By: River Hayes

Posted: January 14, 2022
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Student Post

Final Impressions: Panama


Why did you pick an SFS program? What were some of your favorite things about your program in Panama and what will you miss most?

I initially picked the SFS Panama program because I was excited about the small and supportive
learning community, the intriguing course topics, and the amazing location in Bocas del Toro.
All of my expectations were far exceeded. The incredible professors combined with the hands-on
fieldwork in our classes resulted in the best academic experience I’ve ever had. Whether we were
going on a snorkel trip to assess biodiversity in the ocean, visiting Indigenous-owned cacao
farms, studying poison dart frogs in the rainforest, or interviewing local community members, I
constantly felt engaged and motivated in a way that I never had in a school setting before. I also
truly felt like a part of the Bocas community. I was worried that because of the pandemic, our
interaction with locals would be minimal, but we safely and frequently had guests on campus,
consistently volunteered with local organizations, and got to know many of the local people in
our free time. After just the first few weeks of the program, trips to town almost always involved
running into at least two people that we knew. 

Photo provided by River Hayes.

What piece of advice would you share with a future SFS student coming to your program?

The best piece of advice I could give to future students is to get to know your peers, professors,
and staff at the Center! This program is so unique in that it gives you an opportunity to live, learn,
and work in close proximity with all of these people. You’ll get the chance to form meaningful
connections with the faculty and staff (and dogs!), which will hugely impact you throughout the
semester and well into the future. Even more importantly, you’ll get the chance to form
meaningful connections with your amazing classmates, who will become your colleagues, your
friends, and your strongest support system. When I think about what I’ll miss most about the
program, the answer is obvious: the people.

Photo provided by River Hayes.

Now that Directed Research (DR) is over, how would you say it went? What kind of research did you conduct?

I feel so lucky to have been able to participate in Directed Research, a rare and special
opportunity for undergraduates to design and carry out a month-long, funded research project.
Along with a team of two of my peers and the guidance of Dr. Leon Mach, I studied wildlife
tourism by observing, conversing with, and surveying tourists participating in Bocas Town’s
popular wildlife boat tours. The experience required a lot of dedication and hard work but it was
one of the most rewarding and enjoyable parts of the semester for me, and I walked away from it
feeling really proud.

The author and her Directed Research group present their findings. Photo provided by River Hayes.

Anything else you’d like to share?

If you are on the fence about applying for this program, this is your sign to do it. You will not
regret it — on the contrary, you may even wish you had done it sooner. You will push yourself
outside of your comfort zone, grow immensely, and meet a group of people who will change
your life for the better.


Curious to learn a bit more about the SFS Panama Center? Click here to read about why we’re based there, our environmental research focus, how we connect and support the local community, and even take a tour of the Center.

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