The Bocas Miracle

Posted: September 26, 2014

Claire Rosemond
Program Intern
SFS Alum, TCI Spring ’13
Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies, Panama

We, students and staff, have been a complete SFS family now for two weeks. As one of the interns, I was responsible for helping with the students’ transition from home life to center life. We thought we would start the first night with a campfire and s’mores. Turns out the s’mores took an unexpected Bocas del Toro twist. We went to one of the local tiendas to find marshmallows, chocolate, and graham characters. Instead of large, white marshmallows, we found multi-colored (different color on the outside and the inside!) and flavored (corresponding to the color) marshmallows. Instead of graham crackers and chocolate, we found chocolate covered cookies that were maybe a square inch. The shopping trip resulted in s’mores Bocas style. We had a great time at the campfire and it was a perfect first introduction to life in a different country.

As classes have started, students have had wonderful opportunities to engage in field-based learning. I love seeing their excitement as we march in our snorkel booties, rubber boots, or tennis shoes to our learning destination. They have been introduced to the local marine ecosystems through snorkeling in mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs, identifying the organisms found in each.  Students have also studied terrestrial ecology and resource management. Last week on two different nights, students dressed to the nines in long pants, long sleeves, boots, and hats to capture and identify insects that live in the forest adjacent to the center. Pairs of students were given an aspirator, a tool used to suck insects into a vial using one’s breath. The students were successful in their bug hunt after running around to chase insects with the aspirators for two hours. Students have also focused on aspects of local culture and the role that tourism plays here. Last week, students spent time in town interviewing local business owners (in Spanish!) to understand the role of different industries in the local culture and economy.

In order to engage more fully in the local community, students and staff are encouraged to learn and practice Spanish. For the first two weeks of the semester, students and interns attended Spanish class three days a week at a local Spanish school, Habla Ya. The Spanish teachers were great! They focused each lesson on the abilities of the students and focused on incorporating local customs, phrases, and culture into each lesson. Luckily for us, for a week during the time students were taking Spanish classes, the annual Feria del Mar (Fair of the Sea) took place in Bocas. The Feria features local music, dance, artisanal goods, and boat races. We were able to attend the Feria with our Spanish teachers to learn about the annual custom of celebrating the sea.

Our first two weeks here gave everyone a glimpse into the diverse community, culture, and environment in Bocas. As students get to know the beauty of the people and places in Bocas del Toro, they can begin to experience the Bocas miracle.