Panama Tropical Research Institute

Panama Tropical Research Institute

Why choose Panama Tropical Research Institute?

The Panama Tropical Research Institute offers an alternative study abroad program with a distinct focus on learning-by-doing. You will live, study, and design projects within a burgeoning, sustainable modern town nestled in the tropical Panamanian jungle.

At PTRI, college students and young professionals are granted the opportunity to apply their passions to the real world. Our student-intern model is a unique opportunity for individuals to learn from highly-qualified instructors while orchestrating one's own adventure. Team members utilize their studies in the search for best practices in sustainability and quality-living.

Unlike other education programs, we insist on exploration.


Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

Once in a Lifetime Experience

I had a phenomenal time during my semester at Kalu Yala. It's such a unique opportunity to fully immerse yourself in a community that's so passionate, curious and dedicated to sustainability. My 10 weeks were spent working in the Construction Arts program, which was a big shift for a law student from the city.

Living in a tropical rainforest isn't always easy; there are a lot of bugs and the humidity was like nothing I'd experienced before. Ultimately though, the challenges are what bring people together. Friendships are built in an incredibly short period of time. Working off the grid allows for a digital detox, and there's no shortage of swimming holes, hikes or beautiful areas to explore. It's truly blissful being forced to slow down, reflect and reconnect with nature.

So many of the staff excel in their areas of expertise. One of my highlights was getting to learn from such hard-working and innovative teachers. The culture at Kalu Yala is one that encourages creativity and celebrates failure. Many projects are a matter of trial and error; seeing how we can tackle issues in a way that's financially, socially and environmentally responsible. You work hard, but it's a privilege seeing Kalu Yala's vision of a sustainable town coming to fruition.

Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

Be Prepared

Kalu Yala was the best summer of my life. I learned more in that summer than in most of my college career. The focus is to build a community. Each student/intern focuses on one individual (or group) project and a program project. You have free reign to focus on what interests you.

This isn't to say the program was easy or sunshine and rainbows (Panama rains a lot). Building a community is hard messy. But Kalu Yala can be the best experience of your life if you will let it. Use it as an opportunity to practice not having expectations, for living in the moment, for appreciating the big and the small for exactly what they are. Do not do this program if you want to be comfortable. If you expect to be comfortable, or to have an easy semester, you will not make it.

If you are open to an experience and willing to take it for exactly what it is (it will be different to everyone) then apply for Kalu Yala. You owe it to yourself to take the chance and see if you can let go of worry and expectations and simply live your best life.

What would you improve about this program?
It is a mindset. It can be improved by growing but it will take time and love to grow it into a self-sustaining community
Read my full story
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

Finding Myself in the Jungle

Graduation was quickly approaching when I saw an add for Kalu Yala, after much research I decided to apply. I spent 10 weeks studying and creating media in the middle of the jungle. I learned how to make podcasts, photojournalism pieces, and videos- all of which are incredibly helpful for my dream job of conservation photojournalism. I met incredible people who were just as passionate as I was and who supported me through everything. It wasn't easy the whole time but I learned about myself and my strength as well as how to be flexible when situations arise, and to make the most of everything. This internship is something I never thought I would do, but I think it's the best thing I've done in my life so far.

Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

I went to the Jungle when I graduated

I found Kalu Yala randomly on the internet while looking for something to do after graduation. I applied then found myself in Panama September 2017. Kalu Yala is a place where you cannot go into it with many expectations because each person's experience will be different. During my time I was able to learn a lot about myself and my ability to adapt in a harsh jungle environment, I got to learn about environmental impact while jumping off of waterfalls in the afternoon. You learn how to coexist in a place that is open to and ready for ideas to be made real.

What would you improve about this program?
I think transparency in the interview process would be beneficial because a lot of my fellow interns expected to be doing something completely different then what we actually did. This was not a bad thing because we all were very happy but I could see how this maybe could cause issues in the future.
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

The Hero's Journey In the Jungle

The ancient traditions say that the young child must go through some transition period of hardships to transition into an adult, and what better than to delve into a different country, in the jungle, with a wide variety of people. From day one, with the trek in, it was a shaping experience. Physically, KY shaped my calves and body to tone, mentally, KY pushed me to become comfortable living in total natural environment with a disconnect from the internet, with the weekend getaways. This experience is one of a kind, especially since the new academic and education system requires a place like this where the resources are available, and one can just come and make whatever they want with whoever they want. This is a program for the self driven, for the ones who want to be self driven, for the ones who want to do a little bit more and learn a little bit more everyday.

What would you improve about this program?
Honestly, in the time frame that it was, it was great. Now a program is never meant to give any tangible return other than knowledge, experience and growth, and it does that very well.


Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Why did you choose this program?

This program found me. I wasn't actively looking for a summer internship or Study Abroad experience, but when I saw a Facebook ad to live in the jungle and build a sustainable community, I jumped on it. After looking through photos and videos on their website, I knew that Kalu Yala would push me outside my comfort zone, and be an experience like none other. I started following alum and staff on Instagram, and the more I learned about the people at Kalu Yala, the more I knew I would fit in perfectly.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

I went to a smaller private university that encourages all students to go abroad. They have hundreds of programs offered, but Kalu Yala was not one of them. I had to work with Kalu Yala staff and the University of Tulsa to appeal this program for class credit. Both sides helped me find the information I needed to complete Kalu Yala as a Study Abroad program.

I had to organize my own flights and phone service, but Kalu Yala arranged transportation from the airport to a hostel, where the interns who flew in early lived for the first weekend.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Leave all expectations at home. Kalu Yala is not your typical, perfectly organized, perfectly planned Study Abroad experience. Kalu Yala is evolving itself, changing every semester.

If you go in with expectations that everything will be perfect, or that everything will be done for you and you get to just relax by the rio, forget it. The only way a startup community works is if everyone helps outs. But don't let this scare you from living at Kalu Yala. Once you are in the community, you want to help.

Some of my favorite mornings were when I was on coffee duty. I would wake up before 5 AM to get the coffee started – and I don't even drink coffee. It was these early mornings when I would fully take in my surroundings; I could feel the jungle waking up just as our town square started to buzz.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Kalu Yala has over 10 programs, and your day will vary depending on the program. Sustainable Ag and Biology spend more time in the farm or hiking than the Business Development team.

Being in the Business Development team, we spent more time brainstorming and problem solving than exploring the environment around us during "class time." My favorite parts of the day were meal times; everyone who was in camp would get together, and eat three times a day. Often, this included music coming from the kitchen and a dance party. After the working day is over, there were always activities to do as a community – from open mic nights to volleyball games, BBQs to planting pineapples.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I didn't have any fears going into Kalu Yala, (although I can't say the same for my parents!) I was ready to start something completely new, and get my hands dirty. By the time I left for Kalu Yala, I was tired of living in the city – disconnected from where our food comes from, and where our waste goes.

I didn't know what to expect so I used that to my advantage – to keep my mind wide open, and learn to appreciate everything for what it was. The good, the bad, everything.

What was your favorite part about the people at Kalu Yala?

A community is nothing without its people. That is nowhere more apparent than at Kalu Yala.

This is the only community I have lived in where everyone was encouraged to be and become exactly who they are and want to be.

When I was at Kalu Yala, I started writing poetry that was very vulnerable and personal. Every other Wednesday, I would get onstage and read it – promptly followed by a funny rap or song remix. I read my poetry to test my limits, and followed it with a funny song or rap to cover up some of that vulnerability. Every time I walked off that stage, I felt love, encouragement, and acceptance that is unparalleled.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Aaron Prairie

Born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico Aaron was raised to love and appreciate the natural world. Ever since he was a young boy he would constantly be flipping rocks, inspecting trees, and watching streams looking for cryptic life spread everywhere around him. This love for science and nature translated into an intense passion for Biological sciences. He is currently pursuing a research career, but before running off to graduate school, he plans to experience the tropics and uphold and contribute to the vision of Kalu Yala.

What position do you hold at Kalu Yala? What has been your career path so far?

Aaron: I hold the position of Biology Director and I act as a naturalist guide for guests that come to the property. My career path so far has been undergrad research and study of arthropods (primarily insects) and I plan on attending grad school and getting a PhD within the next 3-4 years.

What was your favorite traveling experience?

Aaron: My favorite traveling experience was coming down as an intern in 2012 for Kalu Yala. I had been in school for as long as I could remember and I finally had the chance to get out of the classroom and explore the tropics for myself. I had the freedom to pursue my own interests in ecology and the opportunity to explore the Tres Brazos region, asking my own questions and actively hunting for answers.

I made life-long relationships with people and met some of my best friends in the world here. I learned more in the 3 months I spent in Panama than I had in the previous 2 years of college. It was the first time I every truly experienced the freedom to go and do what I wanted and loved.

What unique qualities does your company possess?

Aaron: One is the entrepreneurial, inquiry-based learning experience for interns. Students get the chance to design their own projects and ask their own questions. They not only have the chance to be immersed in nature, but in the local communities of Panama as well.

We are also very transparent to our employees and interns and make decisions from the bottom up as a team. Everybody in the company has a say. Notably, everybody working for the company is under the age of 30. We are more than just a company, we are a community. Kalu Yala is a lifestyle that we all share and we all have the freedom and power to make things happen.

What changes would you make to the study abroad industry?

Aaron: More emphasis on cultural integration rather than cultural imperialism.

Describe a time when you felt especially proud to be part of the Kalu Yala team.

Aaron: I felt especially proud when we went as a team on vacation to Costa Rica. We attended the envision festival as a volunteer crew and instantly gained fame as the 'Panama Crew'. We immediately impressed people by our group bond and ability to work so well together.

We helped build composting bathrooms, helped build stages, we worked at a coffee stand, managed some kitchens and really made an impression. Strangers already knew about us before we ever met them and wanted to be involved with our operation. I was just so proud to have these friends and coworkers.