CSD in Belize: After Studying Abroad to Help Children, Group Plans Return Trip

By Ryan Clark
CHS Communications Director

They had such a good trip the first time around, they decided they need to go back.

Students and faculty in the Communication Science and Disorders department traveled to Belize last year to help the country’s children with speech therapy.

“The feedback from the first trip was overwhelmingly positive,” said Aimee Sayre, M.A., CCC-SLP and Academic Clinic Director for the department of Communication Science and Disorders. “The schools are open in March, compared to last year when we went in December/January, so there are several different opportunities available. We also know how to better prepare and serve the community in Belize having been there last year.”

It all began before the COVID pandemic, when UK’s Study Abroad Office made a concerted effort to reach out to programs to make sure they had opportunities to study abroad.

Sayre started looking online at different programs that were available for students studying to be speech-language pathologists, and she found a company called Therapy Abroad, which offered a number of opportunities throughout the world to gain real-world experience in the field of speech-language pathology.

Last year, 13 faculty and students from Communication Science and Disorders traveled to Belize, a country on the northeastern coast of Central America. They stayed for just over a week.

Sayre and others started planning the trip in 2020, but once the world changed, everything was delayed due to the pandemic. But it did give the students time to fundraise and apply for scholarships to help fund the trip, which is paid for by course fees. Finally, at the beginning of 2023, they were able to go.

Sayre said the educational opportunity for students was two-fold.

“Having the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and practice clinical skills while learning about different cultures was invaluable,” she said. “We were able to attain a greater understanding of speech language pathology services in developing countries and different social issues.”

And they were definitely in need, as Belize has just one speech therapist in the entire country.

“There are really limited resources there,” Sayre said. “Anything we could do to help was very much appreciated.”

For three days, the students held a camp to help special needs children — who were aged 2-11 — with speech therapy. And they were also able to help educate parents on how to continue the therapy.

This year, the group will spend March 8-17 in the country. They will take 13 students (enrolled in CSD 588 – 701 for three credits) and two faculty.

Benefits for students who participate in the program include:

  • Hands-on experience – assessments, group and individual therapy, school-based screenings and assessments, and caregiver training
  • Build experience and resume for graduate school admissions
  • Cultural responsiveness
  • Practice skills in a multicultural environment
  • Learn to compare and contrast speech-language pathology services in developing countries with that in the United States.
  • Intercultural exchange in creative learning environment
  • Increased skills of intercultural communication
  • Greater international understandings of social issues
  • Better understanding of global social change
  • Greater understanding of inequalities and differences in world systems
  • International travel experience

Lynsey McAllister just graduated in December and is now applying to graduate school. In March she’ll be making a return trip to Belize with the group. She said she realized how lucky she is to be in a place where speech and language services are readily available.

“I know our presence meant so much to the families we worked with while abroad,” she said. “This trip served as a confirmation that I am right where I am supposed to be, and I couldn’t be more excited for my future as a licensed speech-language pathologist. I am so proud of myself for getting out of my comfort zone and truly immersing myself in the experience.”