Context regarding the title: well, I’m in Panama. And almost every morning since my arrival on January 5th, my host mom has given me and my roommate papaya for breakfast. I had never tasted papaya before this trip, but I thought I would like it, being the fruit connoisseur that I am. The first morning that I tasted papaya, I detected a slight cat-food flavor (no, I wouldn’t know exactly, but it did have a strange aftertaste and is the color of salmon). I now find the taste to be better than I originally anticipated – kind of like my experience so far in Panama. At first, I had no idea what to think.

I wrote a draft of this blog twice already, first while on a break from classes at the Universidad Technológica de Panamá. The draft was on actual lined paper, scribbled out in pencil. Then I read over my writing…and realized that I absolutely had to start over from scratch. I physically and metaphorically crumpled those two pages up into a tiny ball and threw them in the trash.

Here’s the thing: I’m studying abroad in Panama, right? You know, Panama: the land of the infamous canal? Well, as a result, I’m sure the expectations associated with a post about my experiences thus far involve wide-eyed, travelling wonder. Umm…not exactly.

The problem, which is occurring yet again even in this third draft, is that I’m trying to strike the right tone. For the sake of complete honesty, my trip has been a series of ups and downs. So, yeah, there have been wonderfully positive experiences thus far…but there have also been some not-so-perfect things.

In defense of anyone who hesitates before describing a previous study abroad experience: I believe that there is a stigma associated with anyone who voices that he/she did not absolutely love his/her time abroad. I think that travelers everywhere should be allowed to voice their candid opinions and stories, whether amazing or not-so-amazing.

Pros so far:

(1) The beaches are breathtaking.

(2) The Panama Canal really is all that it’s cracked up to be. Side note: this is the 100-year anniversary of the Panama Canal. (You go, Panama Canal.)

My real, in-the flesh, sloth buddy.

My real, in-the flesh, sloth buddy.

(3) I saw a sloth. (On an emotional scale, I was an eleven.)

(4) I think that my Spanish is improving slowly but steadily (very turtle-like if this was a tortoise and the hare type race), which was the whole aim of this trip.

A few different things:

(1) The lack of AC in 90-plus degree weather is still unfamiliar. As are the cold showers – hot water does not exist in my host home.

(2) This is a big one: I wish the people were friendlier. Every Panamanian outside of my professors and host mom seems to dislike Americans with a strong passion, as evidenced by their frequent, cold stares and constant use of the not-so-nice term, “gringo/a.” I also suspect that it doesn’t help that Panama /U.S. relations have a somewhat bloody history, with Panamanian university students killed at the hands of the U.S. soldiers in the 1960’s. My group was in Panamá for the national day honoring those murders. Awkward.

With two full weeks left, I’m most looking forward to Bocas Del Toro, which is rumored to be a gorgeous-beyond-belief travel destination. Who knows what those next two weeks will have in store? I’m optimistic that the next 17 or so days will be filled with more interesting, eye-opening cultural experiences. And maybe more sloths. And definitely more papaya.

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Chelsey Anne Rodowicz

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