Mara’s Lessons Learned in Panama [Part One]

So, true to Panama form, my weekend in Chiriqui never happenned due to a change in plans (I had to make myself present at a work function: a family fair that Centennial College had a booth at). Although I’m sad to miss out on Chiriqui, I know this won’t be my last chance to come to Panama. I’m saving it for next time.

With only 9 sleeps (eek!) until I get back on a plane and head back to Canada, I’ve started reflecting about my time in Panama and about everything that I’ve learned. I’ve changed a lot. Panama has changed me. For the good, I think, but I’ll let others be the ultimate judge of that when I get home.

In the spirit of this internship and this blog, I’ve compiled a list of things which I’ve learned throughout the duration of my stay in Panama. Though this list is in no way exhaustive, it shines a light into my personal and professional development over the last three months. Also, because of the fact that with the conclusion of this internship I’ll have completed my Project Management Post-Grad Program, I’ve lovingly named it my “Lessons Learned”. (Anyone on Project Management will understand.)

Also, because this list is longer than anticipated, I’ve cut it into two blog posts. Here’s the first half. I hope you find it enlightening!

  • English is nowhere near as ‘universal’ a language as you might think. Less than 10% of Panamanians speak English.
  • Bringing a hair straightener along to Panama was a stupid and useless idea.
  • Panamanian hairspray is better than North American hairspray. They’ve created it to manage the crazy heat/ humidity/ rain. For this reason, the hair straightener is rendered somewhat useful. But not really…
  • Traveling alone as a woman is empowering. But a little lonely.
  • My personal security is always my first priority (subconsciously and consciously).
  • The whole ‘time matters less when you aren’t in a Westernized country’ thing is totally true. And it infuriates me.
  • I’m not sure how I would have survived my homesickness without Whats App, Skype, and the Internet; with technology though, I got over it much faster than I thought I would.
  • Panamanians are genuinely friendly people who will honestly help you with anything (from carrying your groceries home to loading minutes onto your prepaid phone, to giving you directions). You just have to be able to communicate in Spanish with them. That being said, there’s also a lot of not so nice Panamanians out there as well. So be open, but cautious.
  • Working for a Canadian institution in a foreign country is complex….and frustrating.
  • Changing people’s cultural orientation is impossible. Also, getting them to understand your own culture is next to impossible as well.
  • The things that I learned in my International Project Management course could be applied textbook. The thing is you can’t just read it and learn. You have to experience it.
  • I’m secretly enjoying tweeting about all of my experiences. And I’m enjoying blogging much more than I thought, too!
  • Being patient is not one of my strong suits. And when a store says that they open at 9…they mean 9..ish…closer actually to…whenever they feel like it.
  • Putting your purse on the floor is bad luck (it means money will ‘fall out’). This is also a habit I haven’t been able to break yet, unfortunately.
  • Having a red wallet is lucky. (And I do!)
  • I like to think having a red wallet while still putting my purse on the floor balances out the good and bad luck and brings it all back to a neutral state with no luck involved.
  • As soon as you see dark clouds rolling in in Panama, head for cover. Rain is coming FAST and it is almost ALWAYS a downpour thunderstorm.

Part Two coming soon!

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