I'm a fourth year student at Northeastern University pursuing a BS in Environmental Engineering. On campus, I'm involved in the Uganda program of Engineers Without Borders, I'm a member of the student chapter of the New England Water Environment Association, and I work as a research assistant in a lab. Last year, I completed my first co-op at Environmental Partners Group, an environmental engineering firm outside of Boston and I'm currently on co-op at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. I love spending time outside, running with friends, and can't resist chocolate ice cream!
…is obviously 5am, am I right?! Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch BUT it’s definitely worth waking up that early occasionally for a sunrise hike. I set out in the dark with two friends who are also STRI interns, Zach and Zoe, up the trail to a lookout tower that’s perched up in the jungle on top of a hill. Here’s a picture of the first segment of the hike… it’s definitely a good work out to get up to the tower.
But it’s worth the effort – the tower just peeks above the top of the canopy so it’s a prime sunrise viewing spot!
There is an indigenous village on the side of the Chagres River at the left of this photo, and as the sun was coming up we could see several canoes setting out from the village and rowing up the river into the fog.
Even if 5am actually didn’t feel like the best time of day when I was dragging myself out of bed, I’m glad I decided to rise to the occasion because watching the sun come up really brightened my day (hahaha).
When I’m super busy during the semester and feeling stressed out about all the things I have to do, I always desperately wish I had a moment to just sit and relax. Now that I actually have that time (I definitely have more free time here than I have in years) I find myself feeling guilty about it! I feel like I should be using every minute to do productive things or that something is wrong because I’m not racing from one thing to the next. It’s crazy that in our culture being busier than everyone else is almost the goal and people compare how many things they’re trying to do at once. Being here, I’m realizing that not everyone lives like that. In Panama, time is much more flexible – if you agree to meet at 8pm, that really means 9pm or even whenever you’re ready; if something doesn’t get done today, no worries, it can always happen tomorrow; “now” often actually means something much closer to “later” or “when I get to it”.
So this past Saturday when I had nothing pressing to do in the afternoon, I embraced this attitude, hung up my hammock outside, plunked myself down in the sunshine, and did absolutely nothing except look around and think. It was such a pleasant experience and a great chance to do some reflecting on some questions that have been swirling around in the back of my mind. For instance…
Why don’t I usually have free time to just relax like this?
Should I start structuring more time like this into my life?
What would I need to cut out in order to do that?
What am I actually looking forward to next semester?
Does feeling proud of the things that I accomplish outweigh the stress and overwhelmingness of being committed to what can sometimes seem like too many things?
Does it really matter in the end how involved in extracurricular activities I am?
Does it matter to me?
Which one of my commitments are most important to me? Which ones would I be willing to let go?
Why is it so hard to make decisions?
In answering those questions and reflecting on my experience here so far, I’m realizing more and more that time that I invest in other people is always well spent. It’s from all these interactions that I learn the most, and seeing friends and the people I care about is what I’m looking forward to when I get back to campus… I still have more decisions to make about what to do, but luckily I’ll have more opportunities to hang up my hammock for some more reflective moments. On that note, I hope you’re able to find the time today to hang up a hammock if you have one, or at least stop to do nothing except relax for a moment.
Last weekend, I hopped on a small bus from Albrook Mall with my three lab mates and another friend, and three hours and $4.25 later we were deposited on the side of the street in El Valle de Anton – a small town up in the caldera of an extinct volcano. Later in the evening we were joined by two other groups of Gambodians who work for STRI. They were also staying in the same hostel as us, and we all spent a very pleasant weekend enjoying the climate (due to the higher elevation it’s slightly cooler and much less humid than in Gamboa!).
On Saturday, we stocked up on fresh fruit from a local market and embarked on a hike up to the upper edge of the crater. It was a beautiful trek up on a trail that wound up through the cloud forest and past a bunch of waterfalls. When we got to the top, it felt like we had emerged in a completely different place because we stepped out of the jungle and into one of the only grassy spaces that I’ve seen since being in Panama. This meant that we had a great view, during the breaks in the clouds swirling around us, of the town back in the valley. It was an awesome hike!
Gabe and Lily at the top!
On the way back down
Also of interest:
The trip was a great breath of fresh air, so to speak – a nice chance to get to know some more people and do some outdoor adventuring!
It’s nice to get out of Gamboa and go to Panama City every once in awhile to spice things up. Even thought it feels like we’re so removed from civilization here, it’s only a 45 minute ride into the city. There are old school buses (called Saca buses) that have been painted different colors and that are usually blasting latin music (my favorite one has hot pink feather boas strung up all around the windshield), which show up about every two hours and go all the way into the city for only $1.
I’ve taken the Saca bus a couple times with some friends for the afternoon to check out Panama’s only art museum, which featured an exhibit of Panamanian photographers’ images, and to walk around Casco Viejo, the old section of the city. Historically, there was a lot of gang activity in this area and the buildings were deteriorating, but it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site and there has been a movement to revitalize the neighborhood. The architecture is really beautiful, and there are lots of neat restaurants, rooftop bars, and little shops.
The view from a rooftop in Casco Viejo of the water and the skyline of the downtown area. Panama City has a surprisingly modern feel, and people often compare it to Miami. Here are some more photos of Casco Viejo…
You’ll never guess who came to Panama this past weekend… None other than our dear President Aoun! He visited Panama City for the weekend to speak to the Northeastern Panama Community. A group of young global leaders, recent graduates who are active in the community, was established in Panama several years ago, and President Aoun spoke about his vision to expand this network and Northeastern’s presence in Latin America over brunch at a snazzy hotel.
I registered to attend the event with my friend Sophia, the only other Northeastern student currently on co-op in Panama. She is also working for STRI in their Panama City location, researching snails! Once we had registered, someone from the office of alumni relations contacted us to see if we would be interested in saying a few words about our experience in Panama at the event and going out to dinner with him and one of his colleagues the night before.
It was such a crazy experience – I still can’t believe President Aoun was in Panama! But here is the photographic evidence to prove it…
Sophia and I with President Aoun!
We also got to meet President Aoun’s wife (she’s adorable!), and during dinner the night before we learned about the extensive network of Northeastern alumni around the world. Sophia and I had no idea that there is a whole team of people at Northeastern working to cultivate this global network or that there are so many people around the world who still love Northeastern and would be happy to help current students. This is a great thing to be aware of, and something I will definitely keep in mind in the future since I’m considering self developing my third co-op!
Another cool thing about this event was the opportunity that we wouldn’t otherwise have had to chat with Northeastern alumni who are now living in Panama and some families of current students. I actually bumped into the parents of someone I know at Northeastern! It turns out that his younger brother volunteers every other Saturday in Gamboa at STRI?!?!? Such a funny coincidence, I couldn’t believe it! He is still in high school but considering a career in something environmental, so I am going to meet him soon to chat about different opportunities in this kind of field.
As the title of the post suggested, I’m a die hard Northeastern fan so I really enjoyed meeting a community of people from very different backgrounds who were all brought together by their love for this school. And I’m so glad that because of Northeastern I had this opportunity to come to Panama in the first place. Yay Huskies!
I’m super grateful that my family was able to come to Panama to visit me last weekend. One of my younger brothers, Harrison, visited Costa Rica for a week with the high school Spanish club, but my other little brother, Wyatt, and my parents had never been to Central America before so it was neat to be able to show them around. They got a good taste of Panama – a day in the city to do a boat tour of the locks and check out the old section of the city; two days in a teeny, rural beach town to take surfing lessons and hang out by the ocean; and a day in Gamboa to walk up Pipeline road into the jungle, meet my lab group, and see where I’ve been hangin’ out! It was a nice mix of experiences, and I also got to see some things that I would not have had a chance to otherwise.
For example, we took a boat tour of the canal and got to go through two of the locks. The Panama Canal is an incredible feat of engineering and it was interesting to learn more about it and see it from a different perspective.
Other highlights of the trip included…
Hitting the waves!
The neat air bnb that we stayed at in San Carlos, a teeny beach town about an hour from Panama City. To get there, we went to the bus terminal at the Albrook Mall and went up to the window with a sign for San Carlos. After buying the tickets ($3.25 each, public transportation is really cheap here!), we hopped on the little bus and it took off down the Pan-American highway. Buses here are always an adventure because they each have a guy working at the door who collects money and keeps an eye out for potential passengers at the stops along the highway. Actually, they don’t necessarily even need to be at a stop, frequently people will flag the bus down from the side of the road as well! I also love having a chance to look out the window and see some of the country…
Finally, it was great to get a chance to show my family where I’ve been living for the past few months and have them meet my colleagues!
Here we are on a hike… I’m so glad they were able to visit!