Mara’s Lessons Learned in Panama [Part Two]

Only three sleeps left for me in Panama! How the time does fly. Here is the rest of some of the things that I have learned over the last three months:

  • The air conditioning can be turned up so high that when you walk out of an a/c’d building or car, your glasses WILL fog up; and this is normal. It isn’t just a ‘Canada in the winter time’ thing.
  • To be accepted as anything other than a tourist in Panama, you must be dressed chic. No shorts in public, and most definitely heels at all possible times.
  • Cockroaches can’t be killed just by throwing a big hardcover book on it. You need to be much more violent and completely flatten them. A broom has proved to be the most effective tool for this.
  • There are no mosquitos in Panama City proper.
  • People honk like they’re in New York.
  • Almost everything in Panama is closed on Sundays.
  • Microwave cooking is doable when absolutely necessary, and cooking anything from chicken to noodles to vegetables is possible…but tricky.
  • I’m not brave enough to manually light my gas stove’s oven pilot light. And I’ve lived successfully for three months without baking or roasting anything.
  • In Panama it gets dark at 7pm every day. I don’t like this and I’m still not used to it. But it does beat Canadian winters where it gets dark at 4pm.
  • There are security guards (and barbed wire) everywhere. This is normal. Not uncommon.
  • Chivalry is NOT actually dead, and there are places in the world where it’s still ‘ladies first’ and ‘here let me get that door for you’. I’m not sure if this is because of the whole ‘machismo’ mentality or because it is out of respect.
  •  The tap water in Panama is actually safe to drink (I learned this after 2 months of BUYING or BOILING all of my water). Outside of Panama City is a different story. Don’t drink that stuff.
  • Panama City really does have the mosquito thing under control. I have been bitten only twice in three months. Each time, however, I thought about the dengue fever and malaria outbreaks currently around the city…
  • Ceviche isn’t actually all that bad. But it’s something that I won’t be eating on a regular basis. Also, the quality of ceviche varies. WIDELY. Me and raw seafood are not the best of friends.
  • If it smells funny, it will probably taste funny. Proceed with extreme caution.
  • Panamanian doctors will always give you medicine through injection. You have to request medicine by pill. I don’t go to Panamanian doctors; I don’t like needles, and I don’t know how to ask for oral medication instead of an injection in Spanish.
  • I have developed my diplomatic skills and level of professionalism to a point where I can successfully function and effectively map, bridge, and integrate (to some degree) different cultures working in an international environment. This being said, some people are just stubborn and will never be able to bridge cultures and work effectively in a cross-cultural environment.
  • My communication skills are awesome. And you need awesome communication skills to work successfully in a virtual environment. (Example, if you are working in Panama and your boss is in Canada.)
  • “Panamanians drink, drive, and speak very fast. Everything else, they do at a dead crawl.”  I agree with this statement.
  • I’ve stopped making plans in Panama. I just go with the flow. Things rarely go the way you plan in Panama. So I’ve learned to adapt and be much more flexible than I ever thought I could be, rather than risk losing my mind to the insanity (and hilarity) of my experiences here (and everywhere else).
  • Common sense isn’t as ‘common sensical’ as you would think. But in another country, you can chalk it up to ‘cultural differences’… most of the time.
  • I love palm trees. And I will miss them.
  • Panama really doesn’t listen to weather reports, or have regular weather reports, because the weather is always the same: a high of 32ish, low of 25ish, and sunny with a chance of thunderstorms. I love this, and I’m going to miss it.
  • I’m a home body. It took me two months to fully adjust and feel like my Panama was my home. I do ‘naturalize’ in a new environment, but it takes a good long while. Especially while I’m living alone.
  • Patience is a virtue. One that I thought I just didn’t have, but I’ve learned, and I’m working on it.
  • I am Canadian, through and through. No changing that. And I’m proud of this fact.
  • You can spend three months in a tropical country and not get a tan. In fact, you can come back home more pale than you were when you left.
  • An international internship looks great on the resume. Because of this internship, I’ve successfully gotten a contract position at Centennial College working on a Business Continuity Project! All while still in Panama! I am proud of myself for this. Very proud.
  • If I had the choice to do this whole thing again, I would.

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