Ellie Casement and Anya Mukundan | 11/18/21

Check out our new student blog series, “The View from Abroad,” that follows current senior and OSA peer advisor Anya Mukundan as she studies abroad with CIEE Toulouse this semester! Anya will cover topics such as language, culture shock, and travel.
For this week, I thought I would give a brief overview of what an average day is like as a study abroad student. Of course I cannot represent every experience, which I why I have gotten some help from my friend Ellie Casement. Like me, Ellie is a current senior in the EBIO department. She also studies anthropology, Spanish, and history, while my other focuses are art and French. Ellie is currently studying with SIT Panama on their Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation program, and she was kind enough to lend a second perspective to studying abroad! Both of us are currently enrolled in cohort programs, meaning we mainly take classes with other American study abroad students. However, even two cohort programs can be vastly different. For example, I take certain courses at a local university with French students, while Ellie gets to travel all over Panama doing hands-on biological research. Follow us as we compare an average day in each of our programs!  
Waking Up 

Anya: I usually wake up around 8am depending on when my morning classes are and head downstairs to make myself breakfast. Since my host family wakes up at different times, I usually bump into someone as they are heading out for work or school. Today I ate some toasted baguette with butter and raspberry jam. 

Ellie: During different field modules, I wake up between 6 and 8 depending on the fieldwork for the day. This week we are on a tiny island of the Caribbean coast studying coral reef ecology, and so I woke up around 6 just to catch the sunrise at the beach. I ate breakfast with my cohort around 7:30, which was a Panamanian fried bread called hojaldras, coffee, and fresh pineapple.  


Anya: I cross my fingers that there will be a bike at the city bike station near me. If there is, it is a quick ten-minute glide down the hill and across the canal to my classes. Otherwise, I walk further to the bus station and then take the bus to the metro. Usually in the morning I will have one or two classes. Today I had French followed by art history, both with members of my cohort of American students.  

Ellie: My cohort usually has a brief morning lecture with our module professor during which we learn what kind of project we will be doing that day. Then we head into the field after breakfast to do data collection or just explore the local ecosystem. Today, we took a boat to a shallow coral reef where we spent time snorkeling and working in small groups to collect data on the local coral species.  


Anya: Usually a handful of us will take the metro from class up to the city center for lunch. Today I went with a friend to a new bakery (that gives student discounts!) and we sat by the river to eat. If I have a bit more time before class, I’ll find a café with Wi-Fi to sit in and do work.  

Ellie: After several hours of hard work, we head back to our lodging (it ranges from biological stations, hostels, and lodges) for lunch. Today, we had lentils, rice, and sauteed vegetables. 


Anya: Afternoons vary a bit more. Some days I will have afternoon courses, either at the local university with French students, or at the CIEE headquarters with my cohort. Today I had urban geography at the local French university. Other days we might have a field trip for art history, cultural activities such as pastry workshops with my program, or I will head off to my internship at an urban agriculture association. 

Ellie: In the afternoons, we sometimes head back out to the field or spend some time analyzing the data we’ve already collected. Today, I worked on a class presentation based on the coral reef data from the morning, then had some free time to go swimming and play beach volleyball.  


Anya: After my last class I usually head back to the house via bus to do homework for a bit or work as an OSA Peer Advisor. I join my host family for dinner each night around 8 – the late dinner is something I had to get used to. Today we had a carrot quiche and salad, and as always, some cheese and bread to finish it up! 

Ellie: I usually join my cohort for dinner around 6. We also eat with our module professors, and so I usually spend that time getting to know them a bit more, as well as asking any questions about class or fieldwork. Tonight’s dinner was black beans, casava, plantains, and, of course, lots of rice.  


Anya: Depending on the night I will continue to do homework, or I will head off to Ultimate Frisbee practice with a local club here. Later in the week I might meet up with friends in my cohort at a bar or along the Garonne River.  

Ellie: After dinner we usually have a class for an hour or two, followed by some free time or study time before bed. Today, we had a lecture on coral reproduction, and after class I went for a walk with some friends around the island. During our walk, we came across over 100 baby sea turtles that had just hatched and were crawling from their nest into the ocean!  


Anya: Each weekend is a little different, but I usually take the time to do some exploring, either in Toulouse or in the surrounding region. This weekend my friends and I took a train up into the Ax-Les-Thermes and went on a hike. Afterwards we soaked our feet in the natural hot springs in the town center.  

Ellie: Weekends depend on whether or not we are on excursion or in Panama City. When we are in the city, we get weekends off and usually spend the day visiting nearby beaches, museums, playing soccer, and walking around the old part of the city. During excursions, we might be travelling between locations, having regular class and labs, or visiting different NGOS and conservation organizations. This past weekend we travelled from the city to the Caribbean coast, took a long boat ride to the island, and then had a free day to get settled, unpack, snorkel, and relax on the beach.