As the fall semester comes to a close, we asked student Faith Schutt to share her final thoughts and impressions of the Panama program:

Three months ago I was on a plane headed for Panama, thoughts of what was to come playing through my mind; thinking of the people I was going to meet, and everything I was going to learn. I never could have imagined what was waiting for me. I have never been far away from home, let alone by myself, and in the beginning the only place I wanted to be was home. I realized on Thanksgiving how much these people have become my family; we laugh together, cry, fight, and comfort each other. I realized how much this place has become my home and it makes me feel like I belong to something so much bigger than myself. Every day at the SFS Center there is something exciting and new. In the morning I wake up and walk outside, I stop and reflect taking in all of the beauty in front of me: the beach, the palm trees, and the breathtaking sky. The days are full of snorkeling over and around coral reefs, mangrove forests, and seagrass beds, or exploring rainforests. From seeing an octopus for the first time, or learning about golden orb weavers, there are so many experiences I’ve had that I will never forget.

There is so much out in the world that most people never get to see, and never know how incredible these things are. As the day winds down I’m surrounded by friends, working hard on homework or sometimes sneaking a break to gaze at the stars. The best thing about living at the Center is the staff; every single person here makes this experience mean so much more. I have learned a lot from them: Cinda has taught me that I can achieve anything I put my mind to and not to hold myself back. Jen and Lawre taught me to not feel ashamed about who I am, all my quirks are what makes me special. Jess has given me so much advice on how to approach my future, and it has made me feel like it’s okay to feel lost. I’m simply on a path to finding myself and becoming the best person that I can be. Ormelio and our Panamanian staff have shown me that no matter where we come from, we are all family. The hardest thing about being here is separating my life back home from this place. There are people back home that I care so much about that I want to be there for, but I’ve got the experience of a lifetime that I can’t miss. How can you be in two places at once? How can you enjoy being selfish when there are reasons to worry about those back home? I’ve come to realize that my friends and family back home can survive without me and that they understand that this program means a lot to me.

Academically I have learned more than I ever could have imagined, and this program has helped change the way I think about the world. One day I felt like I was turning into my mom, getting frustrated with my peers for leaving the room without turning the light off, or leaving the AC running for 2 hours while we were in the field. Beyond my new conservation awareness, I’ve learned about all the ecosystems in the Bocas Del Toro Archipelago and I now understand how these systems are being affected by the ignorant choices the human population is making. I hope to go home and be the difference instead of the cause.

My favorite memory of being here has been with my Directed Research team; my team was made up of the best people I’ve ever met. We had each other’s backs every second we were together no matter how fed up we were. There are so many hilarious memories of moments we’ve had that we still laugh about. One of our teammates was studying crabs, he had one in his hands and it pinched him! For some reason his first reaction was to bite the crab! It was so ridiculously hilarious. I will return home as a new person because of SFS Panama, and our adopted SFS Turks and Caicos program. I will never forget this experience because it has become a part of who I am.

→ Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies in Panama