The Tropical Research and Education Center (TREC) in San Pedro, Belize, has always felt like home to me, and for the past seven years I have felt honored to share this experience with the students at EF Academy New York. When students ask me to describe TREC, I say, “it has accommodations that feel like summer camp, learning experiences that feel like university, and staff that feels like family.”
Senior, Micah, summed up the trip in one word, “simplicity.” He said it was nice to be reminded that there can be so much joy in the simple things we sometimes take for granted.
In a world filled with resort destinations trying to be the biggest, best and most lavish, it is refreshing to walk down a muddy, unpaved road shaded by palms and mangroves. To pass by smiling faces on the porches of homes and businesses aged by the salty winds off the sea and the hurricanes that visit in summer. To be nourished by simple home cooked meals made with care and the freshest of ingredients, not to mention tortillas made from scratch. To find refuge in a tattered hammock in the garden with a good book in hand. To slip into the warm pool after a grueling five-hour swim among the corals and fish on the reef. To eventually surrender to the slow internet speed, and instead play a game of Uno with peers or grab a fish identification guide from the shelf to learn more about the creatures encountered early that day.
Many times, students ask if we will scuba dive. They are disappointed when I say it is a snorkel trip only. They usually ask why, but I have never had a good way to explain the beauty of exploring the reef with only a mask, snorkel and a pair of fins. But now I do: the joy of simplicity. I hope they see the joy in challenging themselves to swim deeper and hold their breath longer. Without the hissing of the regulator, they will hear the symphony performing for them under the water’s surface. Rainbow parrotfish chomping on coral, the percussion of snapping shrimp and the peculiar grunts of the toadfish all seemingly playing in tune. It is a simple song, but no doubt a joyous one.
*Pictured is Seungyeon (Sam), lost in the simple joys of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.