See It to Belize It!

Kate Gilliland, Opinions Editor

From jungle to beaches and bustling cities to reserved towns, the Central American country of Belize has so much to offer. A young, developing country between Mexico and Guatemala has everything thrill seeking travelers search for: cave tubing, ziplining, snorkeling and so much more.

But Belize is not only for thrill seekers. It also offers relaxing beaches, great food, and a rich Mayan culture and history.

Over North Allegheny’s spring break, NASH juniors and seniors departed for Belize on April 3, accompanied by six chaperones. The group was led by NASH Social Studies teacher Mr. Pirring.

“Seeing the growth in the students from the beginning of the week to the end of the week was extraordinary,” said Pirring. “A foreign trip like this in many ways can be life-altering.”

Pirring has been on five of these trips, having led three. Unfortunately, due to COVID, the trips were put on pause, but the district allowed for their return this year.

“I forgot how amazing taking students across the world was. To say I am motivated more than ever to do this is an understatement,” Pirring said. “To have a student say that you made the best day of their life possible is pretty amazing.”

These trips allow students to learn about a culture different from their own and experience that culture as well. Belize is not a common topic in school classrooms, so most students knew very little about the county’s culture and history before this trip.

“There was much more diversity amongst the people there than I originally expected.” said senior Julia Pitell. “There were the Creoles, Mayans, Mennonites, Hispanics, and more, and each of their identities was showcased in different aspects of their collective Belize culture, united under their nationality.”

Students got the opportunity to see and experience things they could not have done anywhere else.

“My favorite part of the Belize trip was experiencing things I didn’t even know existed,” senior Jackson Pross said. “I loved creating very close relationships with friends and with people I didn’t even know that well.”

I want to try to change the mindset about what we should value in life and, personally, I choose experiences over possessions.

— Mr. Pirring, NASH Social Studies Teacher

These trips also allow students the opportunity to meet new people and connect with their peers differently.

“The activities we did really allowed for the ability to meet new people and form new friend groups,” said junior Kendall Hanes. “It allowed me to talk to people I don’t think I would have talked to outside of school.”

International student travel also gives teens the opportunity to be independent from their parents and see the world while doing it.

“For many students who are going off to college next year, this is a perfect opportunity for them to become more independent,” said Pirring.

Pirring works with the tour company EF Tours to plan and organize his trips. EF has led all five trips Pirring has been on, and next year, he is working with EF again to take students to Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Signups are open now.

“To anyone who is on the fence about a trip, just remember that not a single person who has gone on a school trip like this has regretted it,” said Pross. “So what does that say about what your experience will be like?”

Though many people do not regret going on trips like this, some still worry about the safety of going to another country without parents.

“First of all, safety is EF’s and my first concern. EF would not put you in any dangerous situations,” said Pirring. “So many parents and kids fear the unknown, but I have found everywhere I have gone people are friendly wherever you go … as long as you are friendly to them.”

By joining a tour led by a person native to that country, students get the opportunity to learn about the country from the point of view of someone who lives there.

“I am trying really hard to change the way people think. I find that Americans care so much about possessions and things,” Mr. Pirring, “I want to try to change the mindset about what we should value in life and, personally, I choose experiences over possessions.”