23rd of July, 2022
Panama II '22
Today was a day full of bittersweet goodbyes and “final” memories. This morning, sandwiched between two long car rides of karaoke and a cappella riff offs, we went to Starfish Beach in Bocas Del Drago.
After some beach games and reading, our group privately journaled in an experience we have cherished or found impactful during our trip. For mine, I reflected on how the Spanish-English language barrier made me grow as a more effective communicator, friend, and overall person. Entering this trip, I had very little Spanish vocabulary or conversational skills (I take Latin) and found speaking Spanish very anxiety-inducing for me. Yet, through the help of my group members and the kids at the community center, I picked up basic conversational skills and learned that you do not have to speak the same language to connect with a person.
While I spend my afternoons at the Basti community center where most kids are bilingual, I quickly befriended a girl named Yoceline who only speaks Spanish. And, although I could only ask her simple Spanish questions, she chose to stay by my side the entire trip, always hurriedly running into my arms when I walked into the center. Yoceline would help me with Spanish vocabulary when she could and I helped her with English. Yoceline taught me that human connection, and the complexities of it, does not solely subsist through words. A language barrier does not have to stand in the way of friendship if you don’t let it. As for the bittersweet goodbyes, today was also our last day in the community center. For that we “hiked” to Punta Rica Beach for a field day. Laughing through games of chicken, hide and seek, and more, we spent up until the last minute with everyone there.
Swimming at the beach, I stopped for a second to watch everyone and appreciate the moment and how grateful I am for this trip and what I learned there. The Basti center, full of crazy energy and nonstop noise, brought out a new extroverted side to me that I haven’t known. At home, I was a strong introvert, but my group and the kids at the center helped me discover that I can be extroverted and that I love being surrounded by others and laughing with them. No matter how crazy the Basti center gets, I will never tire of it as I am always surrounded by infectious happiness and excitement, not matter what corner I turn. So, while I might have gotten teary eyed saying goodbye to center, I cannot help but look at my memories with joy and gratitude. I will never forget the invaluable lessons that I have learned with all the kids, and I know, with confidence, that I will apply then to every new experience in my life.
P.S. Panama also has great fruit, and I am certainly going to miss that as well.