By: Samantha Pelletier

Posted: February 16, 2022
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Student Post

First Impressions of Panama


Why did you choose to study abroad with SFS?

When I was looking at study abroad programs, I looked into opportunities that would allow me to learn about a completely new ecosystem while immersing me in a new culture. When talking to advisors, the name SFS came up time and time again. After doing some research of my own, I saw that SFS has a rigorous academic program that would allow me to augment my own interests and background while exploring in a new country. Although I’ve only been a part of this program for a week, I have had my expectations blown out of the water. Our professors have created classes that really encompass environmental issues with the local Bocas community, creating an interdisciplinary environment that is also so hands on!

What are your first impressions of the country?

Panamá is a gorgeous country. From the time we spent mainland to the islands we pass on our way to the reefs we explore, the physical country is coated in so much biodiversity. We also have explored downtown Bocas, in which you’ll encounter just as many tourists as locals. Being here makes us, as students, ponder what it means to be a tourist on such a beautiful island. What does it mean to be a visitor to the local community? What does it mean to the island that tourism is so invasive?

What are your first impressions of the Center?

We are the first students in the new Center, and we have no complaints. The living space is beautiful and spacious, the food is delicious, and absolutely nothing competes with an outdoor classroom! I am most grateful for our professors, who are not only so knowledgeable in their fields, but also so friendly and easy to talk to! We can have a class in the morning about the structure of the rainforest led by the same professor who leads us in an energizing CrossFit class later that day. The support we get is so strong, both academically and personally. They really want us to succeed!

The cohort on their first forest walk of the semester. By: Samantha Pelletier.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you this semester both academically and culturally?

My biggest academic challenge this semester will definitely be focus. Our classroom backdrop is the rainforest, with a hummingbird that flies around each class to tend to her flowers, which can distract me from our lesson. Each field trip has a lush and gorgeous backdrop, whether it be the coral reefs or tropical vines that might distract from the lecture. And, of course, our Center is so close to so many local spots known for delicious food! It’ll be important to prioritize our studies over spontaneous beach trips, and to find the balance between a fun Sunday in town and completing homework for Monday morning’s class! As far as cultural challenges, I am definitely finding it challenging to communicate as much as I want in Spanish; it has been a challenge not to give up and rely on English. However, as the semester progresses and the opportunities to engage with the local community increase, I hope to increase my confidence in speaking with others to learn from them about their home.

Students going on their first snorkel. By: Abigail Sand.

What are you looking forward to the most about the semester?

I am looking forward to engaging with the biodiversity that Panamá has to offer. Recently we went on a field trip to the reefs for the first time and I couldn’t stop looking around in awe. Every time we step off campus, we see bright birds, tropical plants, or intricate coral reefs. Being able to travel by boat or on a hike to study amazing fauna and flora is a privilege that I hope to make the most of!

The author on her first snorkel. By: Marissa Scott.

Give three adjectives that best describe how you are feeling right now.

Energized, excited, and reflective.

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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