Abroad Blog of the Week: Take Me Down to the Panama City

I’ll go ahead and say it up front that I may be a bit partial to this Abroad Blog of the Week. Lindsay and Megan of Take Me Down to the Panama City were two my students in San Diego who are now headed to Panama for a semester abroad. With that being said, I have the unique ability to claim them worthy of your reader before their blog has really even gotten started. Their approach to studying abroad has been incredibly proactive. They took weeks to research programs, they went to every prep event possible, and they were regular attenders at all of my Friday lunches. The two are blogging for their university as a pair, something I haven’t seen much of in study abroad blogs. With limited access to technology in their host city, they will be posting about once a week and the fun all begins this coming week as they jet set from LAX. I was glad to catch up with two of my favorite study abroad bloggers before they hit the road for Panama.

Lindsay, me, and Megan

What will you be studying while you are in Panama?

Megan: Both Lindsay and I will be studying Tropical Island Biodiversity and Conservation Studies at the School for Field Studies. What a mouthful!

How did you two decide to study abroad together?

Lindsay:  We both changed our majors to Environmental Science in Fall 2011. We wanted to study abroad together because we knew it would be an easier transition having someone you are friends with in another country and situation with you. We became better friends and roommates through deciding to study abroad together.
Megan: It kind of just fell into place! We are both Environmental Science majors, so we were looking for the same type of program. Lindsay and I had already picked different programs when we heard that the School for Field Studies was launching a pilot program in Panama! The doors for our other programs began to close as the door to Panama began to open wider and wider. In the end, it turned out to be a program that encompassed what we both were looking for and the pieces fell into place! We are excited to go together as we have been roommates and friends at PLNU and look forward to have a little piece of familiarity and home with us as we embark on a new journey.

What will your living conditions be like?

Lindsay: We will be living on an island in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago and we are staying at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Bocas del Toro. We will be living in a dorm type building and have access to classrooms and a library on the property. However we will be living ruggedly as we are a 30 min walk from Bocas Town and have limited access to WIFI. Our research institute is in the middle of the rain forest but is fully equipped with necessary living arrangements.

What are three things you just can’t leave home without?

Megan: As I begin to pack I have realized that there are many things that I feel I can’t leave home without! One would be a bracelet that my best friend, who is also studying abroad, has the twin of. It has an elephant charm for good luck and safety. The second would definitely be my pillows! I am bringing my own pillow to sleep on, even though the station provides one for us, and my travel neck pillow. My little piece of home and comfort in an unfamiliar place. The third, I am a little ashamed to admit, would probably be my nail polish. I have sort of an addiction and have about 40 nail polish bottles in total. Obviously I won’t bring all of these, but it is probably safe to say that even in Panama, my nails will be painted to perfection!
Lindsay: My new Canon Rebel camera, my iPod, and this old black sweatshirt of my dad’s that I wear when I’m homesick or sad.

How have each of you prepared for living in Panama for the next four months?

Lindsay: We have been spending the last six months frantically buying new gear for various activities, getting the appropriate vaccinations and meds, and researching the politics and customs of Panama. I have attended many panels and discussion sessions in the study abroad office talking with past study abroad students about their experiences.
Megan: If we are being honest, I have not prepared near enough! I moved about 1,300 miles away from home to go to college, so I know a little what it is like to pack up and move away from your friends and family. Having said this, I have no idea what it’s like to pack up and move away to another country! I have been researching what it will be like and reading about other people’s adventures in an attempt to get a feel for what mine will be like. The most important thing I think I have done is to move into this experience with an open mind. I have tried to prepare for the unknown and get myself ready to experience things I never could have dreamed of!

What advice would you give other students who are considering studying abroad in a non-traditional location?

Megan: Do it. Even though I have not gone yet, I could not be more excited! You will always have an excuse to go to a traditional location later in life. People travel to Paris all the time for vacation or what have you, but how many people would go to San Jose, Costa Rica for vacation? Not only this, but many traditional locations have cultures that are more similar to ours than non-traditional locations. Great things can happen when you get out of your comfort zone and try something new!
Lindsay: I would encourage them to not be afraid of cultural and language differences. I would want them to research each country with vigor. I would hope that they would feel comfortable talking with other students about their experiences in non-traditional location. And I would stress that they look for God to open and close doors with each study abroad opportunity they encounter.
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