The University of Belize (UB) has relationships with numerous international learning institutions that have resulted in solid Memoranda of Understanding that improve cultural and educational knowledge between countries. For over a decade, UB students have represented Belize in exchange programs with Canada. On Thursday, November 14th, 2017 UB President Clement Sankat signed an agreement with Victoria Island University of British Columbia, Canada to further promote students and staff exchange between our Universities for the purpose of study, teaching and research. The agreement further opens doors for collaborative research projects, as well as exchange of information and publications of common interest. Mrs. Sharon Palacio-Moro, Coordinator of Student Services for UB, has been instrumental in this exchange program that is actively engaged with other institutions in Canada.
The Canada Bureau for International Education (CBIE) administers the Emerging Leaders of the Americas Program (ELAP). For the past eight years the Canadian government has funded ELAP and subsequently enriched the experience for UB students who spend a semester in North America. For 2017-2018, three UB students have taken the opportunity; two enrolled at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) and one at Huron University College (H.U.) in Canada.
The exchange program between UB and Huron University has been ongoing for 12 years. Erin Gabourel is the sole Belizean at the institution. “Being exposed to a new culture and academic influence, I am really inspired to be great, just by being a voice, and showing others from a well-developed country, that I am able to compete and learn at their level. It was culture shock when I saw that I was the only ‘black’ individual in three of my classes. Reflecting on it makes me want to strive for success even more. Despite the minority at the Huron being colored, I am propelled to make a difference.”
It’s been an arduous but blessed life for the 22 year old Belize City resident who is the third born of seven siblings. Erin says “I was reared by both parents Dana and Kenrick Gabourel. I am also a passionate youth pastor and worship leader at Merirh’s Ministries in Belize City. I grew up very poor, where I didn’t have the privilege to get the best clothing or food. My mom was a hard worker and ensured that her children had something to eat and that we all went to school. Sometimes noodles was all that we ate, but both parents taught me to be grateful of whatever we get to eat, because many may not have anything to eat. I have always told myself that I will make a difference and help my family in return.”
While at H.U., Gabourel is enrolled in Philosophy 2074 F (550): Business Ethics; Philosophy 2500 F: Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge; Psychology 2221 A- Introduction to the Biological Basis of Behavior; and Psychology 2550 A, Section 550- Introduction to Personality Theory and Research. These courses complement her major at UB. She chose Social Work and Counselling as her career path, because it involves the persistent efforts of reaching out to the well-being of others. She is at the end of a four year joint Associates and Bachelor’s Degree in the Social Work Program at UB and reflects on those who have helped her. “My four years at the University has been a struggle, as my adopted mom, Apostle Suzette Massiah is paying my way through college. There were also times where my Area Representative, the Honorable Wilfred Elrington would also assist me through the Ministry of Education, in order to pay my way through school. My adopted mom took me under her wings and taught me about the qualities of life and she introduced me to the finer things in life. She encouraged me to know that I am able to overcome poverty by determination and hard work. She was the first to tell me that I am beautiful, and also the one who taught me the Word of God, which has enabled me to be an Ordained Youth Minister of the Word of God. I know that with persistent determination, the right support, and God on my side that I can do anything and most of all, I can make it.”
UB has been an exchange partner with Thompson Rivers University for 14 years and counting. Eldon August was born and raised in Belize City. In 2015 he received an athletic scholarship from the University of Belize where he decided to pursue an Associate’s Degree in Marine Biology. The 21 year old UB student is taking Natural Resource Management courses during his semester at Thompson Rivers University. August has been impressed by the advanced technology and the different styles of teaching he has encountered. “The UB-Canada exchange has helped me to grow and it shows me how far behind we are as a country. Canada is very advanced but I have been able to adapt to the country, the speed and its climate.”
His drive to succeed comes from being focused on family. “As a child, the only figure that I saw as my role model and support was my mother, Michelle Young. I grew up in a single parent household along with my sister Alisha. No father there for us. He left my mother from a young age. Seeing how my mother sacrificed and devoted her life for us to have big aspirations and dreams, I knew I wanted to become a better person and be accomplished and stable in life. Growing up with a single parent wasn’t easy. My mother struggled and worked her way just for us to have the basic things that we needed.”
“During all the rough times and moments of despair the only way I could have kept my thoughts and emotions together was when I found a passion for basketball. The people who inspired me to play basketball were my cousins. We were of the same age and in the evenings, young boys would get together and play and interact with each other. When I was there playing, I felt for that instance, I had issues under control while negative thoughts were kept at bay. From since then, I dedicated myself to learn the sport. I played at school regional competition and National Team. The program that helped to developed me as the athlete and person I am today was an extension of the Belize Bank Bulldogs. I also got the chance to play in an international tournament as a Bulldog, an amazing experience.”
Ashley Middleton has immersed herself into the cultural experience at Thompson Rivers University. She wanted to live in another environment to enhance her overall learning. “I love travelling. I wanted to meet new people and learn a different culture and I also believed that if I studied away from home, it would help me become independent and mature. I’ve learned to be more independent in terms waking up for school on my own (not depending on my parents to wake me up), as well as making decisions for myself. I am in a little community! The University has places to eat, apartments, a clinic, sports facilities, everything you need is right on campus. The university looks out for its students. I’ve also learned a few things about myself, that is, I am not good at confrontations and I am very sensitive.”
But the sensitive and socially active student is taking Human resource Management, Hospitality Law, Sociology, and Events Tourism as part of the UB exchange with Thompson Rivers University. The 20 year old student has lived a sheltered life and the exchange is one way that she wanted to achieve growth. Reflecting on her family in Belize has given clarity to her path. Two of her aunts possess Masters Degrees in Business Administration and she observed their rise in management positions upon their return to Belize. “I think it is they who inspired me. I said to myself, ‘If they can do it at age 48, then I can definitely pursue my masters by age 25.’”
The exchange has also led to her realizing a very specific career goal. As Middleton reflects on the semester she recalls “There’s this specific instructor that made an impact on what I really want to do in Tourism. His name is Billy Collins. He lectures my Event Tourism class. This is the first time I’ve ever taken a class pertaining to events. He opened up my mind to want to study more about events, and I could probably organize events throughout Belize. Hence, I am going to pursue a degree in Events Management. My future is clear now that I know what I really want to become.”
Upon her return to Belize, Ashley intends to complete her courses at UB to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Tourism Management; work in the industry to gain experience and follow the steps of her aunts and pursue a Master’s Degree. She intends to give back to UB and Belize by becoming skilled as an events planner. “I can come back and help plan events based on what I’ve learned. I feel like my way of giving back to UB is telling people about our wonderful country and University. I feel like that gesture alone, is giving back because more people will visit Belize and our University.”
Eldon August is taking things a little slower as he hasn’t thought about the future and is more concerned with current events and accomplishments. “I have always been about giving back. Knowledge and talent aren’t things to keep within yourself. Whatever knowledge or talent you have you can teach others and help them to sharpen their skills.”
Huron University has helped Erin Gabourel to prepare for her career. She hopes to pursue a Masters in Clinical Psychology in Canada. “I am hoping to be one of the best Clinical Psychologists, or maybe the best Family Counselor in Belize. I will also be able to give back in service to The University of Belize and my country. I will be a developed individual, prepared to take on challenges that I may face within the profession.”
The study abroad experience overall has been enriching for Eldon August. It has assisted Ashley Middleton to determine the specific career she wants to pursue, while Erin Gabourel has become more spiritually motivated in her calling to pursue the social sciences. These students have been given not only a scholarship but an opportunity to engage in a developed country, Canada, its culture and way of life while being able to reflect and consider the path they want to follow as stewards of the University of Belize.
UB President Clement Sankat believes students should be engaged with peers at partner institutions. As these International Exchanges enhance their vistas of the future, better preparing themselves for the global world we live in, mutual understanding, collaboration and cooperation for a better Belize and the world would be achieved. Links with international centers of excellence are not limited to Canada, President Sankat has dialogued with institutions in Mexico on behalf of UB and currently holds a leadership position in Consejo Superior Universitario Centroamericano (CSUCA – Central American Higher Education Council). He intends to pursue the development of the internationalisation agenda at UB focusing on strong academics, sporting and cultural relationships and sharing of resources, especially among the institutions in Central America.