A Trip for the History Books

Steven Cowley was well-prepared for his trip to Belize this past January-Term.

Of course, he’s an adventurous, outdoorsy, easygoing guy with an interest in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and a major in History…so…this comes as no surprise.

The Archaeological Survey & Mapping J-Term program is a 2-week trip in the jungle, really. Students earn 4 credits by spending their weekdays getting hands-on training in field reconnaissance, and surveying and mapping ancient Maya archaeological sites.

And this all takes place in the Caribbean/Central American/jungle hybrid country that is Belize.

“On your two weekends you get the chance to really explore,” Cowley said about the program. “A lot of students go to the coast because it has that very beach-y, Caribbean feel.”

The program, which allowed Cowley to apply his passions for history and GIS mapping in the real world, gave him an experience he says he would otherwise never have had.

“I like to sign up for things that I have never experienced before and let them take me where they go,” When I interviewed Cowley before the trip, he admitted: “[…] My knowledge [of Belize’s archeological sites] is still more based on a lifetime of National Geographic articles rather than the real anthropology.”

He was excited to change that. And thanks to that excitement, the days before Cowley’s trip pretty much lacked all nervousness.

Which is a lot more than most soon-to-be study abroad students can say!

His levelheadedness before and during the trip comes from his preparedness. Cowley knew going into this that it was a short trip and he needed to make every moment count, and that’s exactly what he did. It was just a completely successful learning experience, Cowley said.

“The professors were so knowledgeable and professional, they made it all happen. It was a short trip, but it encompassed so much,” Cowley said. “And I think that was because [the professors] just know what they are doing now, after going on this trip for so many years. They make the adjustment easy for the students and a lot of learning happens.”

Cowley said that the trip was challenging physically, intellectually, and at the end of the day he was in a foreign country and, like many study abroad students, realized he needed to adjust his behavior and actions to suit the needs of the task at hand.

A challenge, indeed.

And a challenge is what Cowley wanted. This trip was a chance to continue learning about GIS systems, on top of the knowledge and experience he already had. It was a chance for Cowley to apply his studies and experience them in a real-world situation…

…in a short, action-packed amount of time.

553326_986144484733430_2410274037505511949_n“That’s why I chose the January program,” Cowley said. “It is a unique experience. It wasn’t a huge time commitment–which was the only way to make it work with my schedule–but it was still study abroad and it was still beneficial.”

Cowley described himself as not one of the “typical” study abroad students. He wasn’t looking for a semester-long extravaganza of foreign culture. (Not that that isn’t awesome, too). He wanted a time-sensitive challenge, wherein he could get a taste of history and GIS in a foreign country.

And that is what’s so great about J-Term!

“At the end of the day, I want people to know that it was awesome,” Cowley said. “It met all of my expectations.”

And that means it must have been really awesome, because Cowley’s expectations were pretty high. In the days leading up to his departure, he sent me a long message spelling out his hopes for the trip.

And he ended with this:

“I have always seen the past as full of narratives [that are just] as entertaining as any movie or novel around today, but…[the past’s] apparent inaccessibility is due to the complex nature of it being forgotten or buried in our limited memories of the past. However, much of it remains literally buried, and over the next two weeks I hope to get a comprehensive look at this tiny corner of the past. I know I can never see the whole picture in any sort of detail, but by closely studying a few snapshots, I can gain an appreciation for the depth of the history I would otherwise never be able to encounter.”

Cowley had some high hopes for this trip, and in just two short weeks, he says the trip met all of his expectations.

As a true study abroad experience, J-Term programs are not to be discounted.

Just ask Cowley, and he’ll tell you that he will remember his trip to Belize forever–just like every other study abroad student there ever was, no matter how long their stay.

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