1 Year Living and Working Abroad (Panama)

Panama City, Panama 2014

Acabo de cumplir un año viviendo y trabajando en la Ciudad de Panamá…no soy de aquí tampoco es mi primera vez viviendo en otro país pero es mi primera vez trabajando y viviendo en otro pais por 1 año!

I just made it though my first year living and working in Panama City. I´m not from here, it is not my first time living abroad but it is my first time living and working abroad for a year!

No enseño ingles como extranjera y no fue una transferencia de mi empresa.

I don´t teach English as a foreigner and I didn´t move here because my company sent me.

Mude porque quería y encontré un trabajo. Quizás es suerte o quizás soy una cuenta de éxito. No lo veo así. Puse una meta, creía en mi mismo y nunca lo dejo hasta que logré, por lo menos es como lo veo yo.

I moved because I wanted to and I found a job. Maybe it is luck, maybe I am a success story. I don´t think I am, I set a goal, I believed in myself and I didn´t stop until I achieved it, that is how I see it. You could see it like this: I´ve already backpacked now I am just following my dreams.

Well you ask, ¨Cómo estás/Qué xopa/How is life/How are you/Where are you/What have you been doing?¨

On the 21 of September 2013 I made it to this hot, humid, tropical world called Panama. On the 14 of October 2013 I landed my (you might call it) dream job.

Mainly the year has been great. I have experienced a lot and learned a lot. I´m not saying I changed completely because I don´t think I did as this was not my eyes wide opening to the world experience. I have lived in 5 countries each for at least 5 months and I have lived in 5 cities in the US alone. I learned to survive and be independent way before. What I have learned has been more work related (maybe I am a work a holic) in addition to climate adaption 😉 – Beyond the usual cultural changes –

Being the traveler I am I still traveled but to a far lesser extent because that was my intent from the beginning…to settle in somewhere for awhile. So you can keep track, my trips have been to Peru, Colombia, US and Guatemala…the last two for work mostly.

Panamá has been great! I love that it is summer year round although I now feel it is cold certain days…but I am pretty sure in anyone´s book a 28/83 degree average day with 90-100% humidity is, well HOT…even if I have adjusted. Summer (winter up north) its 36/96 degree average.

For me adjusting to the heat was essential because I am a runner and to run here you must adapt to the outside temperature. Basically I do not use A.C. unlike the millions here who do…In fact I hate it when it gets used as the only necessary times really are from 11 to 3:30 and the rare no fan no window rooms when sleeping. Let me tell you the first 2 weeks are overly hot, the whole next month is a learning experience but after about 2 months you can adapt if you want to and I suggest it!

With humidity comes mold…that has definitely been a tough adjustment since it just appears for no reason on things, and well clothes **** you might as well use all your clothes once within 2 weeks because they just randomly start to stink. Runner here…clothes can get some nasty smells and they are always air drying because when I run they like going for a swim at the pool, whether I do jump in after or whether I just expel that much water.

Humidity as I learned also created acne…not cool. I think I have had more issues with acne here than when I was a teen. I think it comes from constant sweat…not to say running and sweating in particular but just being and doing normal things. I remember when I first got here I showered like 4-5 times a day because I was just not used to the heat well now with work there are no 4-5 times well and then add stress.

Another huge bother for me is mail. This country has no mail system and no formal addresses. You have to rely on DHL, FedEx and the likes to get stuff sent and it costs a lot!!! There are also agencies that bring stuff and provide you with mailboxes in Miami, FL (Chile also had this option though Chile does have postal service). The other day I needed to send a letter to the US, the price, $40 USD. I decided instead to ask a friend who happened to be headed there instead. If you do send regular mail it does arrive but it takes 3 months! A lovely surprise when it does arrive ;). How it arrives without address is by neighborhood, building name, floor and any well known street name. Yup!

OOPs One more – I like to travel and originally picked Panamá for being closer to home (compared to Chile!). Turns out it is closer but the airline industry is very controlled….by a local company, Copa Airlines, which makes all flights in/out at least $500 even to Costa Rica….direct neighboring country (1 hr flight)!!! ¨that´s ridiculous¨…huh…that´s what I said!!!! So don´t be surprised if you visit, it´s at least $500 (year round, last minute or 6 months ahead)…about $700 to Seattle or Boston…yup. Check Delta and United too. I did not mention but some places, for instance to Colombia there are some new cheaper airlines $300 and some islands A VECES cost less (sometimes).

Some cultural aspects that required adjustment.
In Latin culture it is very common if not rude to not say hello when entering a room, elevator, wherever, so this by far has been a difficult change (even in Chile I never got used to it) but I’m proud to say I am now used to it. Equally hard are basic conversations, coming from my American style of direct to the point conversations, it has been something of a challenge to remember we are not really in a rush even if we REALLY are and ask how the person is at least doing, if you know them asking something more personal, boyfriends, pets, kids,etc before receiving the info you really seek. Remember, always buenos Dias, como estas….rush que es esto???

Elevator doors although simple for me I pay a lot of attention because everyone here always pushes the close door button right away, here is the only time I think people rush. I pay attention to this because in the US this close door button is there just to have as it doesn’t actually do anything, but in Panama and maybe the rest of Latin America this button really does work (usually I used stairs so I never paid attention but here most buildings are tall). It’s the magic close button, also just there as a brain thing because really there is never any rush.

Working in Latin America has been a goal of mine for well since Undergrad when I started to really focus on the Spanish language but I never fulfilled the dream. In grad school it became a must and that is what brought me here…opportunity and the Latin culture. Well my work is a nice mix since it is a local company that distributes for a US company. Being in marketing I fall in direct contact with both. It leaves me juggling local needs and international needs but at the same time it allows for the Latin culture to swing in a bit. We have presentations and events to manage and create based on the international needs but locally things are more laid back generally.

Being a small country virtually everyone knows everyone. Being the athlete I am it ties well with the job I have managing running (the sport) for the company. I am an above average runner but here I am considered elite and I win races and am constantly on TV and other mediums. It may be the first and only chance of fame in my life. HA HA I don´t want to be famous but here I can´t seem to avoid it easily. I also just want to run and not win but equally I like competing and I enjoy taking part of the ever growing sport of running locally.

I guess I can just appreciate it while I’m here. It’s probably the only time I’ll ever be in my life and I’m perfectly ok with that. You know once the security at your apt knows you as the girl that runs and bikes and most recently called you the winner you have reached a whole new level. Haha

Since I came I have definitely seen a change in acceptance of the brand for runners locally. With publicity, athletes, events and a specific target and unique approach to the runners community we have been educating consumers and the products and lines we carry are being accepted. Meeting goals feels great. Still more to do to really reach the goal but the progress has been phenomenal! Having the chance to grow the brand and do something I love has been an amazing experience and very fun. Now a year later I am Brand Manager and we are expanding running into other territories – plus adding training…lots of room for growth.

Life remains simple and economical. Life mainly consists of running or exercise and working. I have made some great local friends that I occasionally see but I would like some more. It is maybe the only part I feel I lack…well that and a boyfriend…Both of which are my own fault and I have control to can change that. Besides this rent is great, I have nice views, access to pools and am centrally located. Pay is perfect for me (I don´t really care about earning lots) plus I save more than I did in the US with better interest rates and I still live well on way less. Simplify your life, it may surprise you.

Some major adjustments

Favorite local foods: Piña, banana, mangos; Arroz con guandú (a bean), and well I like the daily meal of rice with beans, bananas (various types and forms of preparation) and a meat, octupus ceviche with a Panamá beer (best at the fish market); patacones (fried green banana)…basically I like caribbean foods. 

Words and Phrases that to me are interesting and were hard to grasp without either confusion or laughs:
Joven – basically you can call anyone joven (youngin) to get their attention, yep even a grandma – to me its like really I´m young cool ok but the older lady too…ok well then, are you talking to me o someone else?
A la orden – here to serve you – like whatever you need i´m here for you just ask – to me is like wow really so nice of you…are you sure?
Dios primero – this one means ¨God first*…when you ask a Panamanian if they are you coming tomorrow, the response is often this – meaning well yes but God will decide…to me it´s hard because well it isn´t a yes or no
Then there are words like FREN and Dipéalo, which are words influenced by English and used as if they are Spanish…they just makes me laugh

Frequently Asked Questions:

Are you happy there? Yes, keeping life simple and happy.

How long will you stay? Not sure really but original plan is 2-3 years.

What do you do? I run, running. (for my brand)

When should we/I come visit? You are always welcome. Propose a month and I´ll give you some great options for my schedule. Climate is nice all year but my favorite months are October and November (same as the NW and East Coast) for the nice breeze.

More blogs about my experience in Panama over the years:
Trading One Star For Two (Panama)

Pure Business (Panama)

Panama International Marathon 42k (Panama)

Panama, Will You Be My Valentine?

Cycling Oceano a Oceano (Panama)

Other Central American experiences: Belize or Nicaragua

7 thoughts on “1 Year Living and Working Abroad (Panama)

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