Applications for LE Panama summer 2018 will reopen next fall!
9 - 12 Volunteers
Language Requirement of Proficiency in Spanish
Orientation: June 8 - 11
Midpoint: July 8 - 10
Last Teaching Day: July 27
Lorena Valencia founded the Panama Program in the spring of 2004. Originally the volunteers were distributed in groups on the southwestern portion of Panama, between the Azuero Peninsula and Panamá. Recently, the focus has shifted to the Los Santos region, a rural province with a largely agrarian economy. The program has traditionally had numbers of between 9 and 12 volunteers placed in rural towns around Chitre (the
The ideal volunteer:
We encourage everyone who is interested in the Panama program to apply! If you have a passion for teaching English, and have some conversational Spanish skills this is the perfect program for you! Here are some of the things we look for in a volunteer:
- Flexible: It is very likely for plans to change last minute. Anything's possible, especially in the classroom. Being able to adjust to the new situation is key.
- Open-minded: This program is a cross cultural immersion program. A volunteer needs to be tolerant and open to knew ideas and customs.
- Understanding: LE Panama is one for our most adventurous volunteers - there is no consistent Wifi, outdoor/bucket showers are common, bugs abound. That said, the beauty of the country is more than enough compensation!
- Patient: As a teacher it is expected that there will be good days and bad days.
- Language requirement: Conversational Spanish speaking abilities is key to success in this program. Spanish speaking skills will strengthen your teaching and help with developing a relationship with your host family. That being said, this trip is a great way to practice and perfect your Spanish!
Villages will range depending on your placement. Volunteers will be distributed throughout the Los Santos region, which means that a neighboring village could be anywhere from a five-minute walk to a fifteen-minute bus ride. All villages are extremely accommodating, but due to the impoverished nature of the region, the comforts of home are few and far between. The schools will range in size with larger schools being in more urban areas and smaller ones in more rural areas. As a result, the resources in the school will vary from air-conditioning and computers to a bare, open-air room. All schools will have chalkboards, chalk, and desks for the students. Some examples of villages where volunteers have taught at in the past include:
Macaracas- a small yet urban town with pop. around 2,500. Macaracas has three Internet cafes, two of which are air-conditioned, as well as a small hospital. The school is very large, but the town center is fairly small, consisting of shops forming a square around a central plaza.
La Colorada- a small and extremely spread out rural town with a population of about 1,000. The roads are extremely basic, as are the living conditions, where running water is not always assured. Most houses have outhouses instead of indoor plumbing. The school, however, has just been renovated to have computers, air conditioning, and Internet access.
Panamanian families tend to be extremely hospitable and accommodating. They are quick to associate you as part of their family. Your family will help you experience Panamanian culture through bringing you to a rodeo with modern day gauchos, feeding you traditional foods such as mango batidos, or even teaching you to dance. You should not expect to have all the accommodations that you do at home in the United States. At the same time, these families might also have televisions, cellphones, and cars. Your family will most likely not have any English speakers.
All volunteers will have free time outside of teaching, and it is up to you to decide how to spend it. During the week, you can spend time discussing issues with your Panamanian hosts, you can visit another volunteer, or you can even visit a nearby city to pick up supplies. On the weekends, there are many accessible and interesting places in and nearby the Los Santos region. Such places are El Valle, a town set in the crater of an ancient volcano, or Pedasi, a beach town. We recommended that volunteers spend their first weekend in country with their host families to create a strong bond and to exchange cultures and ideas with them.
Panamanians in the Los Santos region tend to have diets of rice, beans, meat, and very few vegetables. Vegetarians are asked to consider this before applying. Also, as electricity can be scarce or expensive, electronic devices should not be brought to Panama, especially iPods and laptops. There is a high possibility they might be stolen, lost, or broken, and they also demonstrate disrespect for the local culture. Cellphones are permitted. Conditions are tough in Panama, as you will probably face a bucket shower and/or an outhouse during your visit. Anyone not willing to live in such conditions is respectfully asked to not apply.
Your teaching space will most likely be a room at a local school or community center, and you will be teaching during their regular school year. The school year in Panama is separated into 3 semesters. We will be there in the second trimester. You should expect to teach anywhere between 30 and 150 students in total, depending on the size of your host community. You will be teaching all ages of students from 5 to 18 years old, with the majority being in elementary and middle school.
Most of your students will be beginners in their knowledge of English, so your classes will be generally be very basic. You will be required to teach for three hours a day, but you will most likely teach longer than this due to high demand. Most school days start at 8:00 a.m. and end around 1 p.m. Also, it is likely that enough adults will be interested to allow for an adult class in the evenings. There is a lot of interest in learning English and you should expect your classes to be full and your students motivated and excited to learn. You may be working with an English teacher; however it is possible that there is no English teacher at the school you are placed at and will have full control of the classroom lesson plans.
You should bring along a few other basic teaching supplies and prizes for games, such as stickers, American candy, and photos of your life at home. You will have the opportunity to be creative in your teaching which is generally a great change of pace for students that spend most of their English classes copying out of the Ministry of Education’s English textbooks. Keeping your classes interested and occupied can be a challenge, but always proves to be one of the most rewarding aspects of the program. Don’t worry if you have little to no experience leading a lesson; we will cover different ways to create and implement a lesson plan during orientation!
WEATHER & CLIMATE:
There are two things to know about Panamanian weather: it is extremely hot and extremely humid. The humidity is due to the fact that it is the rainy season during our summer (their winter). Temperatures will range from 70oF-90oF, with 80% humidity. Expect to get pretty sweaty, even when you’re just standing there doing nothing.
FOOD & DRINK:
The typical diet includes rice, beans and fried meats, like chicharones, which is fried pig fat. Vegetables and fruits are usually not served unless asked for, and they too are fried, like patacones, which are fried plantain slices. In order to survive as well as be respectful, you should eat everything put on your plate. If you cannot, be polite and excuse yourself. Also, if it’s something new, try it! There are not very many vegetarian options. Vegetarians should seriously consider this before applying. However, there is an abundance of mangoes, avocados, and papaya which grow outside homes and schools, among other fruit.
Drink water! You don’t want to get dehydrated.
Alcohol plays a large part in Panamanian culture. As a volunteer, you have been chosen to make responsible, mature choices, so it is up to you whether you choose to drink. Remember, you are not only a representative of Learning Enterprises, but also a representative of your country, so choose wisely.
Spanish is the official language of Panama. You should have intermediate experience with the language, as it is necessary to communicate with your host parents, students, and any other people you may encounter along the way. Dictionaries might be useful when planning classes, but are impossible to use in conversation.
The Panamanian dialect and slang are things that you will pick up during the trip. Volunteers will quickly notice that Panamanian Spanish, especially in the rural region that volunteers will be placed in, sounds a lot different than an average Spanish class. In addition to the basics, you will also need to know different slang terms, such as “chiva” which means bus, “Balboa” the term for American money, and “chino” which is the convenience store.