First Impressions of SFS Panama

Posted: September 17, 2015

Why did you choose to study abroad with SFS?
I was lucky enough to stumble upon SFS after hours of research on various study abroad opportunities. When I heard about the chance to study abroad through my university, I decided I wanted an extraordinary experience. I wanted the chance to meet new people, expose myself to a new culture, and partake in hands-on work. SFS Panama seemed like the perfect fit, with the extra benefit as a program focused on exploring both the land and the water.

What are your first impressions of the country?
Stepping out of the airport was a mind-blowing experience—the humidity was intense, and the amount of rain pouring from the sky was unimaginable. The weather in Panama was definitely a shock to me. Panama City possesses a mixture of architecture and communities, with large skyscrapers nestled among smaller deteriorating apartments facing the beautiful ocean. Bocas del Toro holds the same striking contrast, with freshly painted hostels fitting in between alleyways of small houses pressed against one another. Bocas del Toro already reminds me of my home in in the Middle East, with its intense heat, constantly speeding taxi drivers, and endless street merchants and cultural art.

What are your first impressions of the field station?
The field station really provides us with the best of both worlds: not only are we a 5 minute taxi ride from the center of Bocas Town, but we are also just a few feet away from the sparkling blue of the Caribbean Sea. Having the field station nestled on a beach allows us to go snorkeling, paddle boarding, and swimming in the Caribbean even in the 30 minutes between a lunchtime meal and our next lecture. There are palm trees surrounding the entire station, giving us a chance to crack open a coconut to grab a quick taste of coconut juice during the hot afternoons. It’s been incredible to have the opportunity to live with such a small community, sharing amazing Panamanian food side by side with both your peers as well as the faculty.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you this semester both academically and culturally?
SFS has a very packed and rigorous schedule, which has already driven me to begin planning the best methods to complete my academic work, explore Bocas Town and its incredible beaches, and still make room for a good night’s sleep. I believe one of the greatest challenges will be adapting to actually living in and not merely visiting an entirely new country and culture. I definitely need to work on my Spanish and gain a better understanding of the social cues and habits of those around me.

What are you looking forward to the most about the semester?
Seeing some wildlife! Panama is evidently packed with so many types of flora and fauna—stepping outside of the center I can hear various species of monkeys and birds moving in the trees, but I have yet to catch sight of any of them. Underwater, there are so many types of coral and fish that I cannot name, but I am hoping that my time with SFS will allow me to learn the names and importance of all of these different organisms.

Give three words that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Nervous. Excited. Ready.