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).