The longest Barrier reef in the hemisphere, the most extensive cave system, the greatest percent of land mass in the region under protected area status, all in one tiny country? How fortunate can one destination be? In the protection of our marine and terrestrial resources coupled with active environmental awareness programs, Belizes vibrant tourism industry was unwittingly born.
In the summer of 2015, Rice Earth Science Professor André Droxler and a group of students headed to Mason, Texas, for a summer of drilling core samples in half-billion-year-old microbial reefs. It was there I had the first chance to watch the Swiss professor in action. The combination of his accent, love of geology and his working relationship with students made the trip worthwhile. Sitting around after a long day in the Texas summer, he noticed my Rice T-shirt with the slogan “Unconventional Wisdom” on the front. With a sly grin and in that distinct Swiss accent he asked, “What is this unconventional wisdom?”
Fast forward to the fall of 2016. I was lucky enough to accompany Droxler on another trip to the Caribbean Sea. This time it was with a group of students and industry experts snorkeling around the coral reefs about 30 miles off the coast in Belize. The trip was a part of Earth Science 516, a graduate level seminar course on the carbonates that form the reefs in Belize and how global change affects them.
Many of the opinions I heard from my colleagues before the trip was that I was getting a vacation to Belize. After watching Droxler and his group wake up at sunrise everyday, lecture for an hour, swim in the ocean for eight hours and then present their observations of the day until 9 p.m., I realized this was a lot of work for me and a lot of learning for the students.
Back to that question, and imagine in that distinct Swiss accent, “What is this unconventional wisdom?” Any university can book flights, boats and rooms in Belize. What is unconventional is a professor who has been going there for more than 30 years, who knows the owner of the island resort, who knows their daughter, freshly crowned as Miss Belize, and invites her on the boat with the students. Uncommon is when the professor brings along a former student who is now a leader in oil and gas to network with the current students. Unorthodox is when the professor books one of the country’s most popular native bands, The Garifuna Collective, to perform for them on the final night of the trip.