If you’re thinking about choosing Panama as your destination for a study abroad or an internship, don’t think twice, you’re making a great decision, perhaps the best one yet (in my opinion). Studying/interning abroad in Panama during the summer between my sophomore year and my junior year has absolutely been one of the best experiences of my life. I chose the summer because that was the best option for classes within my major, no other reason in particular. Here’s a breakdown of all the details:
Culture. Language. Lifestyle
Coming to Panama with no previous knowledge of the Spanish language, I had no idea what to expect. I decided to just go for it and see how it would play out, and fortunately I did not have any issues. Many people here in Panama City speak some English, others speak extremely well English, and very few have no knowledge of the English language. Keep in mind that almost everyone here at QLU speaks English very well so you wouldn’t have any issues within the university. But just living an everyday life in the city is an amazing experience. People here are extremely friendly and are willing to meet you half way to try to understand you. They are used to English-speaking tourists visiting so their body language helps with the communication. When it comes to the culture, it is very laid back compared to the U.S. but it is very similar. If you love good/fresh/cheap food this is the place for you, and what’s even better about the city here is that most places are within walking distance. If a Panamanian says “that place is far” more likely than not, it is a 10-minute walk at most.
Experience. Outdoors. Beaches
I came during the rainy season, so it rained almost every day but the rain only lasted about an hour. So I never really had any issues with the weather because one moment you would look out the window and it’s pouring rain, the next moment it’s as beautiful and sunny as it can get (sounds a lot like Chicago). But what is extremely unique about Panama is that you are literally connected to the Atlantic, Pacific, and the Caribbean. So you can imagine the awesome beaches that are within an hour radius from Panama City. So far we (the 4 ISU students here) have gone to Casco Viejo, a very traditional and historic district of Panama City, where we got to try different restaurants. We also went to Colon which is a city of its own, but has many beautiful beaches and forests, we ended up zip-lining and it was simply amazing and affordable. However, living here near QLU in Bella Vista, I can simply cross the street and walk along the coastline in the heart of the city. They have a bunch of soccer and basketball courts where people just get together and play, I play soccer here with locals very often. In addition to that, we went to a movie theater in SoHo Mall where the seats can be pushed back and adjusted based on your comfort level, and the waiter is one button push away, they literally serve everything to your seat during the movie. It was amazing. There are still many places that I have yet to explore, which I am planning on getting to sooner or later.
Coming from ISU, in Bloomington-Normal, I was able to distinguish a lifestyle difference the second I stepped out of the airport. This isn’t a campus with a college-town lifestyle that has a quad and classes all around it. It’s a big city, not too big to the size of Chicago, but also not too small where there isn’t much to do. And QLU is mainly 2 buildings that are attached to each other and that’s where the classes are. Classes are longer hours but less days. Regarding expenses and the cost of things, everything overall is cheaper than it is in the U.S. But the American brand products tend to be a bit more expensive. What is really convenient about Panama is that the main currency here is the dollar, so it was easy to compare prices and see the value in products. There is a large supermarket near the university that has pretty much everything I would need for fairly decent prices. Overall, I was able to enjoy living in both settings. I won’t necessarily pick a favorite, but I think it is crucial that every student gets to experience both lifestyles at some point in college. At the end of the day, if you make the decision to choose Panama as your destination, I can guarantee that you’ll fall in love with the city and have the time of your life.