First Impressions of SFS Panama

Posted: February 9, 2016

Why did you choose to study abroad with SFS?
I became interested in The School for Field Studies programs because of the field-based learning and Directed Research (DR) aspects that make the programs so unique. As part of the DR component at the end of the semester, SFS enables me to be an active participant where I have the ability to gain invaluable research experience and skills. I am also interested in working with the local community to address local environmental issues. I specifically chose to study in Bocas del Toro, Panama because it is the only program that studies both marine and terrestrial habitats, so this experience has provided me with the ideal location to further my studies and give me the chance to specify an area of interest that I am particularly passionate about. This program allows me the opportunity to obtain field and laboratory training in many aspects of tropical ecology, and learn a wide variety of information and skills.

What are your first impressions of the country?
The formation of Panama, in addition to the evolution of the country’s people and culture, has led to a vibrant and diverse region. In just the first few days this has become evident. Panamanian culture is a hybrid of African, native Panamanian, and European culture – specifically Spanish, which can be found throughout the country in the form of cuisine, architecture, and dances, just to name a few. Panama also has an incredible abundance and variety of life. It has been interesting learning about the relationship between human activity and nature, as well as its influences in areas such as the Panama Canal to the Bocas del Toro Archipelago.


Photo: Emily Penaranda

What are your first impressions of the field station?
The field station is absolutely breathtaking. We are fortunate that the pool and ocean are just steps away. I also really enjoy living in a tight knit community, where the professors live on site and eat meals with the students. I particularly enjoy being surrounded with plenty of places to read, study, or just relax. This truly is a tropical island paradise.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you this semester both academically and culturally?
My biggest challenge academically this semester will be managing my time between assignments for class and wanting to spend time exploring the Bocas del Toro Archipelago. Luckily we have several field excursions throughout the islands each week for classes. I also really enjoy paddle boarding and being in the water, so it is tempting to get in the ocean or pool during any of our free time. Communicating in Spanish is going to be my biggest challenge culturally. I only have a basic understanding of the language, so I know it will be difficult when I am interacting with the local community. I am still excited about being immersed in such a diversified culture though.

What are you looking forward to the most about the semester?
In general, I am looking forward to classes starting because we spend the semester participating in lectures, field exercises, and research. I am most excited for the Tropical Coastal Ecology course, which focuses on the shallow marine and coastal environments of Bocas del Toro. As I am interested in aquatic ecology, I am looking forward to further understanding the ecological processes and interactions in the coral reef, seagrass, and mangrove habitats.

Give three words that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Curious, eager, hopeful

→ Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies Semester Program in Panama