At the beginning of the spring semester, we asked student Blake Wynveen about his first impressions of Panama. Now, as the semester comes to a close, he shared his thoughts with us again.
What did you like most about the SFS experience?
Honestly, I am not sure I can pick one thing about my SFS experience that was the best. This was the best semester of my life, and I loved every second. However, if I did have to choose one part that was most enjoyable, I think it was how close our class got as a group. The field experience, Directed Research, and life skills learned will be invaluable to my future, however, I believe I grew the most personally through the interactions I had with those surrounding me at TIBS. The faculty, staff, and students all helped me to challenge myself, and open my eyes to new life opportunities and passions that I had previously thought out of reach and practicality. Now that I have had my abroad experience, I am so very excited to live my life with the passion and openness to change which has been shown to me.
You’ve been in the country for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
Panama is an amazing country with a beautiful environment, diverse people, and rich traditions. I have loved getting to know the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, and visiting local communities, especially when comparing the Caribbean life to that in Panama City. The constant traffic and gentrification are much different than the small town feel of Bocas, however, both added so much to my experience and opinion of Panama. I can’t wait to come back some day, possibly for a graduate school research project, and experience more of this beautiful country.
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?
Well, the field station is our little piece of paradise. The classroom, essentially a dock over the water, is the most relaxing place to work and study. The dorms, faculty offices, and dining area form a nice semi-circle around the edge of the property, leaving the pool deck and volleyball court (upper and lower quads) in the middle. The center is very open and friendly, with the character of the man who’s at the heart of it all, Ormelio. Without staff like Ormelio, and others like Dama, Susi, and Marga, the center wouldn’t be able to maintain its charm and welcoming vibes. The best part of the station was the classroom by far, and the most challenging, was how clothes never completely dry there. Even in the dryer.
What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
That’s a difficult question to answer, but for me, a business student, trying the natural science courses for the first time since high school was academically challenging. It by no means was too difficult to manage, and I had talks with Jess (Tropical Coastal Ecology professor) and Leo (Resource Management) about it. It did make things a lot easier when we were able to go into the field and experience what we were studying.
The most challenging cultural practice was trying to rebuild my Spanish language skills. I used to speak it frequently at school and at home in class and with an exchange student who lived with my family, but since college started I haven’t been practicing. Now I can say that I am fluent in Spanglish, and proficient in Spanish, which helped when it came to interviews that I completed during Directed Research.
What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
The best memory I have from the semester was during our trip to the Pacific side of Panama. We went on a forest hike of the cloud forest, and on the hike we saw a quetzal. If you don’t know what a quetzal is, look it up, it is arguably the most beautiful animal I have ever seen in my life. Especially as someone who loves birds, the quetzal was a sight. Other great memories I have were line fishing with a few indigenous fishermen, cracking far too many inside jokes, and endless life chats with my new friends (who became my new family).
Give three adjectives that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Enlightened, exhausted, and melancholy (that it’s all over)