Preparing for my year abroad in Panama

I study French and Spanish at uni so part of my course is a year abroad (only an academic year so like 8 months) where I work or study in a country that speaks French or Spanish. Most people from my course are studying in France or Spain but I don’t really like uni so I didn’t want to study when I could work, and I didn’t think France or Spain was adventurous enough, so I’m going to Panama to teach English.

I’m going to be staying in a hostel in Bocas Town (on an island not on the mainland) full of people who are also trying to learn/improve at Spanish. The hostel offers Spanish lessons on site (which I won’t be having obviously) and then they offer volunteering opportunities so that people can practice the language. The school I’m volunteering at is on a different island nearby so apparently I have to take a water taxi to work every day which sounds quite funny to me because I live in London where water taxis don’t exist! Obviously I’m not getting paid for this, but language students on their year abroad still get student loan so it should be ok.

Honestly I picked Panama by googling “Spanish speaking countries with Caribbean culture” or something. I really didn’t know much about the country before deciding to go there for my year abroad. I just knew I wanted to go somewhere where I’d still be able to party to dancehall music basically (hence the “Caribbean culture”), and the internet told me there are a lot of Caribbean immigrants in Panama so Caribbean culture is present there, then I found the English teaching opportunity online so it was decided. Maybe I should have done some more research before confirming that I was going there, but I’m not very good at that – once my mind is set on something (often based on not much research/reasons), I tend to do it.

Anyway I’m leaving on the 25th so in 9 days from now, so I’ve started sorting things out for it. Judging from my experience in Jamaica, I don’t think there’ll be a big selection of toiletries etc available (maybe 2 brands on the shelf instead of 25 on the shelf in England), and they’ll probably be expensive because of shipping/importing costs to an island, so I’ve stocked up on things like makeup wipes, deodorant and insect repellent.

I’ve also had vaccinations for Typhoid and Hepatitis B. The doctor told me to take malaria pills but I’ve heard they have really horrible side effects and I don’t think it can be good for you to take them for 8 months straight. When I looked at travel forums etc online, people said that you probably won’t get malaria in Bocas unless you go hiking in the jungle or something so I think I’ll be fine.

One thing that I found a bit scary when I was doing this research was that apparently there’s rabies in Panama but it’s not carried by dogs. Instead it’s carried by vampire bats and they do bite humans!!! It sounds like something from a movie! Apparently their teeth are so sharp that you wouldn’t notice them biting you if you didn’t see them. I’m definitely going to sleep with my windows shut!!

Dengue fever is also present there, and yellow fever as well, so I’ve ordered some 100% DEET insect repellent online so hopefully I won’t get bitten too much.

I have a 6 week break from teaching from December – February because that’s when the kids there have their long holiday so the school will be shut. Jamaica is only 2 hours away from Panama so (surprise surprise) I’m going to Jamaica for those 6 weeks to do Couchsurfing again (but hopefully this time I’ll move round the island more) so I bought a big backpacking backpack.

I have no idea how to pack for 8 months but I’ve decided to allow myself some excess baggage so I’ll pack a suitcase and the big backpack (and probably have to pay some horrible excess baggage charges).

To get to the island I’m staying on, I have to take a domestic flight from the mainland. This flight doesn’t go until the day after I arrive, so I’m staying in a random hostel in Panama City the night I arrive. It’s about 20 minutes drive from the airport and I have no idea if I’ll get there by taxi or bus or what, but hopefully it’s not too complicated. I’ll be proud of myself if I can get there by bus.

I have some time the next day before my domestic flight so I’m planning to go to the phone shop and get a sim card because I don’t know if there’s a phone shop on my island.

There’s wifi in the hostel I’m going to be living in so I’ll write about the journey when I get there.

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