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Student Travels to Belize to Gain Hands-On Experience

Sixteen hundred miles. That is roughly the distance between Indianapolis, Ind. and Belmopan, Belize. And that is how far HS junior Rachel Schultz has the opportunity to vacation as a part of volunteering at the Indianapolis Zoo.

Schultz has taken advantage of her opportunity at the zoo for about a year and has gained an immense amount of knowledge, along with experience.

“I definitely want to work with animals, I’m more interested in studying them than being a vet,” Schultz said. “I wouldn’t mind being a zookeeper; I don’t care about poop.”

Though working at the zoo takes away from Schultz’s summer vacation, she does not mind the effort. As a returning volunteer this year, her opportunity to travel to Belize makes up for the time she spends volunteering.

“We’re staying for seven days and there’s ten people. I don’t really know them, but I’ll definitely get to know them. They all volunteer with me at the zoo, so they’re good people,” Schultz said.

Besides Schultz, there are several other high school volunteers at the zoo, though not all of them have the privilege of going on this trip.

“We’re doing tours [in Belize], and we get to go snorkeling, we’re going to try to find a zoo, and ruins, and there’s zip lining,” Schultz said.

Another junior at HS learned about the zoo program and followed in Schultz’s footsteps. Haley Netherton has not started working yet, but she has been accepted into the program.

“I’ve always wanted to be a zookeeper or work at a zoo since I was younger, and I saw it as the perfect opportunity to explore that field,” Netherton said.

The volunteer opportunity helps students between the ages of 14 and 18 decide what they want to do in the zoology field.

“I’m hoping to start with zookeeping, then working my way up to later in life starting a research foundation,” said Netherton.

As volunteers, the students do almost the same work as the zookeepers who are paid, but work part-time and still have the ability to go to school and do other things.

“I sometimes work in guest services, or I pick up trash, or especially during the summer I work as a naturalist, and I’ll carry around artifacts like skulls, which are mostly replicas, and I talk about the animals,” Schultz said.

Schultz’s close friend, Clare Jensen, another junior, thinks that the trip, along with Schultz’s work at the zoo, are both great experiences.

“I think the trip sounds like a really good experience,” Jensen said. “She’s going to do really well as a zookeeper.”

Schultz will travel to Belize this summer, and though it is with the volunteer program, it is expensive. When Schultz first found out about it, she did not see herself being able to actually go on the trip or the opportunity being realistic.

Schultz was surprised at how enthusiastic her mother was about the trip, and thrilled when her mom offered to pay the travel expenses entirely. It will be Schultz’s first time out of the country.

Schultz is growing anxious and excited as the adventure approaches, and she cannot wait to make new friends and explore Belize this summer.

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