At the beginning of the spring semester, student Liz Walker shared her first impressions of Panama. Now, after a semester in country, we reconnected with Liz.
What did you like most about the SFS experience?
My favorite experience with SFS was the Directed Research project. I got to study movement patterns of sea stars at beautiful Playa Estrella in Bocas del Toro, Panama. This project is a unique part of the SFS experience. In a small group with mentorship from a professor and other SFS staff members you get to go through the entire process of a research project, from project design to data collection in the field, to presenting your findings to the community. This experience in the moment may seem incredibly difficult but at the end of the process you will look back and feel such a great sense of accomplishment. I can honestly say that my DR research project is one of my proudest accomplishments. I think that in undergraduate settings it is hard to come across a similar experience. Not only did I gain experience in carrying out an extensive project, I built deep camaraderie and friendship with the members in my research group.
Photos courtesy of Anna Chahuneau
You’ve been in the country for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
Panama is a wonderful country with a vibrant mix of people that make up the Panamanian nationality including Bocatoreños, members from various Ngäbe communities, Chinese-Panamanians, and Afro-Antilleans. Additionally, a range of tourists and ex-pats contribute to the Bocas del Toro population. When I think back on my impressions of other countries I have visited, food is one of the main factors I happily dwell on. When thinking about Panamanian food, now I can confidently say it consists of Hojandras, bollo, lentils, rice, chicken, with a side of patacones or maduros. At night, the smell of street food on a charcoal grill and the booming reggaeton music from restaurants, clubs, and cars is the cherry on top of my impressions of Bocas.
What is life at the Center really like? What are the best and the most challenging parts?
Communal living is both the best and most challenging part of life at the SFS Center. Living with your friends is always a fun time. It seems that there is always someone to hang out with or some activity to take part in such as a sunset swim or town outing to get pizza and paletas. That being said, of course it can be difficult to find time for yourself in any communal living situation as many of you may know from the college dorm experience. But over time you adapt to this setting and find free periods to listen to music on the dock or read a book in the hammock. Also, never eating a meal alone is a piece of SFS life that I loved and will miss. Meal times are a great time to laugh with friends, chat casually with professors, and take a break from the busy SFS schedule.
What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
The most difficult academic aspect of this program was the busy schedule. But over time, we all got used to it and learned balance assignments with free time. It can be frustrating to turn around paper edits in a night or have 3 classes worth of homework to do in one night, but there is a group camaraderie with your fellow students because everyone else is in the same boat. This is a very supportive academic environment to be a part of. Culturally, the most difficult but rewarding aspect for me was using Spanish in daily life to chat with the locals I got to know or to call a taxi. I really enjoy learning and practicing Spanish so I am very happy to have had this opportunity to engage with the local community while practicing my Spanish language skills.
What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
One of my favorite memories I have from this program is spending the weekend at ITEC, a research station set back in the forests of Isla Colón. Here we got to spend time exploring the forest during the day and at night (a great time to see nocturnal organisms). I remember a special moment during a session of poison dart frog data collection when Capuchin monkeys came to play in the branches near the trail path we were on. I clearly remember the look on my friend’s face, a primate enthusiast, it was of pure bliss and disbelief. This weekend was a unique educational experience in the field, but it also served as a great time to bond with fellow classmates, to play games and get to know each other better.
Give three adjectives that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Boundless, content, inspired