First Impressions of SFS Panama

Posted: February 11, 2016

Why did you choose to study abroad with SFS?
I knew that I wanted a unique study abroad experience and SFS had the perfect programs for me. As a biology major, I needed a program that could provide me with biology credits. Not only do SFS courses transfer back to my home institution, but there is also a research component that fits perfectly with my major. Initially, I was looking at Turks and Caicos for the marine life part of the program, but Panama has both land and water incorporated into the program. Also, Panama has the culture and language credits that will help improve my Spanish and would allow me to immerse myself in the community.

What are you first impressions of the country?
Panama is a bright and colorful place full of interesting people and places. While I loved touring Panama City and learning the history, being in Bocas has fulfilled all my island life expectations. Bocas is just as beautiful as the palm tree pictures suggested. The humidity was stifling at first and the mosquito bites are excessive, but that’s a small price to pay in order to have the ocean as your backyard. I am really excited to enjoy Bocas life for the next three months.

What are your first impressions of the field station?
UNREAL. The place is beautiful and a lot more modern than I expected. I really thought I would be roughing it on the beach instead of staying in a place that reminds me of a cute little old hotel. Everything feels very homey, from the hammocks to the professors’ dogs that run around. The waterfront activities—kayaking and paddleboarding—are awesome ways to explore the area in front of the Center and to take it all in. You can tell that the staff put a lot of love into this Center and I can’t believe this is my home for the semester.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you this semester?
Academically, I know it will be challenging to focus when the beach is just outside my doorstep. However, I think the field trips with SFS and my own experiences in Bocas will keep me continuously learning and applying concepts inside and outside of the classroom. While the Center is comfortable, I know I will miss the comforts of home. It’s a very different lifestyle here and you can’t just drive to the grocery store when you want a snack. My lack of Spanish language skills has also made it difficult to communicate what I want to the people in Bocas and I am hoping that Spanish classes will help close the divide I feel between the locals and me, as an American, in Bocas.

What are you looking forward to the most about the semester?
I am looking forward to immersing myself into Bocas life as a scientist. I have never worked on any research projects outside of required lab classes and I am excited to be researching with one of the professors on a topic that is prevalent to Bocas del Toro. I also cannot wait to try the restaurants and the local food, especially Pollo Rosti’s chicken.

Give three words that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Awestruck—by the field station, Bocas town, my professors, the beauty of nature around me and the diverse group of students.
Tired—Even though there are a lot of relaxing moments, it is already very busy!
Thankful—This is an amazing opportunity and I am so glad I can be a part of both the SFS and Bocas community. A semester of school in this beautiful of a place is like a dream come true.


All Photos, Credit: Wynne Zhao

→ Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies Semester Program in Panama