I have noticed some differences and similarities in sexuality and gender between the U.S. and Panama. One similarity is gender views. Men and women are mostly equal, but men are usually expected to have more masculine jobs and provide for the family, while women are expected to stay at home more. I’ve also noticed that for the most part, people in Panama dress the same as people in the U.S. They wear business casual clothes for work, such as pants, button up shirts, skirts, and dresses, and then jeans and t shirts when they’re off work.

One difference I’ve noticed is the LGBTQ+ scene in Panama. In the U.S., gay marriage is now legal, so people have more freedom when it comes to sexuality. Even in the south, you’ll find gay bars and clubs. However, in Panama, I never saw any same-sex couples or heard of any gay bars/clubs. I think this is due to the way Latin America views gay rights, because this has been an issue in Latin American countries for many years now, and not many people acknowledge it.

Another difference I’ve noticed is how bold most Latin American men are. In the U.S., you’ll see straight men occasionally sneak a glance at a woman, but in Panama, they will stare at you until you’re out of eyesight. Maybe this is because we’re tourists and we look different, but I’ve also seen them do this with Latina women. Men here will even whistle at you and talk to you, and although this happens in the U.S., it’s not as common.

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Exploitation of Resources

One example of exploitation of resources in Panama is the tourist industry. This is especially prevalent in Panama City and beaches/islands. Although there are many people that actually live in these areas, a lot of people make their income through the tourist industry. Walking around the city, you’ll pass a lot of tourist shops and street vendors. On the islands, it’s the same way, but I noticed that the shops were a little more expensive in Bocas than in Panama City.

The fish market in Panama City is another example of exploitation of resources. Since Panama City is on the Gulf of Panama, the seafood industry is a big deal, the same as it is on the islands. When you walk past the fish market, you’ll see that the ocean around it is crowded with fishing boats. Although the fish market is not that big, they still have many seafood products. Along with this, there’s also restaurants in the area.

The Panama Canal is what many people think of when they think of Panama. The canal is another example of exploitation of resources. Ships have to pay thousands of dollars to go through the canal, and many ships pass through each day. This means that the canal is a major source of income for Panama, and it also provides many jobs for Panamanians.

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When it comes to space, I’ve noticed some similarities and differences between Panama and the U.S. One similarity I’ve noticed is that the cities and country are set up about the same. In the city, everything’s close together, there’s a good amount of skyscrapers, and many people live in apartment buildings. In the country, everything is spaced apart, you have to drive a while to get to town, and families live in houses. I’ve also noticed that the setup at the university is similar. Although QLU is much smaller than UofL, the space in the classrooms is the same; they have a whiteboard, a desk at the front for professors, projectors, and the remaining area with desks and chairs for students. Everything’s spaced out the same way, there’s not more or less space than classrooms in the U.S., and the space is utilized in the same way.

One difference I’ve noticed is objects in houses. I haven’t been in any of the houses, but it seems like most of them don’t have air conditioning or heat because many of the windows are open, and people dry their clothes outside on a clothesline. Of course, this has to do with money and climate. Money, because many people don’t have enough to keep air conditioning going in their houses, and climate because it’s always warm, so there’s no need for heat and the clothes can easily dry outside in the sun.

Another difference I’ve noticed is the setup in restaurants. I’ve gone into a few restaurants and haven’t known where to go to order. You can tell if it’s a sit-down restaurant, but in places like cafeterias, I sometimes get confused if I order at the register or at the counter. Maybe I’m just not being observant enough, but you usually can’t tell where the line is, there’s just people standing everywhere. This is a very small difference, but I’ve also noticed that there aren’t many booths in restaurants. In the U.S., there’s usually booths and chairs, but I’ve only seen a few places here with booths to sit at. I don’t know if this has to do with space, money, culture, or anything at all, but it’s just something small I’ve seen.

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Apartments in Panama


Another type of message system is association. Part of association is economic classes, society, and government. While walking around Panama City, you have to be aware of your surroundings, because you can start in a very nice area, but then turn the corner and be in a dangerous area. In the nicer parts of town, you’ll find more tourist areas, such as vacation homes, expensive restaurants, and shops. When we went hiking at Ancon Hill, I noticed that the area was very neat and well-kept. However, driving around in Panama City, you’ll pass through areas that have abandoned buildings, run down houses and streets, and homeless dogs and cats. This is a visual representation of the contrast between the upper class and lower class in Panama.

Social class is dependent on what type of job you have. The average gross salary in Panama is $59,754, but many people don’t make even half of this. In the cities, it’s easier to find jobs because of the tourist industry. The Panama Canal also created a lot of jobs for the people in Panama City. In the country, however, making a living is not so easy. For example, indigenous people will make crafts, and then a couple people will travel to Panama City and sell the crafts, because they won’t make money off of them where they live.

Many of the people with better paying jobs are mestizos; this is especially reflected in Panama’s government. If you look up previous presidents of Panama, you’ll find that the majority of them are lighter skinned. These lighter skinned economic elite are called rabiblancos- wealthy people that are usually of European descent. However, an indigenous woman was just elected for a government position for either the first time or close to the first time, which is a huge step for the indigenous people. The indigenous people usually don’t have anyone to represent them in government, and the rabiblancos usually make decisions for them. Since there are seven indigenous groups in Panama, it’s important to have diversity in the government and people representing them.

Visiting the Presidential Palace in Panama City


While in Panama, I have learned that their formal education is not much different from ours. It is required to send children to school from elementary-junior high. If the children don’t attend school, the parents/guardians can be arrested. However, when it comes to indigenous people, such as the Embera, they tend to keep their children at home to keep them for work. Because of this, the Embera, and other indigenous villages, have schools where they live. At the village we visited, there were two teachers from outside the village, and one Embera teacher. The children are there from 1st-6th grade, and then they can continue high school and college in other towns/cities.

In Panama City, the education is a little different. There’s multiple schools in the city since it’s a large population, and the schools are public and private. All the kids wear uniforms, usually white tops and blue pants or skirts, and the kids won’t be allowed inside the classrooms if they don’t have uniforms on. I haven’t learned much about their education style, but I’ve seen a lot of school kids walking around the city at lunch time, so I think they have the option to leave for lunch.

Another part of education I’ve noticed is how many places offer English lessons. Since Panama City is a spot for tourists, it would be beneficial to some people to learn English for their job, just like how it’s beneficial for people to learn Spanish in the U.S. However, there aren’t many places in the U.S. that offer Spanish classes. In the U.S., people aren’t as open-minded to learning languages other than English. I expected their education system to be a lot more different than ours, but I was surprised to find out that there are a lot of similarities.

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When we visited the Embera village on Friday, we learned about their way of life, and some of that includes subsistence: their source of food, how they eat, and how they earn an income. When it comes to food, the Embera have very different ways than us. Since they live by the river, they catch their own fish, and cook it themselves. They also have a lot of fruit that grows in the village, such as plantains, that they use as a source of food.

Another part of subsistence is how you eat food: what utensils you use, if you use any, who you share it with, etc. In the Embera village, every family is responsible for cooking their own meals, unless there’s a celebration in the village (tourists visiting, a new house being built, a baby being born). Every family has a small kitchen space where they cook, which usually consists of a large bowl to cook things in on top of a fire. We didn’t use any utensils when we ate, and our food was placed in bowls made out of leaves, so they wouldn’t cause litter when thrown away.

For income, the Embera strongly rely on the tourism industry. They are very friendly and welcoming and gladly receive visitors in their village. Along with people paying to visit, they also have booths set up when tourists come where they can buy things the Embera have made: baskets, plates, jewelry, and so on. When it comes to working around the village, each person will be assigned with a task to do, such as helping build a house or finding food. Aside from this, they usually work around 2-3 hours each day on the crafts they make when tourists visit.

Handmade Embera crafts


Before we came to Panama, I remember hearing someone say that police would be stationed outside of places, holding machine guns. When I first saw this, it was intimidating; since they don’t have a military here, their police look like military personnel, which makes them look even more intimidating. Most of the places where you can find police outside with guns are banks, which makes sense when you think about it. When we went to Albrook mall, there was someone standing outside the door to a bank and checking people’s bags before they went in. Along with that, if you go in a big store, you have to go up front first and give them your bag, because they won’t let you walk around the store with it. At first glance, all of this defense was scary and a little unnecessary, but I wonder if the U.S. could learn something from it.

I also saw a lot of police and national guard (I think that’s what they were) when we were driving to Portobelo. I’m not sure if we were already in Portobelo, but we had to stop and let a couple people on the bus to check our I.D., to prove that we were telling the truth and weren’t smuggling anything. There wasn’t any problem and they let us go on our way, but it was something I’d never experienced before.

I’m not sure if this is for defense, or different reasons, but when you go to the grocery store, you can’t buy your medicine in the aisles like you do in the U.S. There’s a pharmacy, and you have to go up there, tell them your symptoms/what you want, and they get it for you behind the counter. I found this odd, because although they do I.D. you for certain over the counter medicine in the U.S., you can still go through and pick what you want. The trouble I had was that they didn’t have the medicine I take back in the U.S. for allergies, and instead of being able to look at all the different options, the pharmacist chose something for me. This probably does come down to defense, because medicine is stolen very often, and this keeps it away.

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When it comes to play and recreation, I’ve noticed that there aren’t many differences between how we do things in the U.S. vs. how they do things in Panama. The kids will play sports, maybe at a field or YMCA (which I’ve seen a couple of), and young adults will go out and party on the weekends. We even got to experience the nightlife here when we went on la chiva, or the party bus. We have these in the U.S., but I’ve never been on one so I couldn’t tell you what they’re like. Here, the buses are painted, and they usually have a few booths in them to sit down, but it’s mostly empty area to dance. We had some Panamanians go on la chiva with us, and it seemed to me this was something they were used to doing. They probably don’t do it every weekend, since party buses cost money to rent, but the nightlife here is a big part of the culture.

Another thing I’ve noticed here is murals. We have murals many places in Louisville, but we’re in a different country, so the designs differ from one another. Old school buses being used for public transportation will be painted all over, and there’s usually some kind of theme connecting everything together. The chivas are painted in the same style; they’ll usually have people from pop culture on them, provocative phrases, etc. There’s a mural we always pass going to and from school, and I can’t remember what building it’s on, but it looks like the ocean, with a blue background and sea animals painted all over it. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always loved this mural. I don’t know what the artist was trying to say when they painted this, if they were trying to say anything at all, why they chose that building, etc., but it’s very colorful and lively and reminds me of the city.

During our city bus tour our first day here, I remember passing a soccer stadium. I looked it up, and it’s called Estadio Rommel Fernández. The stadium is named after Rommel Fernández, a previous Panamanian football player, and is used for many different things, but mostly for soccer. Panama, of course, has their own soccer team, called the Panama national football team. Soccer is a much bigger deal here in Latin America than it is in the U.S., especially professional soccer, so it’s interesting to see all the focus on this sport, where in the U.S., the focus is usually on basketball, football, or baseball.

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One of first things they told us about when we arrived in Panama was that everyone here is on “Panamanian Time”, a.k.a., time is not very important here. In the U.S., we live by the clock. We got to work and school at certain times and don’t like to be late, we don’t like to wait in long lines at the store, we get impatient waiting for our food at restaurants, etc. However, it’s the opposite way here. It’s not a big deal if you’re late for meetings or work, people don’t get mad when they have to wait in a line at the store, and one of the biggest differences for me has been that restaurants are not in a hurry to wait on you.

Our second night here, a group of us went out to eat at a restaurant right down the street from our hotel. This was my first time experiencing restaurants in a foreign country, so naturally, I figured things would be similar to restaurants in the U.S. I quickly found out this was not the case. It took us about an hour and a half to get our food and eat at a place that would have taken closer to thirty minutes in the states. If something like that happened back home, this place would have hundreds of terrible yelp reviews, but they don’t think much about it here.

I remember going out with my grandpa a few years ago, who is the typical U.S. American, and gets upset when people don’t do things right when he asks them. Instead of bringing him a refill like he asked, our waiter went over to the bar and started talking to someone, which is similar to what happened in the Panamanian restaurant. My grandfather got impatient, and decided to whistle to get the waiter’s attention, and the whole place went dead silent. This is one of the reasons I think being on Panamanian time might not be such a bad thing. It’s taxing sometimes to live by the clock, and have a set time you have to do everything. However, it can also be helpful when you’re making plans, and I do think it helps motivate people to get things done. Either way, being on Panamanian time is something I haven’t gotten used to yet.

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On Wednesday, our second day in Panama, we officially began classes. Most of the students at the school are currently on break and won’t start until Monday, but did have two local students with us both Wednesday and Thursday. Neither of them were born in Panama City, but they had both lived here for a while, so I still saw them as locals. I didn’t realize this until Professor Futrell pointed it out, but the two Panamanian students were on one side of the classroom, and the rest of us, the American students, were sitting on the opposite side. After pointing that out, the Panamanian students moved and sat on our side of the room and we had some time to chat and get to know each other before the class started. 

            During orientation last week before we left for Panama, we learned about the ten message systems: interaction, association, learning, food, gender, use of resources, time, space, play, and defense. The message system we used during our conversations with the other students was interaction. Luckily, the students spoke Spanish and English, and were kind enough to use English for me. This made our interaction much easier, considering I only speak basic Spanish. I’ve had interactions with other people since we’ve been here, and some of them have been difficult, because it’s hard to interact with someone when you speak two different languages. When I find myself in these situations, I try to use hand signals and non-verbal cues to interact and get my point across.

            Along with learning about intercultural communication in this class, we’re also reading a book about an American/Panamanian kid. He grew up in the Canal Zone, and he moves back to America while he’s still a teenager, but comes back to Panama twenty-five years later as a freelance writer. In the book, the Panamanians come off as rude and aggressive towards Hank, the main character, but I haven’t had any sort of experience like that since we arrived here. Everyone in Panama is friendly, says hi, and will gladly help you out with directions. However, this book takes place around 1989, so things were different back then and the relationship between the U.S. and Panama wasn’t the best. But I was glad to find out that the Panamanians are actually very friendly people, and I try my best to communicate with them, even if they don’t speak English. 

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