Welcome to Panama City

January 25, 2010 | Yvonne, intern, Panama, Radio y Television Educativa Panama

It has been about a week since I have arrived in Panama City and I am beyond ecstatic about my work placement and my new family.  Although Panama City is pretty close to Canada, my trip over to the country took a long 12 hours (I had a 4 hour stop over in Newark.)

At 12 pm, after an hour in customs, I finally arrived in Panama and met the AFS representatives that were waiting for me. As I tried to ask a couple of questions in English, I was quickly told that I was now in Panama and I had to speak Spanish. Although I have studied Spanish for 3 years, I was a little flustered and overwelmed when I tried to speak broken Spanish to people who spoke the language fluently. Over the last week this language barrier has proven to be the toughest hurdle I have faced while living here in Panama City.  

The night of my arrival was spent in a temporary house and the next day at 2 p.m I met my real family. My family lives in a beautiful house in a gated community within El Dorado. Their two children, aged 15 and 17, both speak English. My family has been very patient with me and they have had to put up with constant questions starting with the words, “in Spanish, how do you say …” I have also mastered the single word answer, “¿Perdon?” I have uttered this word so many times, that it has prompted many people to speak very slowly to me, often using hand gestures to explain their point.

The first weekend in Panama my family took me to Boquete. Boquete is a beautiful mountain area around 4 hours away from Panama City. A small tidbit: Boquete is so picturesque, that Mel Gibson has a house near the small mountain town. It was the perfect beginning to my adventures and I took in as much of the landscape so I possibly could.

But at the back of my mind I was nervous about my work placement. I was told by AFS Panama that it seemed as if SerTV (an educational radio and television station) expected big things from me and wanted me to start right away as a Periodista (Journalist). But just like my family, everyone at work has been so patient with me as I struggle to learn and understand not only the Spanish language but the daily activites of the station. During my first day of work, I was always being approached by new people who wished to speak to me. Most of the time they would speak Spanish so quickly that I could hardly understand them. In cases where I do not understand, I simply smile and nod my head. Overall, as woman with light skin and blond hair, I am somewhat an interesting attraction and I am constantly stared at. At times I get whistled at or someone beeps their car horn, but I am mostly left alone and admired from afar.

Sadly, this week I have felt a little slow and out of place. My Spanish has greatly improved but I still have to repeat the same word over and over again “¿Perdon?” Some people get frustrated and walk away, but most people stick around and try to explain their sentences with other words or hand gestures. I have learned that it is a process that I need to stick with, and slowly but surely I will start to enlarge my Spanish vocabulary. I have given myself a time line, by the end of the month, I wish to be able to speak fluidly with no “ummms” in my sentences.

My boss and my co-wokers have been so accomodating. I work in “Noticias” which is the News section of the TV station. SerTV is all about culture and education, so indirectly I get the amazing chance to catch a glimpse of the real cultural side of Panama. For example, this week I got to accompany a crew to a pinapple plantation where I saw how a company prepares pinapples to be exported around the world. I also go the rare chance of meeting the first lady of panama in a small event which served the best food I’ve ever tasted! Furthermore, although I wish to observe the journalist side of the station, I will also have the chance to be able work in production. I will learn how to edit videos and eventually put it all together so that it can air on TV.

Overall, I am very excited for next couple of months. Certain restrictions in the U.S forbade me to bring a carry-on and I was a little upset that I couldn’t bring everything I wanted to.  However, I quickly learned that Panama boasts an array of shopping malls that sell anything that I might have forgotten back in Canada. As a shoe aficionado, I have been told that tourists can find relatively cheap clothes, accessories and shoes here. To sightsee and shop, Panama offers two different transit systems. The city’s buses are actually painted school buses, boasting pictures and different colors plastered all over the exterior body of the bus. However, I was told that the bus system is a little dangerous and a taxi is a much safer option. For around 2 dollars, taxis will take you anywhere around the city. And although there are no beaches in Panama City, I’ve learned beaches are close and very easy to get to. Getting around Panama is very easy, and there is so much to see. I might even be able to go to Coiba Island, a restricted national park where vistors must first ask the permission of the government before travelling there.

There is so much to do and see in Panama (including the famous Panama Canal), I am very anxious to go and explore the city and all it has to offer.

Hasta luego!

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