An unforgettable and life-changing experience! Past Review

By (Rice University) - abroad from 08/28/2016 to 12/12/2016 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 gained a lot of independence, learned a lot about myself, and developed the confidence to travel and jump into unfamiliar experiences.

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.

Any SIT program is considered to be more rigorous than most - that being said, the experiential and hands-on learning experience will be different from traditional university-style learning. Be prepared to do homework assignments all over the country after a full day of classes, field trips, and lab work.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

I never had to worry about logistics or what we were doing - everything was very well planned and we were given calendars and syllabi that covered exactly what we were doing and where.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The homestay components were intimidating to me at first, but were the most immersive parts of my experience. The one that particularly stood out to me was our homestay with an indigenous tribe - it really helped put conservation topics in a sociocultural perspective.

* Food:

We were really well fed and Panamanian food is delicious! I came to love rice, beans, and plantains because they were always fresh ingredients and flavored super well. I decided to stop being vegetarian for this trip, but it is definitely feasible to be vegetarian (maybe not vegan).

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

The homestay component really integrated us into the local culture. Even when we were staying together as a group, we were required to talk to and interview locals, so we got a well-rounded perspective on culture and conservation in the tropics.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I did not have health issues while on this trip, even in some of the more remote and rural parts of Panama. On excursions, we always traveled with a huge first-aid kit that had a lot of medication just in case we needed it.

* Safety:

We spent a lot of time during the first week of the program (and at other important parts of the program) talking about safety. It was definitely the first priority.

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

I was the first person to go on this particular SIT trip from my school, and didn't know what to expect. Although I was intimidated by all of the uncertainty at first, I'm so glad I got out of my comfort zone and immersed myself in a new learning environment and country.


* 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)

Living on a student budget was no problem - I ended up spending less on myself than I ever have in my life and still being well housed and fed.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $25
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Keep a very tight budget and update it daily! Try to use cash so that you always know how much you are spending and how much you have left. The money you are given from the program (your stipend) is always given in cash, so you can keep track of it fairly easily.


* 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 conducted conversational/informal interviews with locals all the time and lived with Panamanian families. Spanish is a huge component of this program - but totally doable. I did not come in with any Spanish (which scared me at first), but ended up learning most of what is considered to be Spanish 1. Although it may not seem like much, it helped me gain confidence with the language and I got to practice all the time.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Beginner
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? None
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? Reading the news in Spanish and watching movies is a great way to familiarize yourself with the most common verbs and phrases. Also, basic conversation with a Spanish-speaking friend is a great way to practice and get immediate feedback on your grammar/pronunciation.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

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

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • 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?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Independent research
  • Immersive biology experiences
  • Homestays
* What could be improved?
  • More program administration - our program director was amazing, but so bogged down with work at times! I wish there was a program TA to help her with grading and responding to emails.
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Although studying abroad may seem incredibly intimidating (especially with a language component), you'd be surprised at how well you can adapt to a new environment and culture. The people are all super nice and understanding and you will learn so much!

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 Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!