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.


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