This program combines academic and experiential learning. Academics include required readings, lectures, directed observations, and group discussions. The experiential mode includes the careful observation of tropical forest and local cultures. This approach to learning requires students to be mature, responsible, determined, perceptive, motivated and patient. Academic learning is more demanding on the road, trail, and in a foreign country than it is on campus. Experiential learning requires students to derive understanding from experience, an approach which runs counter to much of one's previous education. Maturity and self-responsibility are necessary for this program to work well for you.
Because of the difficulties of living in a tropical environment, we do less backpacking than other Sierra Institute programs. We will often travel on public transportation, stay in modest hotels, and eat in local restaurants. However, we will make two or three multi-day backcountry trips and take numerous day hikes. A sense of adventure, the willingness to endure some physical hardships and inconveniences, and the flexibility to adapt to shifting circumstances will be essential. Enrollment is limited to 13 students to ensure individual attention. Please note that we do not visit the typical tourist highlights of Belize. You may want to allow time to explore before or after the program.
Please note that a snorkeling expedition is planned in conjunction with the curriculum. Anticipated costs to rent masks, fins and snorkels is included in the “Personal Expenses During Program” portion. Students who are unable to swim will be given an alternate assignment to complete on land.
Spanish language Although it is not required, Spanish language will be a great asset to students on this program, as it is the national language of Guatemala. The national language of Belize is English. Some of our guest speakers, and most of the knowledgeable local people who we meet may not speak English. Students will sometimes be traveling in small groups on public transportation. Spanish speakers in the group will be expected to help out in translation. Ideally, all students will have some grasp of the language. Therefore, we strongly encourage students to brush up on rusty Spanish or to take a course prior to the program. We suggest, if time allows, that students enroll in one of the very inexpensive, intensive one-on-one Spanish schools in Antigua or other town in Guatemala. More information about these schools is available upon acceptance.
Although it is not required, Spanish language will be a great asset to students on this program, as it is the national language of Guatemala. The national language of Belize is English. Some of our guest speakers, and most of the knowledgeable local people who we meet may not speak English. Spanish speakers in the group will be expected to help out in translation. Ideally, all students will have some grasp of the language.
Please remember that these are academic programs. Learning in the field is very exciting, but remember that coursework is extensive and faculty expectations are high. You should be prepared to work hard with quizzes, exams, and class presentations as part of the process. Also, we want to have a great time together as a group. Drugs of any kind, or inappropriate personal conduct, are not part of the Sierra Institute experience. The Sierra Institute reserves the right to dismiss anyone who is a danger to the land, herself/himself, or other group members.
Safety In Belize and Guatemala Belize and eastern Guatemala are, in general, safe. We will abide by US consulate recommendations regarding international travel. Backpacking in Belize, however, is challenging, and similar to travel in Alaska or Canada in that there is less infrastructure in the Third World for safety support services and distances from hiking areas to towns and cities are greater. In the rainforest there are few marked trails and less visitor facilities than in the U.S. We will not have vehicles at trailheads, in general, since we will be using public transportation. (This practice is common in Belize.) Emergencies services are limited—there are fewer evacuation/emergency response teams, doctors, hospitals, helicopters, and the like. If an accident occurs, your instructors and classmates will likely be the first responders. We are trained in wilderness first aid but we are not health-care professionals. Before applying you need to be aware of the risks inherent in traveling in Third World wilderness areas, including but not limited to difficulties in obtaining medical treatment and other issues mentioned above. Insurance You are required to have personal medical insurance coverage during the program's duration.
If you do not own backpacking and travelling gear, you will have to acquire a number of potentially expensive items. Here is a brief list of required equipment. (A detailed list will be sent upon acceptance): tent (lightweight, waterproof, well ventilated); backpack (large capacity, must hold your gear plus some group food and gear, preferably internal frame.); pack raincover; sleeping bag or light blanket (very lightweight, synthetic fill or lightweight fleece sleepsack); sleeping pad (light, collapsible); boots (lightweight with nylon/leather uppers; all-leather boots are not recommended as they will be too warm); waterproof rain gear; personal first aid supplies; durable compact headlamp or flashlight and supply of batteries; water bottles; daypack; stuff sacks; knife; good binoculars; watch.