Panamazing! Past Review

By (Biology, General., Brandeis University) - abroad from 01/28/2013 to 05/12/2013 with

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

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I learned a lot about myself and self-directed learning, which I consider 2 super-important life concepts. I learned about Caribbean culture in Panama, how to comfortably talk to strangers when small-talk is appropriate, and met awesome environmental students from across the country with whom I shared fun, funny, and even sad times. The self-directed learning came up during ISP when I realized how many resources were at my disposal and I could learn how to study botany (on which I've never taken a class) on my own by talking strangers--a wild theory but very practical in unknown settings. This of course relied on my Spanish, but before this semester I don't think I would have even thought of this in English in the US.

Review Photos

SIT Panama: Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, & Biodiversity Conservation Photo

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 0-2 weeks

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

While I did learn a lot of ecology because ecology is not very big at Brandeis, other students who had a more extensive ecology background from other schools felt disappointed by the academic (mostly scientific) quality of this program.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

There were usually 3 staff members working on logistical coordination at a time, so while that was often complicated in rural and remote places, the staff did a good job of improvising when it was needed.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The homestay families were always very warm and welcoming, but it was not conducive for completing homework assignments or ISP preparations to have not 1 of my 7 homestays with internet--a big part of research on uknown parts of the country and new ambitious projects. All other students were mostly satisfied with their homestay situations.

* Food:

I was used to the Caribbean staples from my Dominican household, so the food (plus new food) was great. New things to try in both urban and rural communities too. For other students the portions were massive, but I think having too much food available was never a bad thing.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Panamanians are super-friendly and very Caribbean like my own Hispanic culture. However, Panamanians are also very accepting of US citizens because of the solid relations between the 2 countries. Distinct, but very few times did students feel uncomfortable in their living arrangements. Women also had to get used to several daily cat calls from passing cars in the city.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I got sick 3 times throughout the trip and not once did I go to the doctor. The academic director was always super-understanding of our health and did not let us work until we got better. The students who did go to the clinic always got better and the illnesses never lasted more than 2 weeks maximum.

* Safety:

No safety-related incidents occurred thankfully, as the group was always sure to travel in small groups or at least in pairs. The few students who ended up alone at night for maximum 20 minutes remained safe--nothing happened to them...we were always attentive and there for them. There are some parts of the city that are more dangerous but we were well-advised not to go there so no one ever did.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* 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)

Most of the expenses were paid-for, especially during the month of travel as a group. There were a few times when we got stipends/reimbursement that usually (student-specific) did not cover what they were supposed to. Also, food on weekends besides lunch was not covered.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? 60
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Going out with friends (especially to bars and clubs) raises the cost of living substantially, especially because taxis are needed to travel everywhere since you're not familiar with the city and the public transportation is not at all adequate. Also, you will likely spend a lot on souvenirs/gifts.


* 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

Without trying, students learned a lot of how to understand Spanish. Trying, all students progressed in their speaking abilities, especially those students who practiced speaking more often.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Advanced
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Fluent
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? AP equivalent of Spanish 30
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? If other students are not motivated enough to speak it with you, you should definitely seek it out. Most of this program is in English, but the Spanish class, ISP (if you so choose), and all homestays can be quite language-intensive.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

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

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • 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? 0

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Rubén, academic director--super-warm father-like figure
  • Lots of traveling to 7 different parts of the country (including 2 indigenous territories and Costa Rica)
  • Cohesive group with which I took all of my classes--more opportunities for friendships
* What could be improved?
  • environmental research methods class: should be more scientific and less social-science-based for a hard-science program
  • schedule of assignments--I prefer more and more frequent. This also deals with the rate at which assignments are returned (slow)
  • most improvements would happen alone with more professors--I feel that Rubén should not be teaching classes on top of running logistics for the program
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? How fun Panama is

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Nearly Native or Trail Blazer
Craving the most authentic experience possible, perhaps you lived with a host family or really got in good with the locals. You may have felt confined by your program requirements and group excursions. Instead, you'd have preferred to plan your own trips, even skipping class to conduct your own 'field work.'