Brandeis University Admissions
Making Discoveries Below the Surface
Emily B. ’22
“If you're considering studying abroad — go for it. ... You’ll be making your own amazing memories exploring new places, trying different activities, and meeting new people.”
St. Louis, Missouri
What inspired you to travel to Bocos Del Toro, Panama, for your study abroad?
I had originally planned to study in Bhutan, but my trip was canceled multiple times because of the pandemic.
I worked closely with the Office of Study Abroad, talking about my majors, interests and goals for the program. After reaching out to numerous countries across the globe to find the perfect destination, my study abroad adviser recommended I study in Panama.
I was hesitant at first because I didn’t originally plan to study in an oceanfront location. I learned I would spend the semester exploring the coral reefs and studying terrestrial ecology in Bocas Del Toro, I knew it was the right fit.
Was it challenging adjusting to life abroad?
I had never left the country before, so I felt intimidated at first. After exploring the activities on the island, however, I never really found myself getting the chance to feel homesick! I spent the semester scuba diving, snorkeling, hiking and exploring the coral reefs.
What did you study while abroad?
The classes I took were a great fit for my majors. For Tropical Coastal Ecology and Oceanography some of our classes were spent snorkeling the coral reefs, giving us hands-on lessons. In Terrestrial Ecology we got to hike the different terrain on the island. I also learned more about the island’s culture and social concerns through environmental policy and language courses held within the classroom.
What were some of the challenges you overcame during your experience?
I was very nervous to try scuba diving, but overcoming some initial fear I decided not to let my nerves get the best of me. I fell in love with it. I earned my scuba diving certification during the semester, which is something I never thought I would try and that I am really proud of.
Did you complete any research projects while in Panama?
I realized a way to align my passion for social justice with my career goals in Bocas del Toro.
My research project analyzed the effects incoming real estate developments have on the local mangrove ecosystems and the surrounding communities. With mangroves providing habitats for fish hatcheries and protection for the shoreline, they’re a crucial part of life in Bocas Del Toro.
Our intensive research included snorkeling to study the mangroves up close and spending hours in the lab. We studied oyster populations and fish counts to decipher any changes in the health of the mangrove population. I found myself putting in 12-hour days for field work and analysis, but it was all worth it in the end.
We also conducted focus groups with indigenous communities, fisherpeople and other local stakeholders to get a better understanding of how these changes have affected their lives. While our research failed to show ecological impacts of incoming development, there was a significant impact on the community population. The residents were upset by the recent developments and concerned for the future of their home.
I learned that the results of this research could not only benefit the field of science, but also help the community. I discovered that my love for natural science can contribute to the bigger picture and coincide with my passion for social justice.
I’m in the process of trying to get my research published, but also want to pursue similar projects in graduate school.
What piece of advice would you give a student planning to study abroad?
If you’re considering studying abroad — go for it. Make the most of your time and get to know different people from the local community. You may be worried that you’ll be missing out on experiences with your friends on campus, but you’ll be making your own amazing memories exploring new places, trying different activities, and meeting new people.
Brandeis students have more than 150 study abroad program opportunities to explore in 60 different countries. The Brandeis Office of Study Abroad helps students identify the right academic, linguistic, and cultural fit to make the most of their time studying away from campus.