SIT: Panama: Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems

Video and Photos

A night out in Panama City
A night out in Panama City
Cerro Punta
Cerro Punta
outside study session
outside study session
forest

About

Experience the critical environmental and social issues affecting one of the world’s most diverse ecological systems.

This program provides students an immersive opportunity to study tropical ecology up close in one of the world’s most diverse wildlife and plant environments. Topics of study include: tropical forest ecology; marine and wetland ecology; community resource conservation; indigenous resource use; human-natural resource interface; and the Panamanian environmental movement.

Engage in seven weeks of field study. Study at world-renowned research institutions.
The program includes courses at the highly regarded Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Bocas del Toro and Barro Colorado Island and at EARTH University in Costa Rica, the foremost sustainable agricultural college in the hemisphere.

Questions & Answers

Reviews

98%
based on 9 reviews
  • Academics 7.8
  • Support 9.7
  • Fun 9.1
  • Housing 8.7
  • Safety 9.3
Showing 1 - 9 of 9
Default avatar
Jacob
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

A Fantastic Environmental, Social, and Life Experience

This program, which focuses on traveling and in-the-field learning, provides students with an incredible opportunity to not only study a diverse set of habitats and ecosystems, but also to live among and alongside the people who interact with them on a daily basis, displaying multiple sides to the education provided by this program. Aly Dagang, the program's director, is a true hero, providing unbiased, eloquent education while supporting social and personal activities/development. You will gain great confidence in yourself and abilities while learning in some of the most beautiful environments, spending the first two months of your program exploring the country with your fellow students and professors and the final month researching anything you could desire or imagine, developing independence and allowing for incredible self-exploration; I could not have asked for a better experience.

Lucy
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Life-changing, unique semester

This program was very travel-intensive, which I liked. We traveled around Panama (and briefly Costa Rica) to different locations to stay with homestay families, conduct interviews, and to learn about different ecological field research methods. My Spanish skills improved a lot, and the program allowed me to explore a wide range of fields. The program staff really encourages hands-on learning and experiences over stressing about grades. The independent study project was a very academically and personally challenging, but also very rewarding, experience. It was incredibly fun, rigorous, and unique! Looking at this program on the website can make it seems intimidating, but it is set up in a very manageable way that helped me learn and grow a lot.

What would you improve about this program?
I would try to improve the Spanish class; it could be boring at times.
Default avatar
Haley
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The Study Abroad Experience of a LIFETIME

SIT Panama was exactly what I was looking for in a study abroad program. I wanted a program that really immersed me in environmental/biological field work and Central American culture. Being able to get hands-on experience working in all kinds of ecosystems like mangroves, coral reefs, and tropical forests was something that I really could not have done anywhere else. One of the best parts of SIT Panama is the 7 weeks of travel to various parts of Panama and Costa Rica, which exposed us as students to all these different ecosystems. It was an awesome way to figure out what kind of work and research I liked doing. My Spanish also improved IMMENSELY thanks to homestays and interacting with local people. I always felt safe during my time in Panama, and the staff on this trip are incredible. Aly, the academic director, is AMAZING and she is so invested in the success and well-being of her students. If you are looking for a study abroad experience to get valuable hands-on research and field work experience, truly get to know a country intimately, learn about sustainability, and improve your Spanish, this is the program for you.

What would you improve about this program?
Some classes could've been a little more structured and some of the professors could've been clearer in their expectations for the class. Other than that, I really have no complaints!
Default avatar
Nora
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

A good first travel experience

I had never traveled outside of the U.S. prior to attending this program. I absolutely loved my experience. This program offers the perfect mix of academics, fun, and adventure. I feel like I learned a lot more about conservation, humans in relation to the environment, and how to conduct environmental research. I came in with some hard science background, however, other people had a great time without that background. I would recommend that you only do this program if you are really interested in research and learning about different ways of doing science. There is definitely a huge social science component, which I really liked as an anthropology major. We were given the opportunity to engage with local communities. It was a challenging program is some ways and pretty fast paced. I felt like the time flew by because there were so many activities and places visited. It is really fun to get to see the different parts of Panama. I want to go to Panama. The program does a really great job of connecting you with local researchers and professionals. I loved the freedom of doing my own research project. As well all the staff are super helpful, supportive, and overall wonderful people. Our academic director was great. If you are worried at all about bonding with people, don't, you get to know people very fast and spend a lot of time in the group. Overall it was an incredible experience, that definitely affected my perspective and has impacted the way I live my life now.

What would you improve about this program?
I think the program could include more contact and time spent with host families. I got the opportunity to practice my Spanish a lot, but I would have loved to spend more time in one community to get to know people better.
Default avatar
Elaine
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

A truly unforgettable experience that anyone can sign up for!

I cannot say more positive things about SIT and this program in particular. As a biology major, studying abroad in the tropics is a must, especially if you're interested in biodiversity. When I was considering programs, I was hesitant at first to go to Panama because it did not seem like an obvious choice. However now, I don't regret it at all. All SIT programs are incredibly well structured and defined - the courses follow the syllabi posted on the website very well and you will get a day-by-day calendar schedule of where you will be and what you are doing. SIT is also more "legit" in terms of its academic rigor - I spent a lot of time (especially on excursions) in class and in the field. The tropical ecology and related field methods course allowed me to learn from and do research with Panamanian scientists who are the best in their field in Panama/the tropics and oftentimes are affiliated with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The ISP, or Independent Research Project component of the trip gave me a unique opportunity to develop and propose my own project and was great preparation for writing scientific papers. We also had five homestays that were really amazing and manageable even for me, who came in with no prior knowledge of Spanish. You also take a Spanish class which is more like small-group tutoring, which improved my language skills immensely. The hands-on, experiential academic and cultural experience really immersed me into the ecosystems and cultures of Panama. I was taken out of my comfort zone, made life-long friends, and really developed my skills as a biologist. I wouldn't hesitate to do this trip again!

What would you improve about this program?
The program director, Aly, always seems overburdened with work - I wish that she had another assistant that could help her manage grading and other responsibilities.
Default avatar
Anwyn
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Do This

A lot of people say that study abroad will change your life and it seems super cliche and silly. But this experience was without a doubt the best thing I did in my entire life and brought back to me some things that I had lost. I learned so much about tropical ecology and conservation and culture but also a lot about myself. We travelled around the country, saw so many different places and cultures and learned amazing things. We took the time to have fun and go on adventures on our free days and saw an unbelievable amount of beautiful wildlife. It was intense and absolutely beautiful. To anyone considering this program, do it. It was paradise.

What would you improve about this program?
Make it longer. A week less time in the city.
Default avatar
Emma
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

So grateful for this experience - the most exciting, challenging, fun, and meaningful semester

There were two things about this program that made me super nervous going in: the long-term homestay in Panama City, and the Independent Study Project (ISP). Looking back now, those same two things were hands down my favorite aspects of the program (which is saying a lot, because I loved practically every single aspect of the program). I ended up living with a wonderful and unexpected couple - my "Mom" was born in Italy and my "Dad" was of Chinese heritage. The cooking (both Italian and Panamanian) was incredible, and I couldn't have asked for a more welcoming family. Thanks to them, my Spanish improved by leaps and bounds and I felt very rooted in the local culture. Though it seems scary and might not always be quite as positive of an experience as mine, the homestay element of this program is so essential and contributes so much to the program's impact.
Similarly, the concept of the ISP can seem pretty horrifying at first. You set out completely on your own to design, execute, and write up a study in a foreign country - it seems crazy. But, with the support and guidance of the SIT team regarding everything from project ideas to making living arrangements, it is 100% doable. It challenged me in ways that my school in the U.S. never could, and it helped me grow academically and personally. I feel so much more capable and independent because of the ISP, and I can't emphasize enough how wonderful the experience turned out to be. In short, when it comes to study abroad, you have to through your caution to the wind - it will all be so much more than fine!

What would you improve about this program?
From time to time, things felt a bit disorganized. This was challenging more me, since I tend to appreciate order over surprises. But, going with the flow is the Panamanian way of life, and I grew through learning to appreciate it.
Default avatar
Bailey
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Panamazing Program

We lived with homestays, a primary one in Panama City, and others throughout the country as we traveled around. While I was very nervous for this, it turned out to be the most valuable part. I made such deep connections with my family and my Spanish improved so much. We saw so much of the country, covering a huge span of environments, topics of discussion, and lifestyles. Never did I feel like a tourist, and we truly got to do things and see Panama in such an authentic way that someone really could not get otherwise.

The number of awesome moments and experiences are endless, such as holding and taking data on hummingbirds, learning about medicinal plants with the Naso tribe, seeing both oceans at the same time, learning to take taxis around the huge city, helping organic farmers plant lettuce, interviewing lobster divers in Spanish, hiking through the jungle at night, eating plantains in every form, riding on hand-made bamboo rafts. The variety of experiences was incredible.

The director and professors offer a lot of support for helping to decide on a topic for the final project and you have a lot of freedom to choose a topic you are really interested in. I got to interview lobster divers on an indigenous island in spanish and their native language. This was difficult at points, to try to communicate and to organize my time for 2 weeks taking data, but I grew so much from the challenges that arose and learned an immense amount about their culture and myself.

Being vegetarian is definitely possible here, though chicken is very popular. Although fresh tropical fruit was plentiful, a lot of Panamanian food is fried or carb based, which can be a bit tough after awhile. Lots of rice and beans and plantains and fry dough and salchichas (hotdogs).

What would you improve about this program?
I think that for those who did not come in as Spanish speakers, even though time was dedicated at the beginning to intensive spanish class, there were times when professors still taught in Spanish or a tour would be led in Spanish and it was difficult to have the program director offer constant translation. So since Spanish is not a pre-req, everything on a group level really should be done in English.
Default avatar
Anna
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

SIT Panama-a fantastic program

If you like nature, SIT Panama will definitely foster your appreciation of nature. The program staff is extremely helpful. Program excursions included visiting an indigenous territory, Barro Colorado Island and EARTH University in Costa Rica. Through these excursions, you gain insight regarding current ecological issues, sustainable practices and indigenous resource use. This program includes an Independent Study Project, allowing you to gain relevant research skills that may be applicable to future research. This program left me with an insatiable wanderlust.