It’s amazing how life can often come full circle, and my experience as one of the inaugural fellows of Panama Teacher Match proved just this. This past winter, I embarked on a journey to be accepted into Panama Teacher Match, a dynamic new program of teaching English to Spanish-speaking students in Panama. My interest in this program was fueled by two major ideals: my passion for my culture and country (being of Panamanian descent); and my love for my profession of teaching.
Once I received the exciting news of being accepted to Panama Teacher Match, I informed my biggest cheerleader, my father, who was raised in Colón, Panamá. I was also ecstatic to tell him that I requested to be placed in Colón so that I could potentially provide service to his hometown!
As I prepared for this journey, I was extremely nervous but I unsure of what triggered my nerves. I'd spent summers home in Panama growing up, and have several family members living there, but the idea of teaching abroad still gave me anxiety. As the school year ended for me stateside in Brooklyn, New York where I teach middle school, I prepared to head towards this bright new teaching opportunity in Panama – full of nerves and anxiety!
After the first day of my placement I excitedly sent a picture of me back to my sister in Brooklyn who shared it with our father. The picture was taken in front of the backdrop of "Escuela Pablo Arosemena." My father took a close look at the picture and screamed with excitement – the school in the photo was the same school my father attended as a child! When I spoke to my father that evening, his excitement for me started to calm my nerves. We were all in disbelief! My father was so proud, and I was extremely grateful. I was even more thrilled that this was the same school that educated my aunts and uncles. What an honor!
My anxiety eased up and my pride stood much taller the next few days as I came to work. Knowing that these hallways and classrooms housed all of my close relatives during their primary years was an amazing feeling. This experience has been extremely rewarding thus far. The smiling faces of my Kinder, First and Second grade students that greet and hug me daily, their eagerness to learn English, and the idea that I’m teaching in the school where my father, aunts and uncles learned is so very humbling. As I teach daily the songs and chants that help the students start to build their English vocabulary, I can't help but think of my father, as a small child, in his school uniform sitting in one of the same exact rooms that I teach in! What a joy!
It's extremely surreal that recent conversations with my aunts and uncles center around what the school was like decades ago, as compared to now. That's such a special factor of my experience here as an educator. My work here not only brings me joy, but coincidentally keeps my family connected as well.
I’m very fortunate to have family whom I can visit often during the evenings and the weekends. It has become evident that this is much more than a summer teaching abroad for me. It is a summer back home with family and friends, and a summer encouraging students in Colón, Panamá to be as amazing as they can possibly be!
Panama Teacher Match is a program of the U.S. Embassy in Panama, implemented by Partners of the Americas.