The Work I’m Doing in Panama

Although this is an amazing trip and a once in a lifetime cultural experience, it is an internship, and I’m here to work (among other things, of course)! My position is interesting as well, because I’m doing my internship with the Global Experience Office as a part of my last and final course in my Project Management Program at Centennial. So my entire professional performance here in Panama will be translated into a (hopefully very good) mark back in Canada.

I am working with Centennial College’s Panama Recruitment Office, and my job is to essentially help the office run better. It’s a new office with only two employees, but they’re recruiting dozens and dozens of students for English language training programs and degree programs at Centennial College all through the year. Both high school and post-secondary students come through the office here, looking for advice on programs, information about the college, and help with the difficult and complex process of completing all of the necessary paperwork required in order to go to Centennial without a hitch. It’s both a highly individualized process that is meant to reach as many prospective students as physically possible. And Panama is brimming with students of all ages wanting to further their education, learn English, and come to Canada! The office here also works with many Panamanian institutions in order to reach more prospective students and to facilitate their travel to Centennial College.

At the start of any employment-related class I’ve had, the professor has always said “don’t go in there and try to change things around”…but that’s exactly what I get to do! Well, I make suggestions at least; and I’ll be establishing more formalized processes in the office in order to standardize the work as much as possible, in order to make the lives of my coworkers here in Panama (and any new prospective hires as the office grows) easier.

I have learned that Spanish is definitely the dominant language here in Panama. Very few people speak any English at all. This has proved daunting for me, as I sit in the office trying to muddle through a conversation in Spanish! I took two years of Spanish in University and completed enough credits to Minor in the language, however after three years of no use, I’ve forgotten most of it. I’m spending much of my first week observing the work done here and interacting with some of the students who have questions about Canada ( The question I get most is “Is it really really cold there?”). Conversation is a muddled mixture of my bad Spanish and broken English, but I love it!

I’m taking a lot of time to learn and study the language. Television here has some great English channels, but I try my hardest to follow along on the Spanish channels instead. It’s coming back to me…but very very slowly. Subtitles and sign language are helping. So is the Google Translate App on my phone.

Landed in Panama, both feet on the Ground!

Okay, so no one likes 4:30am. No one. But in this case I didn’t mind all too much…I’m going to Panama!!! And even though I’d forgotten to set my alarm clock (I finished packing at 2am and was leaving for the airport at 4:45am), my mom and sister, who’d come down from Belleville to see me off, substituted for my alarm quite nicely, making sure I was up and semi-conscious at the inappropriate hour of 4:30am.

Unfortunately, I learned that those who are prone to car sickness are indeed prone to plane sickness. But several attempts at naps and some well-timed provisions of gingerale kept any…unfortunate incidents…from occurring.

We left Toronto in a chilly rainstorm, we landed in sunshine and 37 degree (Celsius) weather. Humidity was so thick when the airport doors opened to the car pickup area that I felt I had jumped into a swimming pool! Even though this is supposed to be Panama’s rainy season…no rain in sight! It’s pretty awesome.

I was picked up from the airport by my coworkers from Centennial College’s Recruitment office here in Panama City, and we went straight from the airport to the office! They were holding an information seminar for students who were going to be coming to Centennial to learn English. They had me stand in front of them all and introduce myself. I spoke English and my coworkers translated for me. I’m quickly realizing that I’ve REALLY got to brush up on my Spanish!

Me, beside a Mural of the office tower that Centennial’s Recruitment Office is located in, Las Torres de las Americas.

Thoughts before I left for Panama…

How can I pack my whole life for three months into one suitcase? And keep it under 50lbs no less? I’m not a light packer. This won’t be easy. And I’ve heard that they don’t weight the carry on too often…maybe I can overload that to its breaking point. ..just have to make it look like I’m only carrying 23lbs. Easy Peasy!

And of course I would leave packing for only hours before I leave…I work better under pressure! Everyone knows that. But I’ve made a decision (Rogers made it for me, actually, by charging such crazy rates for roaming and international usage) that my ‘Crackberry’ will stay home. The detox period will be long and painful, but I’m sure I’ll survive.

I have a really good feeling about this trip. Even now, hours before my flight (I hate flying btw), I’m not nervous or scared, maybe a little apprehensive about the unknown, but I feel ready. I had an opportunity in university to go abroad for an entire academic year. But for more than one reason…I bailed. Centennial College’s Global Experience Office is now giving me that second chance everyone always hopes for. Because it isn’t the things that you do in your life that you regret most…it’s the things that you wished you did but didn’t. This time, I’m doing it and I’m doing it right. Let’s just hope that I don’t get ‘plane sick’ as often as I get ‘car sick’!