As a student in the International Development Program at Centennial College, I had the opportunity to participate in the Faculty-Led International Program (FLIP) to Panama of the Services and Global Experience (SaGE). As the program’s name implies, the idea was to complement our learning at Centennial College with experience abroad, to know more about the work of international organizations on the ground.
The destination was the City of Knowledge (CoK) in Panama City. CoK is a hub where UN agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), think tanks and educational organizations share a space to facilitate mutual cooperation on development issues.
The academic aspect was our top priority in the trip. We had a valuable and incomparable experience. But, we also had the opportunity to taste and enjoy the Panamanian culture. We took a tour of Panama City and learned about historical and cultural sites. The visual contrast between the old and new parts of the city was surprising. The city has two different faces standing literally beside each other; that was like being in two completely different parts of the world when we were in fact in the same city.
As expected, the gastronomy is highly based on seafood as the city is surrounded by water – so we got to try it. But, as expected for travelers like my classmates and I, we decided to try different things every day, not only from Panama but also from different Latin American cuisines. Food lovers would understand why we do not regret it!
According to one of our hosts, diversity in Panama City can be compared to Toronto but on a smaller dimension, as one can see many people from different backgrounds in one city, this can be attributed to the Panama Canal and its importance in trade for different nations. Our trip was short so we experienced just a bit of that diversity.
My recommendation: If you get the opportunity to participate in this kind of experience, just take it! It will force you to get out of your comfort zone, challenge you to adapt to a new environment, open your eyes to different realities, allow you to experience a little more of the world you live in, know more about different people and cultures rather than what you are used to and, along with all of that you will learn a little more about yourself. If you get an opportunity to go to a different place, learn, discover, do yourself a favor and be a traveler, not just a tourist.