Natalie Holmes - CFANS Study Abroad Program

Term: May 2017

Program: Coral Reef Management in Belize

International Learning Grant and Go Global Grant receiver.


At the beginning of this semester, after getting to meet all my lovely peers that I’d be traveling with, my goals for this course consisted of: receiving confirmation of my love for the ocean and all that it has to offer, gaining confidence in my ability to travel abroad for future research purposes, and to accumulate comfortability in traveling and conducting research with my peers. Out of all my goals for this trip, one that I didn’t voice was becoming a more cultured person. I was expecting less of a cultural impact than I received, which is why this was not a goal I had voiced at the start of the seminar.

I was really surprised to at the feeling of being such a small part of the world we live in. I had only felt this feeling on my mission trip to Haiti several summers ago, but I believe that this is the “life changing” feeling so many people talk about when they travel. As so many people hope to make a difference in the world during their lifetime, this “feeling” is such a good reminder that while it is so important to have dreams for the future, there are so many people in the world with similar hopes and dreams.

Traveling to Belize helped show me how big our world is and how there is so much that I don’t know about the rest of the world, not only outside of Minnesota, but the entire United States. I was able to recognize the privileges that I have, such as going to a college, that have provided me with the possibilities to experience other cultures and travel.


I have always known what type of field I hope to be a part of after I graduate, so learning from a marine conservation course abroad aided me greatly in my Conservation Biology major and Marine Biology minor. Especially now, after our trip to Belize, my future career will involve research, SCUBA diving, traveling, and conserving the oceans. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to studying abroad and researching the oceans.

I am now more confident with research methods and being prepared for the physical demands of performing the types of research that I strive to do. I practiced leading reef questions, which helped me understand how to form and revise research questions as well as work on leading groups to collect data. Although I still do not have any more clarity on what specific research I want to do in the future, I have come to appreciate a few new ecosystems of the ocean that I never thought I would learn about. I would still love to go on another shorter study abroad trip within the next year or two; ideally travel through a UROP opportunity or with NSE to travel and complete courses in another state that will go toward my major or minors.


The scholarships that I earned to help fund this trip required me to blog about this trip and to create a video of my experience. I was so honored to have more responsibilities that would allow me to be the more interactive and connected with the experience. Documenting our trip and keeping records of how the experience impacted me and all of my peers was beneficial to me in so many ways. I was able to make better connections with my classmates, ensure I was immersed in the once in a lifetime experience, and practice photography in a new setting. This extra task impacted my personal life, academic, and professional life for the better and I would suggest this trip to anyone interested. I was able to get more out of this trip in ways I had not expected.

A fresh view of the world, more confidence in becoming the researcher I hope to be some day, and establishing a fun and comfortable environment with my peers are just a few of the ways I was most pleasantly surprised by my experience in Belize. 

Check out Natalie's blog to hear more about her day to day experience!