Panama Past Review

By (Environmental Studies., Brandeis University) - abroad from 02/01/2012 to 05/13/2012 with

SIT Study Abroad: Panama - Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
The Independent Study portion of the trip was the best learning experience I have maybe ever had. It was a wonderful opportunity to put myself in a position out of my comfort zone, and I was nervous for the first few days. But it ended up being the best part of the trip, I got to work with endangered sea turtles, and I met and got to know some of the most wonderful people who I encountered in Panama. Perhaps this three week period made the entire semester worthwhile.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 2 weeks - 1 month

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

This was not an extremely rigorous academic program -- we had classes, but they were very relaxed and there wasn't too much work to do outside of them. However, it was a very intensive program and we were in class at least six days a week, often seven. It was really go, go, go, but also super fun. I would say that the major weakness was the selection of professors, who were sometimes fantastic and sometimes didn't really seem to have it together. I learned so much, though, both inside and out of the classroom.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Our academic director was extremely hard-working, but his job was so big -- he came on all the trips with us, organized most of our outings and classes and also taught an entire course, Research Methods, by himself -- that he seemed to have trouble getting it all done. He was really nice and everything, but the problem (I believe) is simply that the trip was understaffed.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I loved every single host family, and we stayed in eight or nine different homes over the course of the semester! Everyone was so nice and welcoming, this was a real highlight of the trip.

* Food:

Panamanian food is just delicious! Our host families cooked for us most of the time, and if not then the program would hire cooks for us. They were always excellent.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Because of the number of homestays that we did (eight or nine), we were able to meet a lot of Panamanians from different areas of the country. I always felt like I was getting to know people, and that was really wonderful. This also made it convenient for learning Spanish. However, we also spent a lot of time in just our study abroad group, with about twenty other students from the US. Breaking out of this comfortable shell was difficult and made it hard to really get to know Panamanian students and kids our age, outside of our homestay families.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

When I had a problem, my academic director brought me to three different clinics until I got the prescriptions I needed to feel better. These trips were fast and he helped a lot. My host families were also extremely helpful in these situations.

* Safety:

We travelled around the country a lot, so safety varied depending on our locations. Panama City, however, always felt pretty safe as long as we were in a big group. We were told to be careful if we were going to take a taxi by ourselves, but I did it numerous times and it was ok. I guess the only problem was that, since there isn't much public transportation in the city, there was no way to get around without taking a taxi, and that meant sometimes taking it alone. Nothing bad ever happened, though. Outside of Panama City we always traveled together in a group.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? No


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Panama is pretty inexpensive, compared to the US.

* Was housing included in your program cost? Yes
* Was food included in your program cost? Yes
Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $10


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

We were always encouraged, by our academic director, homestay families, and professors, to practice our Spanish. This is called a "biology" program, but it is really a "biology and Spanish" program.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Beginner
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Advanced
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? Spanish 104
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Speak the language even with your friends from the US

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
  • Hotel
  • Hostel
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Host Families
  • Independent Study Portion
* What could be improved?
  • I would have been nice to be able to spend less time with the other American students. They were nice, but being with the same people so intensively for so long got tiring and annoying.
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? While I really enjoyed the classes and getting to know so many Panamanians, I wish that I had chosen a program with a larger student base. Because there were only 19 American students on the program, and we took all of our classes together, travelled together, and hung out together all the time, it got really old really fast. There was really no outlet to meet new people. In some ways this drove me to spend more time with my host families, which was very productive, but it was still the major flaw in the SIT program.