Dear Someone New

This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week four: Change and Hope.


Dear Someone New,

Welcome to La Pintada, Panama! By now you’re through training and you’re getting ready to ship off, bags in hand, to the wonderful community where you will spend your next two years living, laughing, working, crying, and, if you’re anything like either of us volunteers who have preceded you, adopting cats. I know Peace Corps gives you a few sheets of paper telling you about La Pintada but I’m sure you’re wondering what its really like. Let me tell you.


People here are friendly so you should say buenas to pretty much everyone you meet. It helps form your presence in the community and people appreciate it. The infoplaza in the municipio has air conditioning and free internet access—do you know how amazing that is?? Not to mention all the other cool things that the community hosts. Visit the sombrero pinta’o museum and check out how they’re made. Go to one of the many artisan markets and check out all the things people make. If you’re into soccer there are games every weekend!


Find time for you—people may not understand right away but it’s important to have you-time. Take a day to cook your favorite meal, cuddle the cats you adopted (you did adopt cats, right?), clean your house, read a book, watch a movie—anything that makes you happy! Don’t fall into the personal time trap though. If things have been bad lately try getting out in the community. Visit someone you like to talk to, go buy a coke at the mini super, go to the infoplaza to watch buzzfeed videos—basically do anything that gets you out of the house for a little bit and gets you saying hi to people. You’ll be amazed at how little things like that can boost your energy and motivation levels.

The last piece of advice I’ll give you is this—be patient and say “yes.” If you don’t understand something, ask about it! If you still don’t understand just give it some time. You’ll be amazed how many things become clear after a month or so. Be patient with yourself too. If your Spanish isn’t where you want it to be try not to worry. Talk to people, keep practicing; you’ll get there! And say “yes” to things! Go to the baile at least once even if you hate dancing. Accept an invitation to bake cookies at your friend’s house. Basically, be Jim Carrey in “Yes Man” (A seriously underrated movie in my opinion). Know that you’re not alone in this crazy thing we call Peace Corps service and reach out to your community and to other volunteers. But most of all enjoy your time here because its short and its beautiful and nothing will ever compare to it.


Say “yes” to visiting the playa salada



Someone Old


You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught 

I’ve had a lot of teaching and learning  moments over the past month. I visited home! By visiting home I learned about all the changes I had made in my 10 months abroad. I learned a new appreciation for all the opportunities I have and all the things I used to take for granted. I learned that a fridge full of food can shock me so much that I just stare at it for 5 full minutes. 

Thanks for welcoming me home! Photo via pixabay.com

The teaching moments were all varied. Zac came to visit and I taught him all about Panama. We saw the many different designs for sombreros, Zac put his minimal Spanish knowledge to the test, and we got to catch up after not seeing each other for about a year. 

There have been formal teaching moments as well. I helped a friend write his resume in English for job applications. Eli, a fellow peace corps volunteer, texted me about a medical gira that he and some other volunteers were at and told me they could use a hand translating for the American doctors that had come in. University students from penonome were there helping to translate too, so I managed to hitch a ride with them and spend two days translating and learning how to say things like “pterygium” in Spanish (it’s terijillo). And finally, I gave a seminar on increasing student talking time to a group of about 40 English teachers in Panama City! It’s been a really busy month! 

All the university students I translated with

Talking with teachers at the TESOL conference

Finally, I want to talk about the title of this post. The song is from South Pacific. You may be wondering what on earth a musical from 1949 has to do with anything but go with me here. Thematically, the show centers a lot on racism. The new US President ran his campaign on racism and people supported it. This song examines how he and his supporters came to be. The  lyrics are printed below for you: 

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year,

It’s got to be drummed

In your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You’ve got to be carefully taught!

I am so proud of all the people who have decided that we are going to stand up and show our new President that we will not stand for the racism, bigotry, and small-mindedness that his campaign stood on. We are not teaching hate; we are educating one another on issues that affect our citizens such as LGBT rights, especially recognition, support, and protection for trans and non-binary people, women’s rights, and minority rights. Yesterday America demonstrated that we will not allow Trump’s rhetoric and hate to knock us down and we will fight for the next four years to protect our freedoms. All of my friends that marched taught me that the next four years will be full of hope for the future. All of the people around the world that marched in solidarity taught me that we are not standing alone. For that, I want to thank you. We are all citizens of the same world and we all fight for the same things: peace, equality, and love in all its forms. 

A photo from my friend of the Women’s march in DC


Becoming a Panamanian Professional in 5 Easy Steps

This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week three: Cultural Differences

Picture, if you will, the following scenario: You’re a young woman going to work in a Panamanian elementary school for the first time. Within the first week you’ve been asked by  two different teachers why you don’t like makeup.  Flash forward: You’re working with a group of fellow PCV’s giving a seminar for a university class. The seminar began at 2 and it’s now almost 4—no one has showed up.


My first day in my community. So young. So naive

Does this all seem a little strange to you? Trust me, I get it. But let’s see what happens a little further down the road; now you’re that same young woman but today you’re wearing heels and the reddest lipstick you own. You’ve never gotten so many compliments from the teachers at your school! You head to the second meeting of your community English class and only one person shows up 10 minutes late. Success!

Being a professional in Panama can seem a little confusing at first but you can manage it if you’re open and honest with the people around you and with yourself. To get started try this handy guide:

  1. Go heavy on the makeup (if you’re a lady). Blue eyeshadow is completely professional as long as it matches your clothes. By wearing more makeup you show that you put time and effort into your appearance which is really appreciated in the workplace. I’ve still kept my brown eyeshadows but I’ve stepped up my lipstick game.
  2. Along with number one—dress up. Heels for women, ties for men. Keep your hair looking nice (sorry boys but no long hair allowed) and shower every morning before going to work. Effort is everything!
  3. If you expect people to meet at a certain time tell them in person and keep following up via text. It’s not unusual for people to show up late for meetings here but it’s important to be flexible and understanding when it happens.
  4. Email isn’t very popular here so most things are presented through formal letters. If you want to ask for something or even just introduce yourself to the school principle you want to type, print, sign, and take in a letter. It’s professional and courteous. Plus something about a letter makes the whole thing feel more personal—you get the added interaction of handing it to another human being!
  5. Form a personal relationship with your co-workers. If you want someone to work with you then you need to ask them about their life and their family. Interpersonal relationships form strong teams and make everyone feel more invested in each other’s success!

Do you see a pattern here? Panama is all about connecting with people and making your best effort. It’s about putting people first and working together to reach your goals. And hey, a little lipstick never hurt anyone.14519791_10207743909624822_4282602908173899711_n




Everything you thought you knew about Panama is wrong (sort of)

This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week two: The Danger of a Single Story.

“The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” -Chimamanda Adiche


Photo Courtesy of Ted.com-Check out her Ted Talk on this topic here

Before moving to Panamá I knew next to nothing about it. I was aware that they had the Canal and that they spoke Spanish. This didn’t stop me from having stereotypes of course—I made a lot of assumptions about what Panamanian people would be like and what my life would be like. You may recall the last post for this challenge where I imagined my mud-hut and latrine? We’re working along those lines here. Because Panamá is a largely Catholic country I expected to encounter a lot of closed-mindedness. I also assumed that the women in Panamá were going to be mostly stay-at-home moms. I figured they would be having children early and would be generally quieter than their male counterparts. Not only that but I imagined the men being mostly labor workers that spent most of their time away from their house.

As the amazing Chimamanda Adiche points out—these stories are not necessarily wrong. I’ve met stay at home moms that are married with children at 22. There is a mine near my community where many men work for 15-20 days at a time before getting 5 days off to come home. But then there are people like my 16-year-old host sister Linda who both amazes and surprises me every day of my life. She was so open to my presence and to trying new things. For the three months, I lived with my host family she and I did yoga together. She also learned the lyrics to “Satisfied” from the “Hamilton: An American Musical” soundtrack(and still knows them!). Linda is so far from closed-minded—she’s extremely curious about the world and other cultures. Her favorite music is K-pop and she talks about how she has friends who identify within the LGBT community. Oh, and quiet? She gives me a run for my money in the loudness department. Anyone who has met me knows that that’s really saying something.Linda is a great sport and agreed to do an interview with me for the blog! You can read it below (in both English and Spanish!). The simplicity and profoundness of her statements really touched me—I hope they do the same for you.


Linda and I take a lot of selfies

What is your dream?

I have a lot of dreams but right now, because I’m young, my biggest dream is to go to a University and know the world.

Why do you want to do that?

Because I have wishes, I have desires, and I believe in myself, if I want it I can achieve it.

Are there any challenges that you believe are specific to Panamanian women?

Yes. The largest challenge for Panamanian women is discrimination. In second place, there’s the projection of how people view Panamanian women. In third place, one of the most important is the challenge to think for yourself that desire is power.

Have you encountered any of these challenges?

Yes. The biggest challenge that I’ve faced is discrimination against women; many people think that women don’t have the same abilities and the guts to do the things that other people do—to have strength in yourself.

What was one of the most influential events in your life?

The most important event in my life so far was when I first met the famous Panamanian artist Olga Sinclair. She inspired me to achieve my dreams and taught me that as women we are individuals, we are original, and if we fall we get back up because the sky isn’t the limit—the limit is what we place on ourselves.



A painting by Olga Sinclair courtesy of artnet.com. Check out her foundation here!

¿Qué es tu sueño?

Tengo muchos sueños, pero como joven que soy ahorita mi mayor sueño es entrar en Universidad y conocer el mundo.

¿Por qué quieres hacer esto?

Porque tengo anhelos, tengo deseos, y creo en mí, que si quiero y puedo lo puedo lograr.

¿Hay unos desafíos que tú crees son específica a mujeres panameña?

Si. Los desafíos más importantes para las mujeres panameñas en primer lugar está la discriminación. En Segundo lugar, está la proyección como ve las personas a las mujeres panameñas. En tercer lugar, uno de los más importantes desafíos es el reto al pensamiento de una misma de querer es poder

¿Ud. ha enfrentado a estos desafíos?

Si. El desafío más importante que yo he experimentado es la discriminación de una mujer, muchas personas piensan que como ser mujer no tengo la misma habilidad y las agallas para ser los que dé más hacen. Para poder manifestarse uno mismo

¿Que fue uno de los eventos más influyente en su vida?

El evento más importante hasta ahora en mi vida fue conocer a la pintura muy reconocida en Panamá llamada Olga Sinclair. Ella me inspire lograr mis sueños a poder que somos mujeres somos únicas, somos originales, y que, si nos caemos, nos levantamos porque el cielo no es el límite. El límite es que nosotros ponemos.


Photo Friday! 

For eight beautiful days I was back in the USA! Seeing friends and family was so amazing and I felt waves of emotions that I wasn’t totally prepared for. I hugged my parents for such a long time at the airport. Strangely enough I was more unplugged at home than I usually am here in Panama, because I didn’t put any roaming data on my phone. 

I caught up with so many people while being home but I never felt too rushed. I usually had lunch plans with someone and then something scheduled in the evening, which worked out well. It gave me time in the morning and late afternoon to be alone or just relax with people–if I wanted to. I got to get all dolled up to go out swing dancing; and then realized just how much I actually missed dancing. 

I also got a chance to hang out with my grandfather some. He’s pretty sick, with cancer, so I’m glad I got a chance to see and spend time with him. I keep telling him I’m coming home in May for a wedding, so I hope that helps keep his spirits up. 

It surprised me that it was so easy to integrate back into my life in the US. Because of that it was a little hard to come back to Panama-luckily I have one of my best friends in the world here with me right now. It’s definitely made the transition back easier. Stay tuned next Friday for photos of that trip. 


From “Pretty” to “Prity:” a Quick Look at American Influence in Panama

This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week one: Global Citizenship

A Global Citizen is defined as “a way of living that recognizes our world is an increasingly complex web of connections and interdependencies. One in which our choices and actions may have repercussions for people and communities locally, nationally or internationally.

When I first thought about joining Peace Corps I expected to experience a culture completely different from the one I grew up in. Obviously I would live in a mud hut with no running water or electricity and local kids would be running through my house all day long. That’s the dream, right? Well now that I’ve been a volunteer in Panama for 10 months I realize that my view was pretty small-minded. Sure enough that is how some volunteers live–even some in Panama! But my house has concrete walls, running water, electricity, and, thankfully, privacy. Living in Panama I reshape my worldview weekly and I’m often coming face-to-face with all the ways America has influenced Panamanian life and culture. For the sake of brevity though I’m going to focus on language. Here are 4 (Panamanian) Spanish words that come from American English:

  1. Prity: Derived from the English word “pretty” this word is often used to describe something cool or interesting. ie: “Que prity!”
  2. Cool: This one is just an English borrowing and it’s used in the same way here as it is in the US. ie: “Que cool!”
  3. Frailai: Pronounced “fry-lie” this word means flashlight. It comes from the days of the Canal.
  4. Wachiman: Pronounced “watch-e-man”this word means watchman. It also comes from the Canal days.

Lots of words come from Canal Days because of the mix of people working on the Canal