Students ‘Brush Death’ on Study Abroad Trip

By Anna Konczak

Fifteen students had the opportunity of a lifetime.

Dylan Handlin, Bridget Hunkins, Mollie Rueter, Kelli Roskamp, Seth Beatty, Kevin Turnbow, Abbey Elsie, Bobbie Eastman, Lauren Nadler, Rachel Holtmeyer, Rita Kanaeva, Samantha Jacobson, Taylor Kisticevich, Kay Bettendorf, and Bridget Regan were able to see their classrooms come to life during Christmas break.

“We had planned a trip to Peru a year previous but it didn’t fill with students so we couldn’t go, but that one cost maybe twice as much.. So were trying to keep the cost of the trips down so more students can go,” Coehlo said.

College can be very expensive, which is why Dr. Boccardi and Dr. Coehlo try to keep their annual trips as cheap and short as possible, that way students can afford to study abroad.

“I know for me, I’ve always wanted that study abroad experience. Being an athlete here, I actually never have. It was hard for me to because you’re always mandated to be at all these different events and activities for football or any other sport,” Handlin said.

View from the plane while flying over Belize

Once their plane arrived in Belize, the group took a five hour bus ride to their destination. The group’s first stop was at Blue Creek Rainforest Reserve on the mainland. Here, they stayed in cabins. The group utilized their surroundings and went on many different adventures. One adventure was iguana hunting.

“I don’t know who came up with this idea but the iguana hunt is like a tourists’ dream,” Coehlo said.

The group hunted for iguanas by hiking through a stream until they got to where the trees overhang the water. Part of the process was climbing up into the tree that the iguanas are sitting in and shaking the branches. When scared, the iguanas will fall into the water and try to swim away as their defense mechanism. The group formed a line in the stream so when the iguana tries to swim away they could catch it. To catch it, they had to grab the neck and the tail and hold it up. After this process, the iguana became very calm.

“It was really crazy. I’ve had pet iguanas and everyone of them was mean. They would bite you and tailwhip you at every chance. So the fact that this feral population of iguanas is tame, is weird,” Coehlo said.

Kay Bettendorf holding iguana

Up-close image of one of the iguanas the group caught

Another activity the group had the opportunity to participate in was cave swimming.

“The way up to the cave is just a bunch of rocks and waterfalls. It almost felt unreal. I was like ‘there’s no way that this exists in the world’,” Bettendorf said.

Their next stop was Salt Water Cay on an island off the mainland in the Caribbean. The only way to get there was by a 45 minute boat ride with someone they didn’t know.

“We boarded this super sketchy boat, like the one you see on the sides of cruise ships. And so we gave this guy our luggage and at this point I’m like ‘whatever, okay here ya go’. Then the other dude pulled up. We got to know the captain but at first we had no idea who he was and were like ‘this guy could really suck out there ya know, we’re just trusting him with our lives.’ and that was a lot of the time too, we just trusted people. I didn’t realize how big that was on vacation. How much you just trust someone else,” Bettendorf said.

The food the group ate was food that was freshly caught and prepared that day. They were served salsa, coconut gravy, banana jam, and other local favorites. Like any other Caribbean country, their meal base was rice and beans. They also had the chance to experience the culture by seeing how people made cocoa and their own medicine.

Their last night in paradise wasn’t calm. A magnitude 7.8 earthquake shook the Caribbean. The quake could be felt in the Honduran capital.

Map of the 7.6 mag. earthquake that shook the Caribbean while the students were still in Belize.

U.S authorities declared that hazardous tsunami waves were possible off the coast of Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, Cuba and more.

Belize is one foot above sea level and is located on the gulf of where the quake hit. Dr. Coehlo remained especially calm during the warning because he knew if the earthquake had occurred on Honduran land, there was not enough water between them to generate a tsunami. However, once he arrived back to the United States, he looked up the news article about the tsunami and found that the quake did not happen on Honduran land. Rather, it was in Honduran water where there was more than enough ocean to generate a tsunami.

“If you’re counting the number of times you’ve brushed with death in your life, I think that counts as one,” Coehlo said.

The lodge workers went door to door to give each person a life jacket. They also urged everyone to go to the highest point of the island if the tsunami hit.

“I thought the life jackets were like ‘okay maybe were going to get in a boat and try to go back to the mainland and try to beat this out’ but that would have been a dumb idea. Now that I think about it, we had the life jackets so we could float just in case the water came up that high,” Bettendorf said.

Fortunately, the tsunami never swept through the country and the students were able to return home as planned and take all of their new found, first-hand knowledge to the classroom.

“I think you have to get over that you’re not always going to be clean but whenever you just kind of realize this is a learning experience but also at the same time it’s one of the most fun things you’re probably going to do in your entire life, that is what overcame everything else,” Bettendorf said.

 Both professors allow students in any major to register for study abroad trips. 


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