Nothing was better than hearing those words “Welcome to Panama!” while standing at customs in the airport. My journey here was a lot more difficult than I expected it to be, I was lucky enough to be travelling with my roommate which helped the process go faster. First problem we encountered was in Miami during our lay over; by the time my roommate and I were able to find our terminal it looked deserted. We were very confused so we asked an airport employee who was kind enough to inform us that our plane had already left for Panama City about five minutes ago! That’s right we missed our flight! We were directed to speak with our airline, which we did so and then found out that it was the last flight of the night….the verdict was that we ended up sleeping in the Miami airport until the morning. It was definitely an experience to add to the books! And to even top it off the fire alarm went off in the airport around 5am, we could just not win no matter what. We caught our flight and landed in Panama City a day later than expected. The release of stress could have not felt better until…….we started looking for our luggage and it was not there! We then had to speak with an airport employee who looked into it for us. We were than told that our luggage was still in Miami and we would not be able to receive it until the flight landed which was six hours later.
Driving to our place from the airport I was shocked, I looked out the car window and seen nothing but a city surrounded by beautiful big sky scrapers .They sure were right when they said Panama City is the mini Miami! A few days upon our arrival we started our internship which is at Fundader and located on the out skirts in a city called Arraijan. The excitement was a lot to handle and the eagerness to meet my fellow coworkers and students. We were educated about the foundation and introduced to everyone, it was great the people are so friendly and welcoming it’s unbelievable. They made my roommate and I feel very comfortable right away. We discovered that Fundader is a center to help those within the community that live in poverty with chances of opportunity to succeed in a career to help better their futures free of charge. It has been great to be taking part in a foundation such as this one. The experience’s have only been getting better day by day.
I went to the Panama Canal last weekend. It was beautiful. Unfortunately because it was a Sunday the information building closed early! We were hoping to learn more about the canal’s history and see pictures or video about it. Instead, we went to a restaurant that overlooked the canal.
According to Wikipedia, the Panama Canal (Spanish: Canal de Panamá) is an 82-kilometre (50 mi) ship canal in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) to the International maritime trade. Actually, the canal was not very big, the route was more narrow than I had expected. In fact, whenever two ships shared the canal, they were always travelling in single file! Maybe two ships cannot pass at the same time?
Anyway, the weather was amazing and the view was also great. I hope to go to the Panama Canal again to see more! See ya Panama Canal!
After visiting the Panama Canal, I went to the biggest shopping mall, Albrook mall. It was a really big shopping mall; it looked like the Eaton Centre. The shopping centre has animal mascots: an Elephant, a Giraffe, a Tiger, and a Panda. They were cute. The mall also connected to a casino. I have had never been to a casino before and I hope I can go before I leave.
Unfortunately when we got to the mall it was already late so most of the stores had closed. Some stores were selling clothes for $1.00 or $2.00! It’s so cheap! Have you ever bought clothes for only $1.00? Also tax is only 7% in Panama. You can buy something cheap, and only have to pay a small amount of tax! If you are a shopping addict, you should come to Panama! Panama is a great country to enjoy shopping.
It’s is my first school fair promoting Centennial College in Panama. Before I went to the fair, I was excited because THIS is what I really want to be doing as a career! Lisandro, Heaven, and I went to the fair to promote the College. Around 9:30am, there were already many people at the fair. We watched the performances of many bands for different schools. In order to promote Centennial we handed out pamphlets to lots of people in crowd. We did our best to explain what information we could about Centennial College, but there were very few people interested in Centennial College. I can’t blame them, though; these were parents of 5-8 year old boys and girls! Ultimately, the school fair was not too successful, so I am a little bit disappointed. I hope the next school fair will be more successful.
My co-worker Lisandro invited me to go the wine & food fair last Saturday. It was the first time in my life going to this kind of fair. So many people were enjoying themselves there; drinking different kinds of wine, and eating different kinds of food. I especially enjoyed looking at the pretty muffins and cookies! I am desert lover! I got a business card of one of the bakers. I am going to contact with her through Facebook once I get the chance. I am so happy and enjoying my life in Panama a lot!
Hola! Encantado de conocerle.
I am leaning Spanish in Panama! Most of Panamanians can’t speak English, so I need to learn basic Spanish for day to day life in Panama. There is a lot of work involved but I love learning new languages!
First dayI was really exhausted when I arrived in Panama, because I couldn’t sleep.
I fell down in the Panamanian airport so I hurt my foot and legs. Luckily I had my roommate, Heaven, to help and take care of me. Thanks to Heaven, I am feeling better!
I was falling sleep all the time when Mara, Heaven, and I were talking, and when I was going to apartment in the Lasiandra’s car. I was really tired!
We went out for dinner with Lisandro. Back in Toronto, I had friends from Panama that recommended a Panamanian dish called “Ceviche” so I was excited to try that! It was very interesting!
Second dayI was really feeling lonely, because Wi-Fi in our apartment was not working! So, I couldn’t call with my family and friends. I hope it will be work soon!
We went to a grocery store; the market looked like Metro; clean and neat! We bought some foods and products in the market. It was so exhausting that when we got back home, we just knocked out and fell asleep. Around 6:30pm, we started to cook dinner. The dinner was really nice. Actually, I am not cook so Mara and Heaven taught me how to cook! It was a great chance to learn to cook from my roommates!
Third dayThis was the first day at the office for my internship. The building and office are awesome; there are so many restaurants and malls nearby! I finally used internet for first time in Panama because the internet in our apartment is still not working. So, finally I could call with my family and friends after two days of being here! I don’t know how I endured that time!! I was really happy to be able to keep in contact with my loved ones. I hope the internet in my apartment is going to be work soon! Also, I hope I am going to be a good fit at work, and be able to communicate in Spanish soon!
Forth dayI have learned some office tasks from Mara. Actually, her Spanish is really good, so she does her job very well. I have to be improving my Spanish in order to work efficiently in the office!
The Spanish language is really very interesting! Some words are exactly same with English, while so many others are different. Also, the pronunciation of Spanish is a little bit similar to French. For example, although “hotel” in English is the same word in Spanish, the English word “coffee” is translated into the Spanish word “café”! I hope to be comfortable listening and speaking Spanish soon!
Fifth dayIt is Mara’s last night in Panama. I have received my responsibilities from Mara; she was very helpful at the office. I thanked her for the help! I am so worried about working alone in the office after she leaves. At the same time, I am looking forward to working and living by myself; I believe in me and so far I am doing well! I will do my best here!
So, it’s finally here, my last day in Panama. Wow. I can’t believe all of the stuff I brought with me to Panama fit into one suitcase and one carry on last time. Clearly my packing skills are lacking this time around, because I’m having serious difficulties. I’m pretty sure the bags are over the weight limit, but we will find out for sure at the airport in about 3 hours.
The last three months have been an experience that I’m never going to be able to convey to others as well as I want to, though I’ve been trying with my blogging. On one hand, it feels like I’ve been here for years: I’m used to it now, and I’ve adjusted to living here. On the other hand, it feels like it’s only been a few days, and I’m not ready to leave yet; I’ve just gotten settled!
Panama has changed me. For the better, I firmly believe, though I will let the people at home in Canada decide that for sure. I’ve learned more about myself and the world in the last three months than I could have ever hoped to; my whole perspective has shifted and my eyes have been opened in more than one way. It was a true learning experience and I have grown, as has my understanding of the world.
As I am a part of the first group of students that Centennial College has sent abroad with their newly established Global Experience Office, I feel as though I should shout it for everyone at Centennial to hear: “do this internship!” As I’ve said before, you can only read and hear about international experiences so much. You need to need to absolutely get your boots on the ground and experience it first-hand. This was my first experience travelling internationally individually, and some experience it was.
There is a lot of advice that I would impart to students following in my wake. Keeping it brief, these are my words of wisdom:
Don’t come in with any preconceptions or ideas; whatever you’re thinking, it’ll be different than what you expect.
It won’t be a perfect experience. Just like any kind of travel, there will be ups, there will be downs, there will be hiccups, and there will be changes in your plans. Don’t let these things deter you; stay positive, and go with the flow. It’s all a part of the experience!
Bring your sense of humour with you, along with an acute awareness of culture and cultural differences. You will need to use both. A lot.
Be as prepared as possible, with information, advice, and knowledge from anywhere you can get it, but understand that you will never ever be prepared for everything.
Bring a phrasebook. Or a dictionary. Or if you have a smartphone, get a translator app; you’ll need it.
Embrace it all; the culture, the language, the food, the music, the sights, the sounds; meet the people, put yourself out there (always remember to keep your personal safety in mind) and enjoy.
Yesterday I wrote out a list of all the things that I will be missing in Panama as soon as I get on that plane back to Canada. However, just as in any travel experience, there are certain things which I will …miss much less, let’s say. Here are a few of those:
The humidity (which, because of the air conditioning everywhere, I still haven’t become accustomed to)
The A/C having a perma-setting to 20 degrees and my glasses constantly fogging up when I step out or open a window
The polychronic time culture (Translate: The fact that everyone is late for everything. ALWAYS.)
Praying for my life every time I get into a car and using my imaginary brake pedal to excess
Watching the traffic out of the back of my head as I walk on sidewalks to make sure I don’t end up a pedestrian fatality (yes, sidewalks aren’t safe either)
Missing my family and friends and being homesick (although I was much less homesick than I thought I would be! )
Trying to speak Spanish and people just staring at me like they just saw a monkey talk (yes, my accent and grammar sucks, I know)
Constantly having to repeat “mas despacio, por favor” (pardon the spelling) when people speak to me in order to get them to speak slower, so that I stand a chance of understanding what they are trying to say
Car alarms lulling me to sleep and waking me up at all hours
Expensive imported food products ($4/lb for carrots from California, for example, and $9 spinach)
Microscopic ants (unlike the ones in Ghana, these don’t bite…they’re just everywhere)
The glacial pace at which everything occurs in Panama (except the talking and driving, of course)
Dealing with a time difference and ALWAYS getting confused by it. It’s like dyslexia with numbers and math…
Everything being closed on Sundays
Please note: The ‘not miss’ list is substantially smaller than the ‘will miss’ list 🙂
The same weather every single day (low of 25 and high of 33, sunny, with a chance of thunderstorms). You don’t need a weather forecaster. Ever.
My gas stove
The washer and dryer in my kitchen
The A/C in my apartment (don’t have any of that in my apartment in Canada!)
Saying hi and smiling to strangers, and getting a kind smile and hello in response…in ELEVATORS
Cheap local produce (and great quality, too!)
My new roomates!
Panamanian ice cream (all homemade… they don’t fool around)
Panamanian coffee (but I’m bringing a TON of it back with me…well…maybe not a ton…but several pounds, definitely)
Two dollar taxis to anywhere (almost)
The Diablos Rojos! (Let’s be clear, just looking at them from a distance as art, not actually riding in them…)
Ceviche (yes…I’ll miss the raw fish…)
The short but intense thunderstorms
Being immersed in Spanish (I’ve made progress!) and speaking Spanish
The palm trees
City lights and rolling mountains and seaside all in the same view from my kitchen window and balcony
The service that I get as a ‘tourist’ (better than the infamous bad service most Panamanians give and get, but still shabby)
My new InterNations family in Panama (some of the most interesting people I have ever met!)
No mosquitoes any where
The overall Panamanian lifestyle- relaxed, not stressed, not frustrated, living life carefree, not worried about anything, friendly, and definitely not timely (I’ve adjusted to it all, almost… everything except for the timeliness thing)
The constant culture shock and wonderment that comes with “this kind of experience”
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.
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.