When I was 20 years old I sold my car, packed up my life into two suitcases, put my dog in a carry-on bag, and took off from Louisville, Kentucky to Panama City, Panama to begin a new adventure in my life.
I had visited Panama a few times for vacation but for this trip I would be going to do a 6 month study abroad at one of the universities here. About half way through my study abroad I grew to like Panama too much and didn’t want to return home so I kept extending my study abroad until I eventually graduated from college in Panama.
So I turned 24 last week and looking at my life in Panama I feel a like a pretty lucky guy to be spending my early twenties in such a unique, chaotic environment.
Here a some of the reasons why I think Panama has been the perfect place to spend my twenties:
Moving to Panama when I was 20 was probably the best time in my life to do it. My only responsibility was to take care of myself and the most low maintenance, chill dog ever so why not! It’s better to make the bold move to a new country when there is little to worry about.
Something that I have learned from living abroad is that you don’t have to be tethered down to the place you grew up. I feel like if I wanted to I could pick up all my things and establish myself in another country and be just fine. Technology helps a lot and my family and I FaceTime every week so when I do go home it doesn’t feel like we actually haven’t seen each other for 6 months.
Through a series of jobs in Panama I also discovered that I love managing social media, blogging, and doing video editing and I now have a job that lets me work from anywhere doing these things as long as I have a good internet connection. I’m pretty confident that if I had stayed in the United States I wouldn’t have fallen into these same circumstances and gained the experience that I have today.
There is definitely a difference between struggling in your hometown where you are surrounded my family and friends and struggling in another country where you are kind of on your own. I’ve had a few instances where I was close to packing up and moving back home because I was tired of the struggle of living abroad but I am glad I have stuck through it. I’ve had a lot of cool experiences, made some great friends, and life can be a bit dull if you don’t struggle sometimes.
I’m a pretty introverted guy but I love to leave my apartment once or twice a week to party at some of my favorite nightlife spots. New bars and clubs constantly open and close in Panama City so it has been impossible for me to get bored here. I’ve attended some really unique parties here like an electronic music party in the Panama Viejo ruins, abandoned hole in the wall buildings in Casco Viejo, concerts at Figali, pool parties, rooftop parties, etc.
Everyone in their 20’s needs to experience carnavales in Panama. These are the most insane 3 days of partying I have ever done. There’s 1000’s of people, earsplitting music, beautiful parades, and elaborately dressed “Carnaval Queens”. Carnaval is super important to Panamanians and something that I thought is unique is that you’re never too old to party at carnaval. Parents, grandparents, kids, and people of all ages come together to celebrate and just have a good time.
Graduating From College In Panama
You can actually obtain a bachelors or masters degree from an American university like I did while you’re in Panama (and it’s slightly cheaper). Quality Leadership University in Bella Vista offers programs from University of Louisville, Towson, and Empire State College (I graduated with an International Business degree from here). Florida State University also has a campus here in the City of Knowledge. If you do return to the United States, doing a long term study abroad and actually graduating in another country will definitely make you stand out to future employers.
Some of my adventures in Panama include exploring pristine islands in San Blas and wading in a natural pool in the middle of the ocean, partying in Bocas del Toro, taking a walk through Casco Viejo, seeing whales on the way to Contadora, and hiking in a rain forrest. I love when friends and family come and visit so I can share with them some of the unique adventures I get to have in Panama. Panama is a beautiful country and there are a lot more things that I need to experience here.
Learning A New Language
I took a lot of Spanish classes in college before moving to Panama and I have taken classes at Casco Antiguo Spanish School so now I am trying to practice on my own. Moving somewhere in my twenties to master a new language is only going to benefit me for the rest of my life.
The only thing that limits me from enjoying the outdoors is rain but it usually just rains two hours at a time when it does. And Panama’s rainy season (approx April to December) is referred to as “winter” by the locals but it’s still 90 degrees outside so that would be referred to as summer where I’m from.
As a guy in my twenties I enjoy the conveniences of city life. I like being able to walk everywhere or use public transportation, eat at trendy restaurants, go to a plethora of nightlife options and events, and live in an apartment. I wouldn’t say Panama City is cheap, especially compared to local salaries, but for me to have the same quality of life in cities like Miami, Chicago, or New York would cost a fortune and totally out of my budget right now.
Learning To Live Simply
I make much less money in Panama compared to the average person in the U.S. but I’m financially able to support myself and I don’t feel like it has limited me to enjoying life in Panama. I go out every weekend, my apartment is in a central area, I take a few trips outside Panama City throughout the year, and I love going to the beach for the day. Coming to a developing country really puts into perspective the important things in life and as long as I live frugally day-to-day I can enjoy the things in life that are important and make me happy.
I recently did a trip building shelter for Panamanians living in poverty conditions with the group Techo and it was one of my most gratifying experiences I have had in Panama. As an American, seeing so much poverty all around me was definitely a culture shock when I first moved here and I hate to say it’s easy to get immune to seeing it. It took me three years to finally getting around to doing a volunteer trip like this and actually staying in the location and getting a first hand experience of what it’s like living in these places will change you and make you want to do something more about it. Techo is mostly made up of college student volunteers so I recommend for anyone in their 20’s to check out Techo’s website and sign up for alerts on future volunteer activities.
I’m looking forward to spending the rest of my 20’s in this awesome country!