interviews and direct observations from their travels and interactions with others. They had research questions to answer and each had to do a paper related to their major and write a service project paper with ideas to alleviate poverty, a real problem in Belize.
Briggs and Baccera, both Keystone Honors Academy students at Cheyney, got very close to the PASSHE students who accompanied them, having spent four days at Mansfield University bonding prior to the two week-long trip, and spending virtually every day—morning, noon and night—with them while abroad. Both agree that this trip was a once in a lifetime experience—one they won’t soon forget.