By: Olivia Demerath

Posted: October 7, 2021
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First Impressions: The Panama Center


Why did you choose to study abroad with SFS?

I chose to study abroad with SFS because I wanted to engage with a learning experience that bases classroom lectures on the lived and natural environment right outside the classroom door. I was initially surprised to find a program that spoke to so many interdisciplinary environmental issues while still basing curricula in the context of each center and found it difficult to choose which location to immerse myself in when each seemed so rich. I was excited to have the opportunity to go ‘off the grid’ during my abroad experience and partake in the hands-on field focused academic programs and tight knit community SFS is known for.

What are your first impressions of the Center?

So far, my experience at our field studies site in Bocas del Toro, Panama has felt like an academically rigorous paradise, but one where we are always asking, “Paradise for whom?”. The center is located in a beautiful bay of Isla Colon near Bocas Town, with a beautiful waterfront pool and lots of shady student study and social spaces. Our cohort has discussed the privileges we have as students taking part in both the tourist and more community-based activities that we hope will make this experience as helpful (not hurtful) to the local people of Bocas as it can be. That said, we’ve really enjoyed going out to dinner and dancing as a group, as well as frequenting local beach clubs and volunteering opportunities.


Our Fall 2021 TIBS cohort

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

I think my biggest challenge academically will be time management, because in such a beautiful place, it can be tempting to jump in the pool or ocean at the end of each day instead of hitting the books. But having our whole group work on the same homework makes learning more of a communal activity and I have not felt isolated or overwhelmed academically so far. The staff and professors at SFS genuinely want us to succeed and have been more than willing to spend time providing more context and information on assignments and readings. Culturally, I think the biggest challenge here will be making a better effort to have more meaningful engagements with the local community outside of the center. It can be easy to be a bit isolated from local people in Bocas del Toro, but our classes at Habla Ya have given me much more confidence in my Spanish communication skills.

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

I am really looking forward to continuing to get to know our cohort and staff as well as experience the rich natural environment of Bocas. From trips to Bluff beach to hiking in Boquete, to volunteering with the Hope Spot mangrove protection project, there is much to see and do inside the boundaries of our ‘school week’, as well as on time off. Our group is truly wonderful so far and I hope we continue to get to know each other better in the next few weeks especially during off program time!


Photo by Nina Hulet.

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

Content. Excited. Immersed!

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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