Talk about “Immersion”….We decided to make our home in Boquete Panama
I wrote this post as a submission for a little contest at our school. They are giving away 30 free hours of Spanish lessons so I thought, what the heck! I love to write so I gave it a shot! Plus, I have been having such a great experience at the school so I was happy to have the opportunity to express that pleasure with other people who may be considering coming here to learn the language. Two of my blogging friends also submitted wonderful posts and It was fun to read them on the Habla ya blog. So I thought I would share my post with you…..
When my husband and I began our research on where we would expatriate ,( about 7 years ago), one of the many things we considered was language. We both agreed that wherever we decided to make our new home we would learn the native language. We feel very strongly about this for many reasons. One reason that learning the language in our new home is an absolute necessity, in our minds, is simply out of respect to the native people who we will be interacting with on a daily basis. The official language in Panama is Spanish, not English . So we see no reason why we would expect our new neighbors or all the other people we come into contact with on a daily basis to know how to speak English. Of course It’s a huge help at this stage of our very limited ability to communicate , when a taxi driver or cashier at the market just happens to possess a tiny bit more English knowledge than our pathetic Spanish. But We certainly never “expect” English to come out of their mouths. When we arrived here in Boquete eight weeks ago I had virtually no ability to communicate in Spanish and my husband arrived with a fair amount of “construction” spanish given his former vocation as a contractor. So if for any reason we needed a escalera (ladder) or a martillo(hammer), we were in good shape! Although, given the fact that we are both native Californians, and there is a large population of hispanic transplants there, our ears are fairly familiar with many basic words or common phrases. Of course my husband is fluent in most any sentence that has the word “Cerveza” in it. And I arrived ready to use the phrase, “Un coppa de Vino Tinto,Por Favor”. We felt pretty confident we would not suffer any withdrawals with our natural grasp on our “bar” vocabulary, Whew! Well that’s a relief! LOL!
In addition to learning Spanish in our chosen home here in Panama out of a general respect to our new country and it’s people, we believe having the ability to communicate will provide us with a much richer and deeply authentic experience. We hope to someday feel as though we have immersed ourself in this culture and in the community. Having the ability to express ourselves is essential in order to really connect with those around us. It is our desire to build relationships with not only other expats , but also with native Panamanians . As I said, we have only been living here in Boquete for eight weeks but in the eight weeks we have been here we have felt very welcomed by the locals. I am incredibly motivated to learn Spanish so that I can talk to these warm, kind people who I see everyday . I’m a “people” person and not being able to chat with people I come into contact with is a painful torture! I have so many things I want to say to people all the time, but I just don’t have the vocabulary quite yet! But don’t you worry, I’m working hard on learning and there’s no doubt in my mind that I will eventually be conversant!
Before our move we began researching Spanish schools on line and came across Habla Ya. We learned that they have two campuses, one in Boquete and another in Bocas del Toro. So we knew one of the first things we would do after arriving in our new home was to enroll in classes. ( I should tell you, as of this writing we are about six weeks into our lessons.) Even though I was determined and committed to learning Spanish, I was terribly nervous because I had never studied a language before. As a matter of fact, I had a feeling I would be “re-learning” much of my English grammar that had long ago escaped my old brain! Verbs? Conjugating Verbs? HuH??? Oh boy, I was not wrong! We signed up for ten weeks of lessons. Our first two weeks we did a group class together that was Four hours a day, five days a week! Oh, my goodness! Talk about “Diving in head first”! Our first instructor was a very fun young man named Yubal. I think he quickly realized that I would be a very “SLOW” learner! Even though I felt like I was in over my head, I soldiered on and Yubal never made me feel dumb and I never felt like he was impatient with my lack of comprehension. He was very kind and patient and told me that I was doing fine and gave me just the right kind of gentle encouragement that I needed. And I gotta tell ya, I REALLY needed encouragement! Geesh! Talk about a humbling experience. My husband , on the other hand, is a natural learner! His comprehension is, in my mind, incredible. We all learn differently and some have an easier ability with language than others. At least that’s what I keep hearing from many other very kind and encouraging people ,and I’m buying it!
After our first week in the group class it was glaringly obvious that I was not ready to move on. I really felt I needed to review the first week all over again. We went to talk to the administration about this and here is where I begin to really gush about my pleasure with this school and the people in charge. They were so accommodating, understanding and helpful. No problem! They obviously have a lot of experience dealing with many many different people from all walks of life and from many different places in the world. They didn’t bat an eye, just figured out a solution that would work for us . The next week Scott moved on to another group class and I remained with Yubal and one other classmate who also felt the need to review the prior weeks lessons. It was so good for me and I began to feel my brain comprehending at least some of the beginning concepts. My favorite phrase that I have learned and love to use is , ” Poco a Poco”! Little by little I am learning, not only am I learning Spanish but I’m also learning what I need in order to feel successful in my own personal learning style. After my second week in a group class I decided I would like to try a private, one on one , two hour daily class .
I was sad to leave Yubal because I felt like I had gotten to know him and had developed a fondness for his great , fun personality. This is another aspect of Habla ya that I must mention. The entire staff is very friendly and welcoming and we have thoroughly enjoyed every person we have met at the school. When I went to speak with the administration again about my desire to try a different situation they were again very happy to do whatever would work best for me. My new professora is Araliz and she is a beautiful, intelligent young lady who I have come to adore! I have been working with her for almost four weeks now. She is very intuitive about what I need and has shown unending capacity for patience. As she has gotten to know me she has customized my lessons to suit my particular learning style, which is “muy despacio” ! Everyday I feel better and better with my progress and at the end of each lesson I’m always shocked that it’s already over! Time flies so fast in Araliz’s classroom. I’m beginning to really enjoy our attempt at conversation. I can really feel my progress when I am able to have a conversation with her and walk away feeling as though she understood me and I her. What a great feeling to finally be able to chat and connect the way I love to do.
After my ten weeks at Habla Ya I know it will not be the end of my lessons. Given the wonderful fact that Boquete is now my home, I have plenty of time to “slowly” become proficient in learning this beautiful language. I’m hoping to begin to find opportunities where I can be surrounded by more native speakers so I can practice what I’m learning at school. On HablaYa’s web sight I see that they have many volunteer opportunities that they can help me get involved with, and that will be my next adventure. Not only have we made some really great connections with the teachers at the school but also with some of the other students as well. It’s so great to see and meet so many young people who are doing home-stays and who are immersing themselves in the culture while studying the language. I wish I had had such an opportunity when I was their age. I really admire their adventurous spirit at such a young age. We have made friends with many of these people and I know they will be back to visit us here in this beautiful place. The School has endless activities that they organize and although we haven’t had time to join them, we hear that there is tons of fun to be had! So far, this old brain has been too busy having tons of “fun” studying our Spanish! (insert eye roll here?) All this hard work will pay off in the end when I get to sit down with Araliz or Yubal and actually have a “fluent” conversation in their language!