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Belize is back

UofL's International Service Learning Program (ISLP) to Belize is back.

A few days ago, 27 students and 10 faculty and staff members departed for the Central American country where they will dedicate their spring break to helping others and enriching their own education.

You probably already know something about this program because it was thrust into the spotlight last year when four students and a chaperone were left behind prompting accusations of racism (all of the students left behind were African American). It was a serious blow the program. And yet, as often happens, it was during this time of duress that many great new ideas emerged for improving the program.

A task force headed by Arts and Sciences Dean Blaine Hudson took a hard look at the program. The team examined every flaw, both real and imagined, looking for ways to improve the program. Ultimately, from Blaine’s report and recommendations we made several changes, including:

  • Having fewer participants
  • Scheduling all student time in Belize
  • Making sure everyone stays together and the coordinator remains with students at all times
  • Determining in advance who will stay behind if there are travel glitches
  • Expanding the orientation session to clarify roles and expectations
  • Testing voice and data communications prior to departure
  • Requiring faculty members to “bookend” students during airline procedures

The truth is, we considered discarding this program altogether. But it soon became clear that the history and track record of the Belize trip didn’t support throwing it away. If anything, we need more programs like it. Our problems with the Belize trip seemed to be almost entirely procedural, so that’s the area we focused on as you can see from the above list.

Counting this year, the Belize program is eight years old. During those years, hundreds of our students have participated, enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience another culture, hone foreign language skills and help those in need.

So, Belize is back. I am happy and excited for this year’s travelers and confident that the experience will deeply enrich their lives.

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