It is a fantastic opportunity to try new things and to make amazing memories! Past Review

By (Clark University - Worcester) - abroad from 01/30/2016 to 05/10/2016 with

The School for Field Studies / SFS: Panama - Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I learned great research skills and how to collaborate/share space with people better, I became dive certified, I traveled to Costa Rica for spring break and explored national parks, I saw my first wild shark, I became more passionate about the environment, and overall I just had a wonderful experience. It was incredibly worthwhile and I would recommend it to anyone who loves the environment and who is willing to try new things.

Review Photos

The School for Field Studies / SFS: Panama - Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies Photo The School for Field Studies / SFS: Panama - Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies Photo The School for Field Studies / SFS: Panama - Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies Photo The School for Field Studies / SFS: Panama - Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies Photo

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

I found the SFS Panama program to be academically rigorous in terms of frequency of assignments and high expectations of the professors. However, the hands on nature of the program made the work fun and interesting, and professors were extremely willing to help us anytime. Typical assignments were group presentations on class readings, scientific reports on field data collection, and the final Directed Research project in the last weeks of the program. The work was rigorous but fair. My favorite part of the program was the final research project.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Cinda Scott, the center director of SFS Panama, is amazing. She is fun, caring, and warm. Cinda kept us all in check but also made sure we had the best experience possible by organizing salsa classes, taking us on special field trips, and all around being a wonderful person.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Communal living is not for everyone, but fortunately I had great roommates. Each room has 4 beds (2 bunk beds), two sinks, a bathroom, and air-conditioning (which was a nice surprise!). I didn't spend much time in my room because I was always busy, so sharing with 3 other people wasn't hard for me. The only difficult thing was finding alone time, but the program is only 3 months and it flies by!

* Food:

Don't worry, they don't only feed you rice and beans. Students cook breakfast every morning and you can choose to make anything you want for that. There's always fresh fruit, veggies, and a vegetarian option available. In addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we had snack (fruit, chips, brownies, hummus) twice a day. On Fridays we had Panamanian food, but all other days of the week we had pasta, pizza, sandwiches...etc. The food was great.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

The community activities and outreach could have been planned better. I didn't feel very connected to Panamanian culture until Directed Research started and I began interviewing local business owners. In general, we were on campus or in the ocean/rainforest most days, so you have to seek out integration yourself.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I never had a health issue during the program, but other people experienced digestive problems at times and at one point a couple people got lice. The lice was controlled well, and people with digestive problems were given medicine and teas to help. The local hospital is basically non-functional, but non serious issues can be dealt with easily at the center.

* Safety:

The center is in a very safe place and we never had an issue with safety out in town. SFS enforces the buddy system when you leave the center, so you're never alone. Just use common sense and you'll be just fine.

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

I couldn't have asked for better professors, more interesting research opportunities, or a more beautiful place to explore. I met so many cool people who I have things in common with, and became so much more passionate about Environmental Science. The SFS Panama program was so unique and I loved every minute of it. I would go back in a heartbeat and do it all over again!


* 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)

It depends on how much you'll want to explore and see new places and go out on weekends. I spent way more than I thought I would because I spent my free time exploring and taking boats/taxis to new places and I got scuba certified which cost about $300. During the week there are very few expenses since you're on campus all day and food is provided. However I spent a lot of money during Spring Break and "Weekend Away". Also, keep in mind that to get to town you have to take a $2-$3 taxi each way, so that adds up too.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? Around $50 during regular weeks.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Only use the taxis/boats that SFS has worked with before. The drivers are nice and they will never overcharge you. Keep track of your spending and take money out of the ATM in large amounts since they charge you a fee per withdrawal. Also, try out the cheaper, local restaurants in town instead of the expensive tourist ones! Their food is amazing, and I never had a problem with food poisoning.


* 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 took intensive Spanish classes for the first 2 weeks of the program, but after that it was completely up to us how often we practiced it. (None of the regular classes/assignments have to be in Spanish). I went into the program knowing 0 Spanish, and came out knowing only a little. My Spanish teacher wasn't good and I didn't make the effort to practice on my own. It's really up to you what you get out of it!

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? None
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? --
How many hours per day did you use the language? 0
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Be fearless when you're in town. Try out your Spanish as much as you can, because otherwise you'll find yourself speaking English the whole time. The locals are happy to teach you some words, but only if you ask :)

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • International Students
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?
  • Directed Research
  • My professors and classmates
  • Living on the beach for 3 months
* What could be improved?
  • The community engagement activities
  • The WiFi (it was terrible)
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish I knew that the Spanish language component wasn't going to be a huge deal. I almost didn't apply to the program because I thought I would fall behind due to a language barrier. I also wish I knew that things would be more expensive than I anticipated. They weren't hugely expensive, but if I had had a clearer idea of costs I would have budgeted better. Finally, I wish I knew how nice the center would be and how near to town it was! I worried at the beginning that we would be completely isolated from other people, but the center is a 5 minute drive from the main town where there are plenty of bars, shops, and restaurants.

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!