Applications for LE Panama are now open!
10 - 14 Volunteers
Language Requirement: Proficiency in Spanish
Program dates: June 7th - July 29th
July 6 - 8
July 28 - 29
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 between 9 and 12 volunteers placed in rural towns around Chitre (the closest city).
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 conversational Spanish skills this is the perfect program for you. Here are some of the qualities we look for in a volunteer:
- Flexibility: It is very likely for plans to change last minute. Anything is possible, especially in the classroom. Being able to adjust to new situations is key.
- Open-mindedness: This program is a cross cultural immersion program. A volunteer needs to be tolerant and open to new ideas and customs.
- Adventurous: LE Panama is for our most adventurous volunteers — there is no guarantee of consistent wifi, bugs abound, and hot showers are pretty much nonexistent. That said, the beauty of the country is more than enough compensation and host families will do their best to to make you feel at home!
- Patience: As a teacher it is expected that there will be good days and bad days, and it is during these times that one's character truly shows. Volunteers must be able to demonstrate patience and understanding and have open communication with their students to manage their classroom.
- Ambition: While we can assume that most LE volunteers are ambitious, LE Panama allows its volunteers a lot of free time after teaching. We want our volunteers to be ambitious with their time and incorporate themselves into their community in as many creative and fun ways as possible.
- Language requirement: Conversational Spanish speaking abilities are key to success in this program. Spanish speaking skills will strengthen your teaching and help with developing a deeper bond with your host family. That being said, this trip is a great way to practice and improve 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 thirty-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 urban town with a population of 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 unpaved, and the living conditions are very basic, where running water is not always assured. Most houses have outhouses instead of indoor plumbing. The school, however, has just been renovated and has computers, air conditioning, and internet access.
Panamanian families are extremely hospitable and accommodating. They are quick to welcome 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 "arroz con pollo," or even teaching you how to dance "tipico". You should not expect to have all the accommodations that you do at home in the United States or UK. On the other hand, 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 include El Valle, a town set in the crater of an ancient volcano, or Pedasí, a popular beach town. We recommend 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 few vegetables. Vegetarians are asked to consider this before applying, although previous vegetarian volunteers have done just fine with additional planning prior to their trip. Also, as electricity can be scarce or expensive, unnecessary electronic devices should not be brought to Panama. There is a possibility that they may be stolen, lost, or broken, and we ask volunteers to be discreet with their electronics. Conditions can be tough in Panama, and volunteers must be resourceful and very aware of their surroundings in order to enjoy their time.
Overall, the LE Panama program welcomes anyone who is dedicated to being an effective teacher and who is completely open to learning as much as they can about a new culture. The LE Panama experience is unique in that it is the only country with a language requirement, thus enhancing the opportunity to build strong, long-lasting bonds.
Your teaching space will most likely be a room at a local school or community center, and you will be teaching during the students' regular school year. The school year in Panama is separated into trimesters. 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 students of all ages, from 5 to 18 years old, although volunteers have also taught older adults in past years.
Most of your students will be beginners in their knowledge of English, so your classes will generally be very basic. You will be required to teach for about three hours a day, but you will most likely teach longer than this due to high demand. Most school days start at 8 A.M. and end around 1 P.M. It is also 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. You may be working with an English teacher; however, it is possible that there is no English teacher at the school you are placed in and that you will have full control of the classroom.
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 and prior to the program's start date!
WEATHER & CLIMATE:
There are two things to know about Panamanian weather: it is extremely hot and humid. The humidity is due to the fact that it is the rainy season during our summer (their winter). Temperatures will range from 70°F-100°F, with 80% humidity. Expect to get pretty sweaty even when you are just standing still, and do not forget to pack an umbrella!
FOOD & DRINKS:
The typical Panamanian diet includes rice, beans and fried meats, like chicharones, which is fried pig fat. Vegetables and fruits are usually not served unless asked for. They are also fried sometimes, like patacones, which are fried plantain slices. However, there is an abundance of mangoes, avocados, and papaya which grow outside homes and schools, among other fruit. Most families will have a mango tree that you can pick fruit off of and eat. In order to survive as well as be respectful, you should try to eat everything put on your plate. If you cannot, be polite and excuse yourself. Also, if it is something new, try it! Vegetarian options essentially include rice, beans, potato salad and fruit. Vegetarians should consider buying some vitamin supplements if they are accepted.
Drink water! With all of the heat and humidity, it is easy to become 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.
Spanish is the official language of Panama. You should have intermediate knowledge of 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. Consider taking a class prior to the trip, or download an app to help you fine-tune your Spanish.
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 what you learn in a classroom setting. In addition to the basics, you will also need to know different slang terms, such as “chiva” which means bus, “Balboa” the term for Panamanian money, and “chino” which refers to the convenience store.
MEET YOUR PROGRAM DIRECTOR, JESSICA!
Jessica is a sophomore at UC Berkeley studying political science with an emphasis on international relations. Growing up in Los Angeles as a native Spanish speaker, she experienced firsthand the benefits of learning English and was compelled by LE’s mission to make learning English more accessible. Some fun facts about her include that she has been vegetarian for three years, loves to dance and sing, and loves to take long naps with her dog Olivia! She is also now deeply conflicted when the Mexico soccer team plays against Panama.
During the summer of 2017, she volunteered in Panama and was moved by the country’s loving people and welcoming culture. More importantly, however, she was deeply inspired by their desire to learn and felt the urge to return. As Panama’s 2018 program director, Jessica hopes to recruit a group of dedicated, passionate individuals to experience all of the joys Panama has to offer. The Panama program is traditionally the longest of the programs, usually lasting around 7 weeks. Living in the Los Santos region, volunteers will experience the beautiful countryside while also having access to beaches and nearby cities. Volunteers will have the opportunity to work with a wide range of age groups and experience a wide range of living conditions. All in all, Jessica is excited to provide a memorable and valuable experience for her volunteers and their host communities. ¡Viva Panamá!
Interested applicants can contact Jessica at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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