When I initially applied to teach English, I knew I was taking a chance to change my world outlook and future goals.
The opportunity to teach English in Panama with Learning Enterprises caught my eye over two years ago — flyers were scattered around Temple University, where I attended college.
While I couldn’t apply to the volunteer program the first year, the next year I was sure to get my application in by the Dec. 31st deadline.
Learning Enterprises, a volunteer-run non-profit, sends volunteers to 11 countries across Asia, Europe, and Latin America to spend their summer teaching English to local students.
One thing in particular to this program is that it is fee-free! For people who have little financial flexibility to volunteer abroad, LE makes the opportunity possible. After searching myself for volunteer opportunities, LE provided one that I could actually pursue.
Since returning home from Panama, I’ve earned my TEFL certification, started teaching English, and am making plans to teach abroad in the next year or so. With that said, volunteering in Panama changed and shaped new goals for the better.
If you’re someone who wants to serve in a creative environment, grow cultural understanding, and support global education, LE can help you live that purpose. I would also recommend anyone interested in teaching and working with young people — by increasing cultural understanding and adapting to these experiences in a different environment, we learn how we can better serve our communities at home.
No matter what impact you think a LE summer will have one you, I hope my stories can influence you to check out their spectacular programs.
Teaching & Life at School
In Las Cruces, I was placed with the amazing Audrey — we made fantastic co-teachers over the seven weeks. On our first day of school, children who only saw us for the first time swarmed us with hugs. I was excited to know we would be teaching K-6th.
Our days typically started around 8 am and ended depending on when the bus came. For the first three weeks, the bus came an hour before school day was over, so we’d have a few extra free hours in the afternoon.
And then of course, the next four weeks it came on time everyday. On average, we taught from 4 to 5 hours a day, teaching in 35-minute blocks.
Teaching was an incredible experience. It was amazing not just because we could support a community, but because the school had about 50 students and we got to know them well.
It was also a huge learning experience in teaching. I’ve worked with and taught children in various settings before and this experience has influenced my goals and teaching philosophy.
Outside of teaching, Learning Enterprises volunteers took on personal projects to support the communities.
While I did provide some English support outside of the classroom, I primarily took advantage of the InfoPlaza, a heavenly air-conditioned room with seven computers connected to the internet. With these resources, I invited my students to learn Canva.
In addition to this project, I helped my host-mother create her business website. Every week she sold-out on her homemade empanadas and tamales.
Teaching in Las Cruces was an unforgettable experience. I’m so grateful for the students I had and for all they taught me! Being in a small community was great because we saw students while out and about, and even got to spend time with them outside school hours. I don’t know what it is, but teaching English wouldn’t have been the same without the students we had!
Host Families & Community
While all volunteers will have their own unique experiences, your family and community will impact in how you live and teach English in Panama.
In Las Cruces, strangers became familiar faces and I’d pass time by wandering around, striking up conversations, and saying hello to students who lived nearby.
I attended extravagant church events, celebrated birthdays, cooked, and even met a Panamanian politician, all thanks to the community I lived in.
In my placement, I lived with a family of four — two parents and two sons, 19 and 14.
Of all the moments with my family, the ones I appreciated the most were at dinner with my host-Mom. We’d sit at the table and talk about life, family, and our interests despite my imperfect Spanish.
I also spent a lot of time with extended family. Because my host-Mom worked during the day, I’d go to Abuela’s for lunch. There, we’d chat and I’d try to get Thor (the family dog) to cuddle in the hammock with me.
Because Las Cruces had two host-families, I lived down the street from my co-teacher. We saw each other most days outside of school and it was nice to have someone to speak English with. Our Spanish skills also complimented each other as Audrey could listen well and I spoke a lot.
With it’s rural geography, there was so much beauty and life to observe. In addition to all the people, horses, cows, chickens, and other animals were everywhere. Seeing how animals (whether pets or food) were taken care of was an interesting difference compared to the US. Here, large enclosures and a rural landscape allowed animals to have space and freedom (for the most part).
While every volunteer has a different experience, I wouldn’t have had mine any other way. My host-family, community, and school made my experience as amazing as it could have been.
In addition to the people, you could say I also made a lot of animal friends, including this energetic parrot.
What I Did Outside My Host Community
In Las Cruces, life is simple. It was enjoyable to walk around, explore new paths, take photos, and spend time with people, but sometimes I needed to get away.
The two nearby cities, Chitre and Las Tablas, were fantastic places to go for a change of energy. I typically went with Audrey but sometimes took trips myself.
If I was going to Las Tablas, it was usually for an event in the city square or (more likely) the beach. Let me say a lot of my free time in Panama was committed to the beaches.
Chitre, on the other hand, was the place to go for commercial needs.
With placements throughout the region, taking trips to visit other volunteers was a way to go somewhere new, meet new people, and hangout with each other.
Then there’s mid-point break. This year they chose Boquete, a mountainous city in Panama with gorgeous waterfalls, coffee plantations, and hiking trails. In relation to Panama weather, it’s some of the most comfortable due to the altitude.
With all the natural beauty in Panama, it’s hard to get tired of exploring. Shortly after my arrival, I became comfortable with traveling, making new friends, and exploring the mixture of rural and urban life. The warm/hot weather was also always a plus!
What Made Panama so Amazing?
Beyond teaching, spending time with my host family, and getting involved with my community — volunteering brought unexpected experiences and joys into my life.
Instead of writing a whole section on this, I’m just going to post some pictures that convey how I feel.
Scroll over the photos to read the descriptions — you can also view more of my Panama galleries here.
At Santa Librada with my host-Mom, Abuela, and Bisabeula. It was one of the best nights I had in Panama.
If you’re committed to global service, supporting communities, and are a creative problem-solver, volunteering with Learning Enterprises might be right for you.
When I decided to come on this program, I knew I wouldn’t change the world. But I that didn’t keep me from making smalls impacts where I could.
It’s amazing to look back and think of the people I got to know, the experiences I had, and what it taught me about who I want to be and how I can keep helping people.
Have any questions about my experience serving with Learning Enterprises? Leave a comment or reach me on my contact page!
2019 Summer Applications are Now Open!
Visit Learning Enterprises to learn more about their mission and programs.