Celebrating Earth Day

Students from Keene High School in Keene, New Hampshire helped BFREE staff celebrate Earth Day by planting seeds. This is Keene High School teacher, Matt Brady’s, fourth trip to Belize and to BFREE. He is joined by fellow teachers, Christine Gillis, Monica Foley, and Jodie Ballaro. Their group was scheduled to come to the field station in 2020 but was cancelled due to the pandemic. They tried again last year with no luck. This makes us especially thrilled to host them in 2022.

In a BFREE interview with Mark Canti and Jonathan Dubon on Facebook Live for Earth Day, Matt described why he wanted to return. “BFREE is a really special place for lots of reasons. I’m really happy to be here to meet young people like you. People who contribute to the ecology of the area and are conservationists. That is very important to me, the way BFREE is set up to keep young people coming in from the area. This is why we keep coming back.”

In a surprising turn of events for dry season, it began raining at 9am during the student orientation. The rain continued throughout the morning and into the afternoon, but this didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. The students continued their orientation and tour of the facilities. After lunch, everyone divided into groups for service projects. Nine students helped with planting germinated cacao seeds in the nursery. An additional fourteen students helped at the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center where they assisted in a project to improve the exterior fence. The remainder of the students supported the long-term large mammal research project by checking camera traps on the property.

We are grateful that Matt, Christine, Monica and Jodie worked so hard to come back to BFREE this year.

2017 BFREE Field Courses

BFREE 2017 Field Course Season wraps up this month with 172 students and instructors visiting the Field Station from as far as Scotland and Alaska. Eleven courses in total, including two junior colleges and one primary school from Belize, all traveled to our small slice of paradise off the Southern Highway.

BFREE field courses are each uniquely developed by the lead instructors and BFREE staff. Courses are created to reflect each school’s curriculum and goals. While each group is different, visitors to BFREE share many similar challenging and rewarding experiences.

Upon arrival to Belize, each group is welcomed at the airport by a BFREE Tour Guide. If you have the pleasure to be greeted by Nelly Cadle then you know you are in for a treat! Nelly’s experience, knowledge, and passion for her country and work are hard to match.

The hike from the Southern Highway to the BFREE Field Station is a memory hard to forget. Traversing several distinct habitats, each with unique plants and animals, leads you to the Bladen River, towering cecropia trees, and your final destination — The BFREE Field Station.

While at BFREE, groups not only learn about the various ongoing program work but have the chance to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty with first-hand experience supporting BFREE’s conservation initiatives. Students have the opportunity to visit the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center (HCRC), a breeding and research facility for the critically endangered hicatee turtle as well as the 15-acre cacao and coffee agroforest, home to over 12,000 cacao trees.

Assigned by their instructors, many students are tasked with developing research questions and collecting preliminary data while spending several days working on independent projects.

Students may choose to participate in various field experiments such as conducting river studies in the Bladen River, setting up small mammal traps for the Small Mammal Community Study or surveying selected plots in the Fruit Phenology Study.

In addition to the BFREE Field Station, many groups incorporate a marine component, learning about the second largest barrier reef system in the world, snorkeling from various islands around Belize.

There is nothing quite like traveling to a remote field station deep in a tropical rainforest to create memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.

On behalf of all of us at BFREE, we would like to extend a sincere thank you to all of the instructors, administrators, students, and parents that helped make the 2017 BFREE Field Season one of the best yet! We can’t wait to see you all again!

If you are interested in visiting BFREE, whether it be a student group, family vacation, solo adventure or interest in volunteering, we would be thrilled to have you! Contact BFREE Program Coordinator, Tyler Sanville at for more information.


2017 BFREE Field Courses 


For even more Field Course information check out these links below: 

University of Richmond Story Map

Click the link above to visit the University of Richmond’s Story Map put together by the fourteen students that visited BFREE this year.

Vermont Commons School Video: Belize is Our Classroom!

Vermont Commons School creates a compelling video documenting their trip to BFREE, check it out on YouTube: Belize is Our Classroom! 

Volunteer with BFREE

BFREE is now looking for volunteers to work with HCRC Manager, Tom Pop and the nearly 70 newly hatched hicatee turtles. Visit the link below for more info!

BFREE flickr Page

Find even more photos from the 2017 BFREE Field Course season on flickr!

Slideshow on Student Alumni Facebook Group

Watch all the group photos from 2017 in this slideshow on the BFREE Student Alumni Group Page. If you are a student alum, be sure to follow along!








Belize is Our Classroom

Vermont Commons School Educators, Jennifer Cohen and Mark Cline Lucey on the beach of Placencia at the end of their student trip to Belize in January.

Vermont Commons School Educator, Social Studies Department Chair and Research & Service Program Director, Mark Cline Lucey is no stranger to Belize or the BFREE Field Station. Having first met BFREE Executive Director, Jacob Marlin, during his junior year of college while studying abroad in Belize. Mark returned several years later to live and work from the BFREE Field Station. In 2004, Mark joined the team at Vermont Commons School and soon after, he and Vermont Commons School English Instructor, Jennifer Cohen, began bringing student groups to Belize. Mark and Jennifer are passionate advocates for both Belize and BFREE having traveled with more than five student groups over the last ten years.

Mark and Jennifer both have an intimate knowledge of the players, wildlife, cultures and the developmental and political issues facing Belize. This depth of knowledge and understanding shines through their incredibly informational and inspiring field courses year after year.

We are so fortunate to work with many educators like Mark and Jennifer who are deeply invested in their students as well as the BFREE mission. Together we strive to inspire students to be global citizens, who care about their environment and recognize their role to take positive action.

Check out Mark and Jennifer’s group of incredibly smart and talented students and receive a glimpse of a BFREE field course through their eyes by watching this student made short-film documenting their trip to Belize in January, 2017:




Making Chocolate at BFREE

cacao in the rainforest

Operations Manager, Elmer Tzalam, introduces students to how cacao grows in the rainforest. Photo by Graham Byers.

The 2017 field season is well underway! In late January, Vermont Commons High School returned to BFREE to participate in a field course. The group explored the rainforest, participated in homestays with Maya families in Golden Stream Village and traversed the coastal town of Placencia.

A highlight of the trip was making chocolate from scratch at the BFREE Field Station. The journey began with a tour of the cacao demonstration farm led by Operations Manager, Elmer Tzalam. There students harvested ripe pods and, after cracking them open, were able to taste the sweet pulp that surrounds a cacao bean before biting into the dark chocolate bean.

removing a cacao pod from the tree

Student carefully removes a pod from a cacao tree. Photo by Graham Byers.

The group followed beans from the tree, through the fermentation process, to sun-drying, then peeling, pan roasting, and grinding until it was time to pour the liquid chocolate into molds and – finally – eat!

fermentation of cacao

Students remove beans from fermenting boxes. Photo by Mark Cline Lucey.

hand-making chocolate

BFREE Field Course Leader, Nelly Cadle, helps a student fill the chocolate molds. Photo by Mark Cline Lucey.

roasting cacao beans

Students roast the cacao beans in cast iron skillets. Photo by Mark Cline Lucey.


Home Stay: A Day in the Life


An exciting part of many study abroad programs is a homestay. A homestay allows you to see how Belizeans truly live and immerses you into the culture. While staying at the BFREE station and campsites will show you a lot of Belize, the homestay will allow you to gain a better perspective of the culture while connecting with local families on a personal level.

A typical home in southern Belize, is very simple and minimally furnished. While it may appear very different than what you are used to, you will soon discover that everything you need is there.  There is generally one large room that is the main living area outfitted with hammocks, a table and a few chairs. The kitchen may be part of this main room or it could be a separate thatched structure.  Toilets and bathing areas are private areas outside of the main house. Families often have farm animals such as chickens and pigs.

1909606_507664749016_1073_n_30230706674_oThe family you will be staying with is pre-approved by the BFREE staff and each family is so excited to share their home with you. Families usually have small children who will be eager to meet you and some of the family members will speak English. Meals are eaten with your host family and you should ask to help cook – it is truly an incredible experience and a great way to get to know your family better! A typical meal consists of tortillas, chicken, beans, rice and vegetables.  If you have any dietary restrictions, such as allergies or intolerances, let BFREE know and we will notify your family in advance.

1909606_507664180156_9424_n_30746415022_oBelizeans tend to be fairly shy, especially the women, so don’t be offended if they seem hesitant to get to know you. Come prepared to tell a few stories about what your life is like and to ask a few questions about their life. You can even show pictures of your house and your family. If you would like to take a photo of your host family or a photo with the family, please make sure you ask permission first. Photos are still not very common in their culture so their approval is important. If you look at photos of students with their homestay families you may notice not many people are smiling. Their facial expression doesn’t mean they’re upset, rather they simply approach photos differently than we do.


While not required, you are encouraged to bring a small gift for your homestay family to thank them for opening their homes and lives to you. Some typical gifts that the families love are kitchen items such as hand towels, spatulas and spoons, and gifts for the children such as books, soccer balls or board games. In Belize it is hard to come across these items, and when they do the items are incredibly expensive. Gifts are not only useful to the family, they serve as reminder of your visit and your new friendship.

The homestay family will teach you what it is like to live in Belize and introduce you to a different way of life. The students won’t be the only ones learning though, each homestay family is excited to get to know you and learn about your life in the states. The families are ready for you, get excited for them.


10 Tips for a Successful Trip!

thumbnail_10-tips-bannerPreparing to study abroad can be a hectic time, you’re about to jump into a new environment with a different culture and it may be your first time out of the country.  Don’t sweat it, BFREE is here to help. With our ten tips for a successful trip you are bound to have an amazing and unforgettable time in Belize.

1. Write it out

  • Write letters to family and friends, or journal about the trip. Jotting down your thoughts is the best way to remember your adventure for years to come!

2. Stay hydrated

  • This is not only important for your health, but for your mentality. You want to stay alert and ready for everything coming up, you won’t want to miss a second!

3. Get to know your group

  • This not only includes the other students on the trip, but also your group leaders, BFREE staff, and the people of Belize. Make some new connections, you never know what new friendships you might make!

4. Stay in tune with your body

  • Feeling tired? Take a break. Feeling sick? Let someone know. Listen to what your body tells you, it’s pretty important!

5. Be adventurous

  • You’re in a new country, try something new. Face your fear of heights, taste food you’ve never seen before, and don’t be afraid to get dirty!

6. Spend some time alone

  • Everyone says you truly find yourself when you study abroad, so take some time and you might just find something amazing.

7. Ask for help

  • You have an endless support system while you’re in Belize. If you have questions or need a little bit of guidance reach out! There are people there for you.

8. Respect and embrace change

  • Life in Belize is very different than here in the United States. Be prepared for these changes and embrace them!

9. Listen carefully and have fun

  • The staff and guides have so much information they want to share with you to ensure you are safe and you have a great trip. So stay tuned in and have fun!!

10. Get excited

  • Traveling abroad is an incredible opportunity, dare we say life changing. This unforgettable experience is unlike any other, so get excited! We can’t wait to meet you!


2016 Field Courses

BFREE  hosted 210 students and instructors through our field courses this season. Groups came from the United States and from within Belize to engage in hands-on learning.  While at BFREE, students were introduced to on-going conservation projects at the field station like the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center and the cacao and coffee agroforest. Some students took the opportunity to participate in the Small Mammal Community study established in 2015 and just introduced to field courses this year.  They also participated in hikes and river walks to get a feel for the rainforest. For those who stayed long enough, instructors assigned independent projects in which students were tasked with developing research questions and collecting preliminary data – often presenting results on their last evening at BFREE.

When exploring other parts of Belize, students visited banana plantations, participated in cultural homestays, snorkeled at the Belize Barrier Reef, and saw wildlife up close at the Belize Zoo. See below pictures from the first half of the field season.

Visit our Flickr feed for more images!


“Eat Locally: Think Globally” led by Amy Treonis and Elizabeth Ransom, University of Richmond

University of Richmond

University of Richmond

A fisherman from Placencia describes changes to the area over his lifetime.

“Biology “ led by Glenn Johnson,  SUNY Potsdam

SUNY Potsdam learns about cacao fermentation

SUNY Potsdam learns about cacao fermentation

SUNY Potsdam

SUNY Potsdam

“Tropical Ecology and Conservation in Belize” led by Sara Ash, University of the Cumberlands

University of the Cumberlands

University of the Cumberlands


U of C students make friends with the kids in their homestay family

U of C students make friends with Golden Steam kids during their homestay. Pic provided by Sara Ash

Students learn to safely remove small mammals from sherman traps.

U of C students learn to safely remove small mammals from sherman traps. Pic provided by Sara Ash


“Tropical Ecology” led by Farley Brown and Charlotte Rosendahl, Sterling College

Sterling College visited the packing shed of a local banana farm

Sterling College visited the packing shed of a local banana farm. Pic by Nelly Cadle

Sterling College leads Golden Stream students in a science experiment

Sterling College leads Golden Stream students in a science experiment. Pic by Nelly Cadle

Sterling College

Sterling College

“Biology” led by Kelly Mahan Etcheverry, Canterbury High School

Canterbury High School - Pic by Roger McDaniel

Canterbury High School – Pic by Roger McDaniel

Canterbury High School taking a break on their hike out. Pic provided by Roger McDaniel

Canterbury High School taking a break on their hike out. Pic provided by Roger McDaniel

“Protected Areas in Belize,” led by Abigail Parham Garbutt and Godfrey Arzu, Independence Junior College, Belize

Independence Junior College students visit the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center - Pic by Roger McDaniel

Independence Junior College students visit the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center. Pic by Roger McDaniel

Independence Junior College students participate in the small mammal project. Pic by Roger McDaniel

Independence Junior College students participate in the small mammal community study. Pic by Roger McDaniel


“Wildlife Biology,” led by Sean Collins, Lees McRae College

Lees-McRae College

Lees-McRae College

Lees-McRae students identify a small mammal

Lees-McRae students identify a small mammal

“Tropical field Biology,” led by Sean Werle and team, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Univ of Massachusetts students implemented independent research projects

Univ of Massachusetts students implemented independent research projects. Pic by Sean Werle

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

University of Massachusetts, Amherst


“Tropical Ecology,” led by Matthew Brady, Keene High School, New Hampshire


Keene High School, New Hampshire

Keene students help harvest cacao pods.

Keene students help harvest cacao pods.


“Tropical Biology,” led by Paul Pickhardt and Gregory Smith, Lakeland College, Wisconsin

Lakeland College

Lakeland College

Lakeland College students help at the HCRC measuring turtles.

Lakeland College students help at the HCRC measuring turtles.

Lakeland harvests cashew fruits during a tour of the BFREE garden and orchard.

Lakeland harvests cashew fruits during a tour of the BFREE garden and orchard.
















“Tropical Biology,” led by Maarten Vohhof, Western Michigan University

Western Michigan University

Western Michigan University

Western Michigan University

Western Michigan University

NYCCT – Study Abroad blog

William Garcia discusses aging bats with NYCCT group

William Garcia discusses how to determine the  age of bats with NYCCT group

New York City College of Technology (NYCCT) student, Tasnuva Ahmed, created a blog (Study Abroad – Belize) of her 10-day field course with BFREE in January 2014.  Traveling with 4 other architecture students and her professor, Lia Dikigoropoulou, Tasnuva documented all aspects of the group’s experience in Belize with photo and video.

Tasnuva Ahmed videos the Bladen River

Tasnuva Ahmed videos the Bladen River