Nineteen UI students spent nine days in Belize over spring break improving the livelihoods of others through entrepreneurial action. They worked hand-in hand with local entrepreneurs in a Maya village in Southern Belize. The trip was lead by the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (Iowa JPEC) and was the third time faculty took students to this location as a part of the International Entrepreneurship and Culture course. Students learned about global entrepreneurship by experiencing what it is like to do business in a developing country. Students also enjoyed cultural activities and historical sites as they learned about the rich history of Belize. Karly Lent (Journalism and Enterprise Leadership, 20) shared her experience with us below.


What local business did you work with while in Belize?
I got to help a married couple, Elia and Gustavo, who own a farm and coconut oil business called “Fito’s Fresh Organic Coconut Oil.” Our mission upon arriving was to enhance their marketing in hopes to reach more people aside from just word of mouth. Once there, we realized they also needed help with transporting their coconut oil, because the demand for it is so high. We helped create labels for their coconut oil bottles, business cards, and also helped Elia figure out her profit margins. Simple things like knowing how much they make per bottle was information we could help them gather that would help their business model in the future. We also helped the couple look at their business in a new perspective; brainstorming and giving our advice for improvements. I also got to experience making the coconut oil and the process is extremely physically demanding. After spending time with them, my biggest take away was seeing the passion Elia has for her business. I learned that her coconut oil business requires a lot of physical work, and her passion is what drives the business. Elia and Gustavo work around 12-14 hours a day on their farm to produce the coconut oil. To me, this demonstrated just how important it is to find that passion in whatever I do.

Click here to watch students make coconut oil with some locals (video produced by Karly Lent).

What were some of the “adventures” you got to experience on this trip?
When we weren’t working with local businesses, we were able to experience the culture in Belize. We made authentic Mayan chocolate, went snorkeling at Snake Caye, took drum lessons from a master Creole drummer, and swam in the Blue Creek Caves. My favorite activity was probably the caves because the trek to get to the caves was difficult, but fun to experience with the group. It was unlike any cave I’ve ever been in since you’re swimming and can only see with a headlamp; otherwise it’s completely pitch black in there!

What was a lesson you learned through your experience in Belize?
Something that stuck with me from my time there was how environmentally friendly and sustainable Belize is. They rarely use plastic or single-use food items, like granola bars or bags of chips. Almost all the food we ate there was fresh and grown in that area. If they happened to use a plastic bag or bottle, they reused it more than once. Coming back to Iowa, I became more conscious of my everyday decisions that affect the Earth and how these practices can be applied to business.

What advice would you give to a student considering this trip after learning more about entrepreneurship on a global scale?
I would tell them to go on a trip like this and be open-minded. The experiences my class went through were unlike anything I could have experienced in the U.S., so it's important to be open to trying new things and meeting new people. While In Belize, I formed tight-knit relationships with the other UI students that went, and I was surprised with just how fast I was able to do that. The trip itself was beneficial for me because I saw the coconut products being made from scratch. It also opened by eyes to the wage issues in the United States and how underpaid some areas are. Aside from that, the experience was literally hands-on. I physically grinded coconuts and got my hands dirty on Elia’s farm. It’s one thing to see a video of this process, but it’s another to go through it yourself. I think experimental learning, like my trip to Belize, should be required for every student because it changes your life. It showed me how different life can be in different parts of the world, and I loved that.

Learn more about international experiences here