How do Biodiversity Studies in Panama fit into larger life goals? June 11, 2022

By (Psychology, Dickinson College) - abroad from 07/11/2021 to 08/10/2021 with

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

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
This program was a tremendous learning experience for me in ways I could not have predicted. I am not an environmental studies or marine biology major, like many people on the program are, but I did not realize that last summer when I signed up. I thought I was on a linear track to becoming a biology major, but the interactions with local indigenous communities, and the amazing guest lecturers we had, made me realize that I am far more interested in psychology and social work - a different kind of science. Now I am interested in individualized therapy, and how resilient relationships can be rebuilt after traumatic events - I hugely credit my experience with SFS for this timely reemergence of a lifelong passion - it was tremendously worthwhile to understand what I didn't like, as much as what I do, and there was no better place to have that epiphany then in a hands on laboratory.

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 really appreciated how the professors always made themselves available when we had questions about a lecture, or simply wanted to meet with them for help on a group project. That being said, I did not find the academics to be particularly rigorous or challenging - this is not necessarily a negative, considering you are already in the the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, where all of the resources to learn hands-on are right in front of you - however, some people may appreciate more academic intensity.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I was very satisfied with our living arrangements during this trip. We were the last group in Panama to live at the Old Center, and even at that center, our rooms were regularly cooled, cleaned, and quite spacious. We generally did not have hot water to take showers, but many people, including myself, did not mind that considering how hot Panama summers can be.

* Food:

The food was absolutely incredible. We had an on-site chef, who cooked well - balanced meals for us three times a day, and also made sure we had nutritious snacks when we would go out in the field, and come back.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I generally felt quite integrated with the local culture. It definitely helped that we had quite a bit of free time during the program to go out to shop, take long walks, go to restaurants, etc. - these were all great opportunities to interact with those native to the area, and learn more about the daily lives of those living on the islands.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

Fortunately I did not have any health related issues while on the trip, but for those that did, we had a nurse who regularly came to the center to conduct check ups - if any issues worsened we would immediately be taken to the hospital, either in Bocas del Toro, or if it was more serious, you would be flown to Panama City.

* Safety:

Bocas del Toro is generally a very safe area. There is a security guard at the center every night, just as an extra precaution, but there was never an issue. When you go out, especially at night, it is very important to be aware of your surroundings and always go with a group of friends so you have an extra layer of backup.

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)

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? On average, I spent about $30 - $40 per week.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? My biggest tip, would be save the coins/change you get in Panama as much as possible. You are going to want to save your cash when you are spending more money at one time, but cab drivers often won't have the money to break bigger bills. So make sure you save those coins, because the cab rides are not expensive.


* 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

Although this program is 'abroad', it's also not a language immersion program. People that already had a more firm grasp of Spanish tended to speak it more, while those who were learning a different language in college, or only knew a small bit of Spanish, would often have their friends translate. We never really spoke Spanish at the center, the only time it was used was in taxis, and at bars and restaurants.

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? French 246 (I do not take Spanish)
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? I would suggest learning the very basic conversational bits of Spanish, if you don't already. That is what you will use most, especially if you're ordering food at a restaurant, or just conversing with a cab driver.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Other
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • International Students
  • Other
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • International Students
  • Other
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 Professors
  • The field work
  • The vibrant community
* What could be improved?
  • The curfew system
  • The phones used to contact professors or cab drivers
  • The rigor of the academic curriculum
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? This study abroad program is very interdisciplinary, so there's more than one way to go about researching and understanding the local communities and ecosystems by incorporating your own interests. Don't be fooled that you need to have a certain perspective, or have some particular niche passions in order to enjoy this program - it offers so many opportunities to critically think and problem solve from various perspectives - don't miss out on a single one.

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!