What it was Like as a Volunteer English Teacher in Panama – Shyla’s Story

Nick Paul

Nick Paul

May 4, 2018

One of TravelBud’s newer programs, Volunteer Teach in Panama, offers an incredible travel experience where you’ll be able to visit the tropical paradise of Panama while empowering local kids in the beach town Pedasí with the skill of speaking and writing English.

What’s more is you only work 4 afternoons per week allowing you plenty of time to explore this fascinating country, or put your feet up and learn to play the Ukelele (hey, whatever does it for you, we don’t judge). You can choose between 4, 6, 8 or 12 week teaching durations making it perfect for a vacation break or a sabbatical as you explore Central America.

Volunteer Teach in Panama with TravelBud

We were lucky enough to chat to Shyla, a kindergarten teacher from New York who recently finished teaching in Panama on the program, here’s what she had to say about her time there.

Nick: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat to us Shyla! This is going to be a great help for anyone contemplating embarking on this trip, I’m sure they’re all wondering what exactly it’s like! First, can you tell me what you were busy with before you went to Panama?

Shyla: Before I left to teach in Panama I was teaching (and am still teaching) kindergarten in a public school in New York City.

N: Ah okay, so if you’re a teacher back home, why did you decide to head off to Panama to teach?

S: I am currently in a TESOL program, studying how to better support English Language Learners in the classroom. I thought that teaching abroad would broaden my horizons and challenge me to teach outside of my comfort zone. I also wanted to give back in some way while having an opportunity to explore a new country at the same time.

Volunteer teaching in Panama, you'll be based in the coastal town of Pedasí

Volunteer teaching in Panama, you’ll be based in the coastal town of Pedasí

N: That’s awesome! I love hearing about people challenging themselves to broaden their horizons, it can only make for a better world. Can you tell me a little about what it was like arriving in Panama?

S: When I arrived to Panama, Jose who runs the program and his partner was there to greet me. They took me out for breakfast and took me on a “mini-tour” of Panama City which included the amazing historic area called Casco Viejo. The same day, we traveled to Pedasí, Panama and had dinner upon arrival. Since I arrived on a Saturday, I still had all of Sunday and most of Monday to explore Pedasí. Jose took me around different parts of the town including Bull Beach and showed me around different areas I could explore at a later time. He was incredibly welcoming and friendly. On Monday, I met with another volunteer and a coordinator to plan the lessons we would be teaching for the week. It made for smooth week because we had a flow for each day.

N: It sounds like a really smooth transition into life in Panama! Could you tell me a little more about where exactly you taught?

S: I had the pleasure of teaching outside, in the yard of the house which belongs to the teach progam. Summer break was still going on and school was not yet in session. It was great to teach outside the house because all of the children lived in that community were just walking distance from the house. It made it so accessible for every child to be there! The ages ranged between 6-13 years old.

The kids you'll teach English to in Panama are between the ages of 6 and 13

The kids you’ll teach are between the ages of 6 and 13

N: Okay, so you mentioned the house, I’d love to hear more about what your accommodation was like in Pedasí.

S: My accommodation was simple, but comfortable. I was in a spacious room with two beds. I was welcomed to another that was available in the house, including food and A/C. There was WiFi in the house so I was able to get everything I needed to get done for school and connect with family while I was in Panama. It was extremely peaceful and relaxing. Meals were provided every day I taught. I tried a new and delicious Panamanian dish daily and I was never disappointed. It is definitely one of the perks I miss the most!

N: I’ve heard the food is wonderful! So, apart from eating what did a typical day look like?

S: On a typical day, I woke up and explored Pedasi. I went to the beach or took a walk around the town. Around 3pm, students started arriving for class. The two hours when teaching occurred included lots of games and interactive activities that encouraged students to use as much English as they could.

We introduced the concept of time and days of the week. After class, Jose brought the students home and I had the rest of the day free to do as I pleased. Around 7:00pm, Jose would pick up dinner and we would often discuss how the teaching day went. The night was mine to do as I wished. As long as the teaching was done, everything else was fairly relaxed.

You'll only work 4 days per week allowing plenty of time off to use as you please and explore Panama

You’ll only work 4 days per week allowing plenty of time off to use as you please.

N: So it sounds like a really relaxed experience. Were you nervous about anything before going over?

S: I was nervous about not knowing what to expect. While I have teaching experience working with children, I was nervous that I would not connect with the students in the same way because I was only there for a week and my Spanish is not great. However, in the short time I was there, I had a lot of fun and met some really awesome children. I still feel like any new experience is going to be a little nerve wracking, but I would definitely do it again!

N: So I’m sure the kids learned a lot from you, what do you think you learned while being there?

S: Even though I was there for a short time, I believe it continued to remind me of the beauty of teaching children. No matter where you come from, children are children. I feel like my previous perspective on my inability to connect with children that shared linguistic differences has diminished. While it is a challenge, it can be done if you are truly invested in the work. While I believed that in theory and in my practice as a teacher in the States, I was worried it would not be enough in a volunteer program, in my experience, I saw that it still applied and I am a better teacher now because of it.

Panama is a beautiful and fascinating country with extensive coastline, stunning mountains and a rich and historic culture.

Panama is a beautiful and fascinating country with extensive coastline, stunning mountains and a rich and historic culture.

N: That’s incredible, I’m so pleased to hear that it added such value to your professional life. I know that one of the big reasons people go abroad to teach is for the travel aspect. Where are you wanting to travel (and maybe teach) next?

S: I definitely plan to come to Panama again. However, I would also like to teach/volunteer abroad in parts of Africa and Cuba!

Interested in being an English Teaching Volunteer in Panama? We’ll send you more info!



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