Final Impressions of SFS Panama

Posted: December 2, 2014

What did you like most about the SFS experience?
Hands down the best part of this semester has been the opportunity to build lifelong relationships with students and staff here in Panama. Living in such a close-knit environment has really impacted the group dynamics here on Isla Solarte and over the past three months we have all become a family.

You’ve been in the country for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
Although we have spent the past three months in Panama… Bocas del Toro is a world of its own. Getting to experience such a culturally diverse town filled with kind and caring people has become one of the most memorable times of my life. The Bocas del Toro archipelago is a beautiful Caribbean island setting which has allowed students here to experience the marine life, forest ecosystems, and Central American culture all at once. Even though the tourism industry is booming in town, Bocas remains a well-kept secret getaway that I cannot wait to visit again someday.

What is life at the field station really like? What are the best and the most challenging parts of living at a remote field station?
Living at a remote field station has been such a valuable experience and a lesson in teamwork and flexibility. One of the best parts of living in close quarters with everyone are the friendships that have developed over the past three months. The environment really is almost like camp and we have so much fun together every day. However, that same camp dynamic can be a challenge when it comes time to try to study or find alone time. Overall, we have learned to all work together like a well-oiled machine in order to keep the inn running smoothly.

What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
The biggest challenge I have faced culturally is also related to living in a remote field station and that is finding the time to fully immerse myself in the local culture and language. Over the past three months we have all met many people on various islands and in Bocas Town, but because of the academically rigorous schedule it is hard to truly build relationships with people  over a long period of time because we simply are on Isla Solarte more often than not.

Additionally, although we took Spanish lessons intensively at the beginning of the semester, it was a challenge to continue practicing effectively throughout the next two months. Academically, one of the biggest challenges has been deciding what my Directed Research project should focus on and then planning that research. This has been one of my first experiences with hands-on self-directed research in a field setting and it has been very rewarding project, but was also difficult getting started.

What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
Some of the best memories I have from this semester in Panama are the holidays and events we have had the chance to experience in Bocas Town. The first month we were here was the Feria del Mar which we visited with our Spanish classes. The fair was next to the beach and filled with local crafts, foods, and music! Throughout November there were many holidays: Remembrance Day, Panama’s Independence from Columbia, Flag Day, Colon Day, Grito del Los Santos, Bocas Day, Bastimentos Day, and finally Independence from Spain.

Being able to participate in these holidays in town was the experience of a lifetime. Each holiday was filled with bands, drums, music, food, and people visiting from all over the country. Being present for these days was also a great way to practice Spanish and learn more about Panamanian culture firsthand.

Give three adjectives that best describes how you are feeling right now.
Fulfilled; sad to leave; ready to go to the beach