Final Impressions of SFS Panama

Posted: May 8, 2013

Wow! Those 3 months went by way too fast. Since arriving, my expectations for my experiences have only been exceeded exponentially. Not only has my Spanish speaking seen serious improvement through interactions with the local people, my eyes are now wide open to the complexity of the cultural and social dynamics throughout the archipelago. Being a materials science & engineering major, this program has imbued within me a critical ecological perspective that I hope to incorporate in my future studies, and my upcoming entrepreneurial & career-based ventures. Oh, and have I mentioned how much I love snorkeling now? – Nathan Freedman (University of Connecticut)

It has been an amazing three months here in Panama. When family and friends have asked me to describe my experience thus far, it has been nearly impossible to sum everything up in just a few sentences. Everything we have done here – lectures, field exercises and trips, guest speakers, etc. – has contributed to a more inclusive understanding of the environmental, cultural, and social issues of the Bocas del Toro region; but all I have learned is not just applicable to the small world of southern Central America. Being in Panama has allowed me to develop more informed opinions about many of the issues faced everyday, whether those are relative to Panama, the U.S., or the world as a whole. I will always remember speaking with indigenous people about their livelihoods, assessing carbon stocks while considering local resource use, and documenting the progression of the red lionfish invasion and what it means for the future of local ecology. As I look out at the natural beauty surrounding me, I feel inspired to use what I’ve learned here in Panama to help address the environmental and social issues at large today… even if I can only contribute a small part. – Jeff Baldock (University of Washington, Seattle)

There’s Spanish music playing from the dining room’s speakers, and everyone’s reveling in the bittersweet happiness of finishing our very last assignment, two days before we leave our island. This morning we gave scientific presentations of our research projects, and this evening we offered an informal talk to members of the community. A surprising number of them showed up, and we had a wonderful time with the friends we met over the past three months. Nothing really compares to sharing these last moments together. There’s laughter and a few tears as we reminisce about those blissful days spent at hidden coves, struggling to get our projects done on time, cooking with the community, trying (and failing) to surf. The beauty of this area isn’t just in the reflection of sunsets on smooth waters, it’s also in the people that inhabit the archipelago and whose stories, more than anything else, give Bocas its magic.  – Niko Alexandre (Vassar College)

It is nearly impossible to encompass the entirety of my three months spent in Panama in just a few sentences. I could talk about the amazing field trips to the Zapatilla Cays, watching sea turtles lay their eggs, and of course the delicious cacao plantation, but I would still fail to express the little things that made daily life here so special. Little things like the smell of fresh warm johnny cakes brought to the porch of the Center by the cutest children from the local community. The taste of the delicious homemade food and fresh fruit we are fortunate enough to have here every day. The feeling of  the sun’s strong rays on your skin in the early afternoon. Seeing dolphins jumping past your boat after a long day of Directed Research in the field, or the layers of mountains beyond mountains in the distance just across the sea on the mainland. The sound of the birds in the forests chirping and calling every morning as the sun rises. This semester has not only taught me academic things about biodiversity, ecology, and the social issues that exist in Panama, but also to live life using all five senses.  We have finished our last full day in Bocas del Toro, and there are still so many things I wish I could do one more time, but for now I will just have to look back on all the great memories I have made my first time here. It was definitely one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I am glad I had the opportunity to spend it here with so many amazing people.  – Nina Rembert (University of Wisconsin-Madison)