The first week of my study abroad program was spent on a tiny island off the coast of southern Belize called Lime Caye. I am not sure exactly how big it is, but I think I could walk around the entire perimeter in around 5-10 minutes. There is no wifi or service on the island and spotty electricity and running water. Although this is quite different from my normal living circumstances, I was excited to take some time to disconnect from my phone and pour myself into the course.
We take an hour and half hour boat ride out to the island. I am on a boat that barely fits 6 people, and it was my first time on a boat in the ocean before. The ride was really fun, when we went over waves we would catch air and it felt kind of like a Disney ride the entire time. The rest of our class took a larger boat, and I have heard that ride was a lot smoother, but just as fun.
The island has one main gathering area, where we eat and spend most of our time together. I think this helped all of the students in the course get to know each other and form a good group dynamic between us. Every day on the island had a consistent schedule.
6:30 AM: Wake up (setting my alarm is basically the only thing I used my phone for the whole time + some occasional pictures) and
7:00 AM: Record data from an artificial reef that my research group built
7:30 AM: Breakfast
8:30 AM: Morning snorkel
12:30 PM: Lunch
2:30 PM: Afternoon snorkel or work on our group research project
7:00 PM: Dinner
8:00 PM: Lecture
Our schedule was busy and we did a lot of work every day, but it was a blast. A lot of our work also felt like free time. For example, we would work on journals in the gathering area between snorkels or after lectures at night, since that was one of our main assignments. Even though we were doing schoolwork, it was a great time to talk to each other and reflect on our experiences.
The actual snorkeling was amazing. It really felt like I was entering another planet, and I was definitely very overwhelmed by our first few snorkels. The corals and sponges are a bright assortment of purples, yellows, greens, and reds. The fish are even more vibrant and there we so many of them. During my first few snorkels around Lime Caye, there were many times when I would swim through giant schools of blue tang or sergeant majors and watch how the schools would split, sometimes reconvening and sometimes going on their separate ways. I saw pufferfish, nurse sharks, and even a family of Caribbean reef squid, whose curiosity caused them to hang out around us for almost 20 minutes.
We also had many fun and memorable experiences on the island itself. We spent a lot of time opening coconuts using the corners of the picnic tables and finding various ways to get ripe mangos off the mango tree on the island. During breakfast on our last morning there, there was a black tip reef shark that came up very close to the island, and we all ran to see.
Lime Caye kind of felt like a summer camp because of the limited phone use, bunkbeds, quick showers, and communal eating. It brought us closer together as a cohort and allowed us to experience the world’s second-largest barrier reef in an unforgettable way. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.