My study abroad experience in Panama was amazing to say the least. Not only did I learn about the local culture and meet some great people, but I got to see tons of exotic animals in the wild. On our hikes in the rainforest near Gamboa, Panama, we saw birds, sloths, frogs, lizards, monkeys, and the occasional poison dart frog. Yikes! When first actually spotting these animals, my adrenaline was pumping with excitement.
But by far, the most amazing time I had was on our “hike” of the rainforest canopy. You know those little metal boxes on the end of cherry picker trucks used to fix electrical lines? Well just imagine climbing into one of those with four other people, the box swaying back and forth, and being hoisted up to the top of the rainforest canopy! On the way up, we saw the habitats of animals that never set foot on the ground. From the top of the rainforest, our view below included Panama City, the ocean, and surrounding islands.
I think one of the coolest parts of this trip was meeting researchers from all over the United States and the world that were working in Gamboa. It was so neat to see what could be done with a degree in science, and really brought a new meaning to the term “real-world application.”But our trip didn’t end with the rainforest. When Dr. Lutzcovich told us that we were off to the remote islands of the Caribbean to see some of the most pristine coral reefs anywhere in the world, I didn’t take him seriously enough. By remote, he meant flying into an island barely big enough to land the plane! For our research, my partner and I snorkeled on the outer edges of the most beautiful coral reef to look for trumpet fish. The huge schools of fish that we saw in the water below us were breathtaking. We were so captivated by what we were seeing that we barely even noticed the particularly large silver fish staring up at us. It was the most surreal experience. Not only were we snorkeling off a perfect Caribbean beach—the kind you might see on a poster—but now we had a live barracuda following us! It was a little scary due to the fact every time we would swim forward, our not-so-little friend would swim forward too, never taking his eyes off of us.
I am not sure too many people can say they were stalked by a barracuda, but I wouldn’t take the experience back for anything! Studying abroad was one of the most adventurous, amazing things I have ever done, and I can’t wait to travel to my next destination!