Panama: Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation

“I learned how to be a researcher, how to participate in the community 24/7, and ask questions all the time.”

-- Program alum

Experience one of the world’s most ecologically diverse countries. Explore the critical environmental and social issues affecting its conservation.

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This program provides students with an immersive opportunity to study tropical ecology firsthand in one of the world’s most diverse ecological environments. Topics of study include tropical forest ecology; marine and wetland ecology; mammal and bird conservation; indigenous resource use; and the human-natural resource interface. Learn more about the program’s coursework.

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. 

Interact with NGO leaders, subsistence communities, and indigenous groups.
Students meet with NGO activists and local community members, including subsistence resource users, to gain an in-depth understanding of how issues related to the environment and conservation affect lives and livelihoods within local communities. Excursions include visiting coastal fishing communities, a top-10 world birding site in Soberanía National Park, an organic agroforestry chocolate farm, and an industrial banana plantation. Learn more about the program’s excursions.

Learn or improve existing skills in Spanish through language study and homestays with Panamanian families.
Language instruction, conducted in small group formats,  is provided at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. Homestays with host families in both urban and rural settings give students a rare, personal experience of the country, its cultures, and livelihoods. By living with local families in rural mountain villages, and other diverse settings, students learn about subsistence living and conservation in Panama through firsthand experience. Learn more about the program’s homestays.

Discover the advantages to studying in Panama.
Panama has long been known as "the crossroads of the world," linking not only North and South America but also the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The country has eight unique indigenous groups, a strong Afro-Caribbean cultural influence, a Caribbean archipelago comparable to the Galápagos Islands, more bird species than are found in all of North America, and the last great roadless wilderness in Central America.

Please note that some field work is conducted in the water. Swimming proficiency is necessary for the marine portion of the program.

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects/Undergraduate Research

Engineers Without Borders Spotlight on SIT Panama alumni

From Panama to Mars! SIT alumna Bethany Ehlmann is today a participating scientist on the NASA Mars Rover Curiosity mission, a research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and assistant professor of planetary science at Caltech. She studied abroad with SIT in 2002 and was recently profiled by National Geographic as an "Emerging Explorer."

Alumni from the fall 2008 semester have joined together to give back to their host community by starting an organization called Few for Change. The organization, headed by Emory University alum Tim Soo, works to raise tuition money for children living in the Comarca Ngobe-Bugle, one of five autonomous, indigenous territories in the mountains of Panama.

Emily Legault, 2007, returned to Panama with Engineers Without Borders to collaborate on water sanitation issues with a local indigenous community. "During my semester with SIT, I experienced poverty and its power to destroy lives. In one homestay, we lived with the Ngobe people, an indigenous group in Panama. My host family’s water came from a nearby stream, collected with old, moldy plastic jugs. Their food consisted of mostly boiled bananas and rice. They slept on wooden planks. Children were very malnourished and often sick due to poor water quality. I returned to the US knowing that I could not ignore the injustice and hardship that I had only begun to understand. Determined to try to change what I saw, my SIT academic advisor and a Panamanian NGO helped me to make contact with the small indigenous Naso community of Sieykin." Read More.

Costs Dates

Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Panama City

Language Study: Spanish

Prerequisites: Coursework in environmental studies, ecology, or biology.


View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)

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