I chose to study abroad for two reasons: one, to step out of my comfort zone and experience college with a
whole new set of friends in a completely different place, and two, to learn about and be immersed in a new culture.
I am now in my fall semester of my senior year studying abroad in Panama.
I am an environmental studies major, and for that reason, I wanted to choose a program that was environmentally focused and academically rigorous.
I did a lot of research and finally decided to apply to a program based out of Brattleboro, Vermont, called School for International Training.
My specific program in Panama is called Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems and Biodiversitiy Conservation.
On Aug. 30, I flew from Boston to Panama City, where I met up with the 10 other girls on my trip, as well as my two Panamanian directors.
On this trip, I expected to learn about tropical forest ecology, marine and coastal ecology, mammal, bird and amphibian ecology, ecological field research methods, indigenous resource use and the human-natural resource interface.
I also expected to travel for seven weeks doing field studies in Panama and Costa Rica, visit world-renowned research institutions, including the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and EARTH University, and spend four weeks conducting independent field research on a topic of my choosing.
I am now one-third of the way done with my semester and I have done all of this and more.
My directors have been doing this trip for 14 years now and have expansive contacts within the country that allow us to participate in some exclusive insider opportunities.
For example, this past weekend we took an hour long boat ride in a dugout canoe to get to the indigenous
community of Seiykin, where the Naso people live. We stayed with Naso families for two nights and experienced what it’s like to live with no running water or electricity.
We also stayed with five different Panamanian and Costa Rican families who welcomed us into their homes, amplified our spanish and cooked us some delicious authentic food.
Aside from exploring nature and learning about the environment, we also get to live with families in Panama City and take Spanish classes at a local university.
After class and on the weekends, we can go to museums, breweries, discos, futbol games and nearby islands to relax.
The best parts of my trip so far have been being surrounded by so many people with the same interests as me and having the freedom to discover new things on my own.
This program is different than a typical study abroad program in the best way possible.
It is definitely not for everyone, but it’s a pretty amazing way to spend the first half of my senior year.