University of California, Riverside

UCR Study Abroad - UCR Summer Abroad Program

2015 Gamboa, Panama

The Panama Canal: Tropical Diversity and Culture

Students from all backgrounds and majors will enjoy an introduction to the biological and cultural diversity of the Panama Canal while staying in tropical plantation-style dormitories.

    • General Program Information

      Students participating in this program will enjoy an introduction to the biological and cultural diversity of the Panama Canal. The program provides opportunities to see old-growth tropical forests which line the watersheds of the Panama Canal and to understand their role in resource conservation and function of the canal. The course also focuses on the diversity of unique indigenous cultures in Panama, and well as Spanish, French, American, Chinese and Antillean colonists and their role in the construction and maintenance of the Panama Canal.

      Most of the course will take place in Gamboa, a historical town built in the 30s during canal construction and in the middle of the Soberania national park. Gamboa is about 20 miles outside of Panama city, and our classroom and dormitories will be there. All of the facilities we will use in Gamboa are run by the Smithsonian, and there will be abundant opportunities to interact with Smithsonian scientists.  Whereas many of the most popular summer courses are in Western Europe, this course has the advantage of offering a uniquely tropical biological, cultural and historical experience. The diversity of themes is sure to capture the interest of natural scientists, social scientists and humanists alike.

      A few featured experiences:

      • Mangrove forest in Galeta
      • World famous biological research stations at Barro Colorado Island and Punta Culebra
      • Panama Canal Museum, Railroad, and Locks
      • Ruins of Old Panama which was sacked by Morgan the Pirate in 1671.

      Louis Santiago, Botany and Plant Sciences

      Host Institution:
      Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

      BPSC 146 Plant Ecology
      BPSC 190 Special Studies


    • Accommodations in Gamboa

      The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City and Gamboa maintains all of the facilities necessary for a successful course including availability of accommodations, food service, transportation, an emergency response system, and weekly seminars.

      Faculty and students will be accommodated at the Schoolhouse in Gamboa. This facility contains a classroom, a dining hall, four dormitories that each sleep 8 students, and an instructor’s room. The Panama Canal, hiking trails in Sorerania National Park, and a soccer field are within close walking distance.

      Classroom space is provided in the school house, along with WiFi and a projector.

      Meals are provided by Señora Maynard, who is available for contract for the course. She cooks in a local creole style and meals consist of rice, beans, plantains, salad and a portion of chicken, fish or beef.

    • Detailed Program Fees

      Please note that Program-Related Fees will be paid to UCR (see payment instructions). Most meals ARE included in the "Program-Related Fees" for this program. Airfare is included in the "Estimated Additional Costs" in the bottom half of the table.

      Program Fees

      Program-Related FeesUndergraduates Graduates 
      Non-refundable application fee/deposit $300.00 $300.00
      2nd Deposit $700.00 $700.00
      Course fees – 8 units $2,402.54*  
      Remaining Program Fees – Accommodations, transportation, excursions TBD TBD
      *Fees subject to Regental action (current estimates include the 5% projected increase)
      Estimated Additional CostsUndergraduates Graduates 
      Estimated Meal and Personal Costs $400.00 Same as undergraduate
      Estimated Pre-Departure Expenses (Photos, Passports, etc.) $300.00 Same as undergraduate
      Estimated Round-Trip Airfare $700.00 Same as undergraduate
    • Courses & Syllabus

      Course One:
      (4 units) BPSC 146 Plant Ecology

       Come back soon for more information!

      Course Two:
      (4 units)  BPSC 190 Special Studies

      Students participating fully in this course will be able to:
      Identify the major historical events that led to the construction of the Panama Canal
      Understand the unique challenges of living in the humid tropics and how this has played a role in the development of the Panama Canal
      Summarize the major distinguishing features of a tropical rainforest

      Course Materials:
      A Neotropical Companion, 2nd edition, John Kricher
      The Path Between the Seas, David McCullough

      The Panama Canal and its tropical forests and people will be our main text and our living laboratory.

      Student Responsibilities:
      Some introductory reading in the form of an electronic reader will be assigned prior to departure, and students should complete this material before arrival in Gamboa. Once in Gamboa, students will be responsible for taking notes on the professor's and guest lecturers' commentaries, and are expected to take notes during field or site visits. A successful academic experience in this setting does not depend on memorizing but on reading, understanding, participating, paying careful attention, and being critically engaged with the surroundings.

      Forms of Assessment:
      There will be a final examination based on everything assigned or covered in lecture, in discussion, in seminar, on field trips and on excursions. Outside research will be evaluated in the context of the required report.

    • Planned Experiences

      Overnight stay at the Galeta Marine Station

      Located on the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal, near the city of Colon, STRI's Galeta Island Marine Education Center is adjacent to a fringing coral reef, mangrove forest, and seagrass communities. The site of an intense study of the biological effects of a major oil spill, Galeta continues to serve as a location for marine environmental monitoring, and, more recently, has become an educational site with live exhibits for local and international visitors.

      Day trip to Barro Colorado Island

      Once the top of a local mountain, Barro Colorado Island (BCI) became isolated during the damming of the Chagres River to form Lake Gatun and the Panama Canal. The island is STRI's primary site for the study of lowland moist tropical forests. Together with five adjacent peninsulas, BCI forms the 5,600-hectare Barro Colorado Nature Monument (BCNM), established in 1923 and administered by the Smithsonian since 1946. The island offers daily group tours that include a hike, presentations in the visitor’s center and lunch.

      Panama Canal Museum

      Located in the historic “Casco Viejo” neighborhood of Panama City, the Panama Canal Museum documents the history of Panama as a point of transit across the Isthmus. It provides cultural, economic and political contexts for the 34 years of effort to open the canal between 1880 and 1914, which involved over 80,000 persons in the construction and over 30,000 lives lost in both French and American efforts.

      Panama Canal Locks

      The locks at Miraflores and Pedro Miguel offer opportunities for visitors to see ships move up or down to meet the water levels of the canal or the Pacific Ocean. The locks maintain interpretive centers that provide detailed information about how the canal works.

      Panamá Viejo

      The ruins of “Old Panama” are located just east of the current, modern city. The old city was founded 15 August 1519 by Pedro Arias Dávila with 100 inhabitants and it became Panama’s first permanent colonial settlement on the Pacific Ocean. The city became a base for expeditions to Peru and an important staging point for silver and gold being transported to Spain. Consequently, the city was sacked by Morgan the Pirate in 1671.

    • Pre-departure Orientation

      Check back for more information on Panama's pre-departure orientation sessions!


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General Campus Information

University of California, Riverside
900 University Ave.
Riverside, CA 92521
Tel: (951) 827-1012

Contact Information

Education Abroad
0321 Surge Building

Tel: (951) 827-4113