Incredible, amazing, special memories made with SIT Panama! February 07, 2024

By (Environmental Science, University of North Carolina - Asheville) - abroad from 09/04/2023 to 12/17/2023 with

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

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
With SIT Panama, I grew in every imaginable way! Most notably, I have so much more confidence in my capabilities as a student, and as a thinker. Being a student is hard! I am more driven than ever to put myself into the work I am doing, and the work I will do after I graduate. My classmates and the people I was surrounded by while in Panama were so inspiring to me. I believe in myself as a woman, as a student, and as a budding environmental scientist, and I wouldn't feel such strength if it weren't for my time in Panama.

Review Photos

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

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

Before arriving to Panamá, I understood that SIT is an organization dedicated to immersive, challenging, and rewarding experiences. I am the type of student that may struggle under academic pressure, depending on the circumstances. During my time with SIT in Panamá, I completed rigorous assignments, weekly studies with fieldwork, and an independent research project, and at no point did I feel incapable. Between my professors, my advisor, and my classmates I was inspired, supported, and motivated as a student.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

During the Fall '23 semester, the program was directed by Aly Dagang with support from two other employees of SIT, Yari and Yuri. All three women are from Panamá, and were so supportive and kind throughout the semester. Because of movements happening in the country during that time, we encountered a number of challenges in transportation, scheduling, and housing throughout the semester. All three women handled situations with grace and strength, and stood has excellent models for us as students/learners.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

During this specific program, Panama - Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation, we spent much of our time traveling around the country! It was fantastic, and every moment was sweeter than the next. Housing varied from hostels, hotels, cabins, and homestays. All accommodations were enjoyable, and all were very different. Living in different places is a great way to experience a country, especially one as mosaic as Panamá. Homestays are particularly special, in that you get to experience what life is like in that country. New people become your family when you have been away from your own for so long, and you begin to establish a global community. I will never forget hugs, meals, activities, and smiles shared between myself and my host families.

* Food:

Food makes up a large part of a person's international experience, no matter where you may be. I am personally a fan of all food, and enjoy trying new things! A typical plate in Panamá may have been rice, beans, sweet or fried plantains, protein like chicken or fish, and maybe some other sort of vegetable, like potato and beet salad or slaw. I never went hungry! There were times where my body was wishing for a little more diversity or a little more vegetable content, but those desires are softened by the experience of it all. It is something to be aware of, but not something to avoid. The international experience is made special by things like this!

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

A large part of SIT's mission, at least in this program, is to introduce students to the country as learners, listeners, and open-hearted visitors. To spend a semester in another country is a very special experience that not all have access to! In Panamá, I felt very welcomed, in general, by the people in the communities we visited. We went to a number of places that varied from heavily touristed to not frequently visited by outsiders at all. Ultimately, the social and cultural integration is what you make it. There are lectures on this subject during orientation that discuss what to expect, what not to expect, common phrases, customs and things like that. It is up to you as a student and traveler to put those things into action! Based on what I have experienced, people love it when visitors make an effort to appreciate their culture and customs. It may seem daunting at first but it is a great way to maximize your international experience! I put four out of five stars here because I did experience some imperfect situations in Panama City. Panama City is large, NYC in many ways, and so it is not abnormal to experience city-like things. People were generally less friendly here than in rural areas, but nothing particularly violent or negative.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I was greatly impressed by how health was handled during this program! Firstly, Panamá has great healthcare. Secondly, our three program leaders were fantastic in taking care of us! It is exhausting to travel abroad and complete school work at the same time. Our needs in terms of mental health and energy were entirely respected and understood. At one point in the semester, I had a pretty bad stomach bug for a few days. My host mother was supportive, and my program director gave me probiotics that healed me right away. Other students may have had needs that required doctor's visits, and all expressed satisfaction. Students were accompanied by one of three leaders for support to doctor's visits. Overall, healthcare was very well taken care of and there was no point where I felt stranded or unseen in my needs.

* Safety:

Panamá is generally very friendly! However, like most places, there are a couple things that people should be mindful about. For example, I had my phone stolen on a bus! I was told during orientation, do not make your phone accessible, especially on public transit. I left it in my book bag pocket and it was stolen on my way off the bus. In retrospect, it's a fun story to add to my study abroad experience, but it is not enjoyable in the moment. I advise people to be mindful of their surroundings, mindful of their belongings, and take the advice of your leaders! During this specific semester, there were also protests happening across the country. Except for one single incident, these protests fostered no violence. In fact, I was very inspired by the way the Panamanians unified to make their voices heard. But in terms of safety, I never felt at risk or vulnerable, even when the entire country was in protest. Also and again, the leaders are incredibly supportive and mindful when it comes to the safety of the group.

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

Though I would also love to explore other places, what I experienced with SIT Panama was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. The program leaders, my classmates, the professors, my homestay families, and all the others I met along the way changed my life. The experience made me a more mindful human, a more engaged listener, a more driven student, and generally more appreciative and loving towards the life I am living.


* 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)

SIT provided a stipend twice during the semester. Towards the end of the first stipend, I was definitely running low on money. However, I did leave the country with leftover money at the end of the semester. It all kind of depends on where you are, if you are buying art and gifts, if you go out on the town, etc. SIT provides a budget sheet to help avoid financial situations.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? I would not be able to accurately calculate how much my weekly expenses were, but a typical plate of food costed anywhere from $2 to $10 depending on the location.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? I would recommend creating a list of people you are hoping to buy gifts for, and keeping track of what you have purchased that is not food or drink! The semester is long, and there are many opportunities to buy things you may take back for yourself, family, or friends. Gifts are what I spent the most money on, and once I created a list of what I bought and who I bought it for, I realized I had a sufficient amount of stuff and I did not need to spend more money!


* 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

Panamá is a Spanish-speaking country. We took two weeks worth of Spanish classes, and we were divided in groups based on our Spanish-speaking abilities at the beginning of the semester. There is no pressure to already know Spanish before attending SIT Panamá! We were encouraged to speak Spanish amongst ourselves, with our language partners at school, and with our professors. There was no requirement to do so, or judgement if not done. It is entirely up to you. I personally recommend speaking Spanish because it contributes to the integration and immersion of your experience! People are generally forgiving and excited to help you learn.

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? I took three years of Spanish in highschool, and I took an intermediate course in college.
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? It is helpful to watch TV shows in Spanish! I also changed my social media language to Spanish just for a little extra integration. Truthfully, I did not do much preparation before I left, but I learned a lot during the semester. Since returning, I am making an effort to speak more Spanish!

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

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

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • International Students
  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • International Students
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?
  • The people!
  • The Independent Research Project
  • Traveling and seeing so much of the country.
* What could be improved?
  • Stipend-related things. Sometimes it was hard to stretch our money from one stipend to the next. Though, i'm not sure this is at fault of SIT...
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish I knew how life-changing this experience would be. If I had known how it would shift my world as a student and as a person, I would have gone sooner!

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 Avid Adventurer
The wardrobe you packed was better suited for a semester of camping than club hopping. Outdoorsy, you might forgo a crazy night out for an early all-day adventure. You'd rather take in the rich culture of an old town than the metropolis of a modern city, but for you getting off the grid is ideal.