Think North America meets Latin America, think white sandy beaches meets incredible hiking trails, that is just a glimpse of what Panama has to offer. As one of TravelBud’s newer programs, Volunteer teach in Panama, is an awesome way of helping the local kids gain valuable English skills while also brushing up on your Spanish.
Not only that, but with such relaxed teaching hours and full 3 day weekends, our Panama program presents very exciting travel opportunities. With such a welcoming community and so much to see in this beautiful country, you’ll be itching to extend your stay.
We were lucky enough to chat to Marie, a kindergarten teacher from Maryland, who just completed four weeks volunteer teaching English in Pedasí, Panama. Here’s what she had to say about the program.
Can you tell us what you were busy with before you went to Panama?
Before I headed off to Panama I was a first year Kindergarten teacher in the States. I have my degree in Elementary Education.
Why did you choose Panama as a destination?
I knew that I wanted my experience to be somewhere a bit exotic, and unknown. I really wanted to be able to be immersed into a culture and be a part of it. I came across Panama and realized that it is one of the more down played, less touristy Latin American countries and I knew immediately I wanted to do the program. I was also really drawn to the coastal atmosphere.
Were you nervous about anything before going over?
I was a bit nervous about not being able to speak or understand Spanish. However, it was absolutely not a problem. Due to being so well immersed in the culture, I picked up a lot of Spanish words.
Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like arriving in Panama?
The airport was a lot bigger than I originally imagined. It was very easy to navigate, and language was never an issue. After I claimed my baggage and went through customs, José the program director/founder met me at the departure door. José then took me to my hostel for the weekend. It was really awesome that the founder was the one to pick me up because I was able to get to know him and the program a bit better before arriving in Pedasí.
What did a typical day look like for you in Pedasí?
Pedasí will forever hold a special place in my heart. It is such a magical small town. The schedule allows lots of free time to experience the town. A typical day for me in Pedasí started with a quick workout outside under the covered patio, followed by breakfast at 8:30 am. Meals are at the same time each day so it’s very easy to get into a routine.
After breakfast I typically hit the beach or hung out in one of the many hammocks at the accommodation. There is plenty of space to hang out inside or under the patios outside. At 1:30 pm lunch was served, and then the kids start arriving around 2:30 pm for class Tuesday through Thursday. After the kids left I typically hung out in a hammock watching Netflix or writing in my journal, and then dinner was served at 7 pm.
We know that José likes to take the volunteers on a lot of excursions, did you get to do any of those?
José was the main reason my experience was so great! José is always up for a beach trip, so I was able to experience all of the local beaches. He also set up a whale watching excursion, and boat trip to Iguana Island. On the weekends I did a bit of traveling on my own and José was very helpful in assisting on planning those weekends.
Was there time for you to travel around the country? Where did you go?
Yes! Each weekend I traveled to a new place. Like stated, José was incredibly helpful in suggesting areas to go and places to stay. Since there is no class on Friday or Monday I was able to spend long weekends away. I spent a weekend in El Valle and a weekend in Playa Venao.
Could you tell us what the teaching environment was like?
The students come to the house and the daily lessons are taught outside under the patio. It’s a really unique authentic teaching experience. As a volunteer it’s really based on your personality and comfort how much you want to be a part of lesson planning and weekly schedules. The program really works with your ideas.
The most important thing is to be creative, fun and not afraid to branch outside standard basic English lessons. Throughout the month I was able to see the difference I was making and the progress that the students were making which was super exciting to me. I was able to come be a part of a positive program in an exciting community and I feel like I was doing something meaningful.
We’ve heard from past participants that they actually spent a lot less then they anticipated, how much would you say you spend over 4 weeks?
Panama was incredibly cost efficient. I spent under what I expected to spend, which was 1000. I spent way less than I imagined.
I’d love to hear more about what your accommodation was like in Pedasí.
The accommodation provided was great! The house where we teach is located right in the center of town, on the Main Street. Everything is in walking distance especially the amazing pizza place across the street. There are covered patios in the front and back of the house with wonderful hammocks. The house has three rooms, a bathroom, living room and a kitchen.
How was the community? Was it easy to immerse yourself into the culture?
The community was extremely welcoming. I quickly met many members of the community. I never once felt unsafe or unsure of anyone. I was embraced by many of them and it was really exciting to get that kind of affection from strangers, because they really didn’t have to.
What was so unique about this particular program that struck you?
This program is so Incredibly unique. I felt like I was really making a difference. The experience is so authentic and real.
How affordable did you find Panama?
Panama is extremely affordable. A typical breakfast with drink at a local Fonda, was $1.50. However it’s important to remember that American food will be more expensive. However, I spent much less than I anticipated while still spoiling myself.
We’ve gathered that you were a kindergarten teacher back home, how does a lesson in Panama compare to your normal ones back home ?
Lessons are somewhat comparable. However, it is so important that you reach outside typical English lessons and be much more creative and hands on. The classes are essentially English enrichment so it’s really important you actually enrich the students in a way that they aren’t getting right in everyday classes at school.
Would you recommend the program to a friend?
This is a very very special volunteer program that I would recommend to absolutely anyone; it was truly an experience I will never forget. I was able to meet incredible people, travel to amazing places and have great experiences.
What were the teacher resources available at your volunteer school?
The school has an array of teacher resources available at your accommodation, including a printer. Anything I needed that the school didn’t have at the accommodation, Jose offered to pay for it at the local store. Everything is very cheap, so I didn’t hesitate to buy extra materials to enhance the lessons because materials are very cheap.
Is this your first volunteer experience? if not, how does this compare to your other volunteer experiences?
This was not my first volunteer experience, however I can honestly say this was my favorite volunteer experience. It is a very very special volunteer program that I would recommend to absolutely anyone; it was truly an experience I will never forget.
I was able to meet incredible people, travel to amazing places and have great experiences. It’s the type of volunteer experience that doesn’t make you feel like a number, but rather a part of the program and a part of the community.
The team ensures that you have the opportunity to be immersed into the Panamanian culture and become a part of the town. It was the little things like local beach trips, smoothie runs, and bike trips that made my experience whole. You have the freedom to do what you please and experience the town how you wish to.
Interested in Teaching English, volunteering or interning abroad? We’ll send you more info!