HAPPY BLOGAVERSARY!

blogaversary-sign

I can’t believe I started this blog over a year ago!

Although I may have over 30 posts on this bad boy, most of you know that deep down I’m still the same terrible blogger that I’ve always been. I’ll tell ya, this kind of work takes some real dedication and TLC. I often have so many clever ideas – SO MANY – and I often start many drafts, obviously when I’m in the middle of working on something else, and then as soon as I know it time passes and I’m already halfway through my time abroad! AH!

I had about 10 blog posts as drafts that I’ve published over the last few days, and I have about five more still in queue waiting to be finished up. I’m trying here. It was my Dad who really inspired me to get my act together. I normally write in my moleskin journal while I travel, and I’ve been pretty up to date on that. But having this blog is different. It’s not only something that I can come back to in a few years time and remember all the good times and how ridiculous I’ve been, but it’s also a way for me to share the details of my experience with my friends and family, be a reference for myself as I write my mid-grant and final reflections, and perhaps even a reference future Fulbrights to stumble upon through an intense google search (much like I found the blog of Venezuelan Fulbright Dara when I was prepping for my travels this time last year).

Either way, it is one of my goals to keep up with this blog as best I can. After all I do have more time on my hands than I did during my Junior Year Abroad.

This is already the most success I’ve had with one of these blog things. Poco a poco, I’ll keep it going as best as I can.


The views and information presented in this blog are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the US Department of State.

Student-Teacher Bonding

June 20, 2015

Many of the students that I teach in my Conversation Club are First-Year Tourism students. Although English is mandatory for their programs, some are still at a beginner-level or many (like me and my Spanish) are still trying get over the hump of shyness that holds us back from saying #yolo and letting ourselves make those mistakes and get to that higher level of fluency. It’s a constant effort, especially when you don’t have to use your second language on a daily basis at home or with friends. And that’s exactly what I’m here for! So when a group of students invited me to the Amador Causeway to practice giving me a tour, I said ABSOLUTELY! They get to practice giving tours in English while I get to learn more about them and their amazing country – that’s what I like to call a win win.

My students have class on Saturday morning believe it or not, so met at the Albrook Bus Terminal once they were done, around 10:30 and waited for the bus to Amador. This journey started much like my first venture to the Causeway back in March (see post), but this time I noticed the buses were running a bit more frequently since it was a weekend. Good to note.

Once we got to the Causeway, the first stop was the Biomuseo. As I said in my first post, this museum looks like it was taken straight out of the Teletubbies (no offense, Frank Gehry). It’s a newer tourist attraction for Panama, only having opened in October 2014, even though the planning process started way back in 1999. Its exhibitions revolve around the idea of Panama’s biodiversity. Even though it was a fairly small museum it was really cool! And definitely a great way to learn about Panama – not just about its incredible species and organisms, but also its culture and history. I’d actually recommend it as one of the first stops for people visiting Panama so that they can really appreciate where they are and what surrounds them.

Selfie at the BioMuseo with my amazing student / tour guide for the day, Winifer

Selfie at the BioMuseo with my amazing student / tour guide for the day, Winifer

The BioMuseo

The BioMuseo

Apparently sloths used to be this big. Terrifying.

Apparently sloths used to be this big. Terrifying.

Learning about the diaspora of species from Panama to the rest of the hemisphere.

Learning about the diaspora of species from Panama to the rest of the hemisphere.

Saber-toothed Tiger.... yikes.

Saber-toothed Tiger…. yikes.

During the construction of the Canal back in the early 1900s, fossils of Megalodon Sharks were found. They cruised the oceans between 18 and 2 million years ago. These "monster sharks" are the great grandparents to today's Great White Sharks.

During the construction of the Canal back in the early 1900s, fossils of Megalodon Sharks were found. They cruised the oceans between 18 and 2 million years ago. These “monster sharks” are the great grandparents to today’s Great White Sharks.

 

There is also a part of the Biomuseo on the lower floor that covers the history of the canal, urban expansion, environmental concerns, cultural history and its relevance in Panama culture today all from a fairly honest and un-biased perspective (at least as far as I could tell). Definitely worth the visit! I look forward to going back again soon!

After the Biomuseo tour I was told that there was a “surprise” waiting for me. Lo and behold, the rest of the girls who came with us had set up a picnic! They admitted this was their first-ever picnic, which made me especially pleased because it was just last month we talked about picnics and barbeques in my Memorial Day presentation! I feel like each week I’m realizing more and more how rewarding teaching can be: moments like these can just melt your heart!

Our picnic in the park.

Our picnic in the park.

Each student contributed. Yasiel made the coconut rice, Winifer made the "salad" (potato salad with carrots and mayo), Rowanne made the meatballs, Julia brought the orange juice, and Yulaski brought the plates, cups and utensils! I wish they had told me so I could bring dessert, but they told me NO, that i just needed to bring myself. I'll find a way to get them back though... I have a few USA novelties that are still waiting to find homes.

Our delicious lunch! Each student contributed: Yasiel made the coconut rice, Winifer made the potato salad, Rowanne made the meatballs, Julia brought the orange juice, and Yulaski brought the plates, cups and utensils. I wish they had told me so I could bring dessert, but they told me NO, that i just needed to bring myself. I’ll find a way to get them back though… I have a few USA novelties that are still waiting to find homes.

After we finished eating they announced that it was time for surprise #2: HENNA!

After we finished eating they announced that it was time for surprise #2: HENNA!

The finished project

The finished project

After my henna was finished they were trying to be all secretive and figure out who should ‘distract’ me while the rest go to sort out “surprise #3″…. oh goodness. Yulaski and Julia stayed behind with me and we took a little siesta (nap) on the blanket, only to be interrupted by a maternity photoshoot that came by – cutesy and corny, all that one would hope for in a maternity shoot. Finally the girls arrived with surprise #3 – the six-person bikemobile!

Ready to ride

Ready to ride

#ridindirty

#ridindirty

Made a pit stop along our causewawy cruise to pick up some "yellow loco" aka an orange snowball/slushie. It was pretty great. Once we drank most of the liquid out, we just added more of our OJ we had lefover from lunch. That's what I like to call #problemsolving

Made a pit stop along our causewawy cruise to pick up some “yellow loco” aka an orange snowball/slushie. It was pretty great. 100% sugar. Once we drank most of the liquid from the ice, we just added more of our OJ we had lefover from lunch. That’s what I like to call #problemsolving

It was getting to that time of the afternoon when the rains start. As I said in my previous post about the causeway, they're doing a ton of construction. Not only are they expanding the causeway, but they are also doing renovations to the current Figali Convention Center and building a whole new Convention Center as well! Lots of yellow metal moving lots of dirt around.

It was getting to that time of the afternoon when the rains start. As I said in my previous post about the causeway, they’re doing a ton of construction. Not only are they expanding the causeway, but they are also doing renovations to the current Figali Convention Center and building a whole new Convention Center as well! Lots of yellow metal moving lots of dirt around. I appreciated getting the inside scoop from my students.

A newer addition to the causeway is also this Pagota symbolizing Panama-Korea relations. The Republic of Korea donated this monument in December 2013 as a symbol of their eternal friendship.

A newer addition to the causeway is also this Pagota symbolizing Panama-Korea relations. The Republic of Korea donated this monument in December 2013 as a symbol of their eternal friendship.

We made it all the way down the causeway on our bike… and I’ll be honest, those things are NOT easy to pedal. a) they get really heavy with six people and their things, b) not everyone pedals the whole time and c) you don’t have as much range of motion as you do on a regular bike and can’t go as fast Being rainy season, of course it starting to thunderstorm and pour by the end of our ride, but our legs were pretty exhausted too by that point. On the bus back most of us fell asleep haha but we all agreed it was well worth it. Here are two shots I caught on the ride back:

On the metrobus back to Albrook. The chair above says: "I fear God and give him Glory. I love you Jesus" afterwhich someone drew an arrow and wrote "mamaguebo" which generally translates to one who sucks cock.... Judgmental much? The second chair says "Christ I call you"

On the metrobus back to Albrook. The chair further away says: “I fear God and give him Glory. I love you Jesus” after which someone drew an arrow and wrote “mamaguebo” which generally translates to one who sucks cock…. Judgmental much? The second chair says “Christ I call you”

This is some street art in the area called Balboa.

This is some street art in the area called Balboa that we pass on the way back to the Terminal.

I’m happy I returned to the causeway. I definitely learned a whole lot more about the area and Panama in general through going with my students plus got to bond with them some more! An excellent way to spend my Saturday, that’s for sure.


The views and information presented in this blog are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the US Department of State.

Back to the USA for a Hot Minute

May 13 – 20, 2015

Yeah… I did that. Not something I would normally do during a program like this, and definitely not what I would recommend to anyone who is studying abroad or carrying out his/her Fulbright. I don’t recommend doing this kind of trip mid-grant because a) international flights are expensive, even more-so when living off of a grant, b) it takes you out of your new environment that you’ve put so much time and effort adjusting to, only to bring you back into the familiar for such a short amount of time that c) homesickness may very likely ensue upon return to host country. Moreover, d) you may miss out on a unique abroad experience.

Thankfully, my parents paid for the tickets as a birthday present. It was really important to them that I made it home for my brother’s graduation – he not only became a dentist but a captain in the Air Force that week. With these opportunities for our family to be together becoming fewer and far between these days, I understood the value of this trip. Plus it helped that flying between Panama and the US is a pretty great deal, often cheaper than flying from the East Coast to California.

Unfortunately, two weeks before my scheduled departure I learned that IIE (Institute of International Education, the overseeing board for Fulbright) organized a last-minute seminar for the other Fulbrights in the region, which just so happened to overlap with my final days in the US. It was an all-expenses-paid trip to Lima, Peru, a chance to meet other Fulbrights, exchange ideas and techniques, and have a little vacation. I tried my hardest to make the best of both worlds; to have my cake and eat it too. But no dice. It was too late to get a refund or credit for my tickets, so I created a whole budget and proposal asking IIE to fly me from Philly to Lima, showing how they’d actually save money with that plan instead of having me fly from Panama… but as my dad explained it, the government doesn’t really take well to deviation from the norm. They don’t take well to complicated exceptions. Even though the Embassy approved my request, it didn’t make it passed IIE. Every decision has its tradeoffs; this was a big one for me. Just means I’ll have to make Lima one of the next vacations on the top of my list, I suppose.

All that being said, this trip was completely worth it for me.

It came at a great time for me. I had been in the country a full two months by this point and was starting to bump heads with a professor I worked with at UDELAS, and was also feeling stressed and confused about the vague perimeters of my Fulbright extra project (aside from teaching English). Whether to the US or anywhere – I needed some kind of escape for a few days.

I found it incredibly valuable because I was able to understand and internalize how much I appreciate certain people in my life, and got to spend rare quality time with my family.

It. Was. Perfect.

The best part about being at Wheaton was that I was somehow, magically, able to see everyone that I care/cared about at Wheaton (for the most part): The Wheatones, my hausemates, my close friends who graduated above me, my new close friends from my class year, my boyfriend – it was amazing! I was so happy to have these stolen moments (and a bit sad when they ended), but I’m glad to have been lucky enough to take advantage of that than to have never been there all. Ugh it was so wonderful. I genuinely felt happy – so happy I felt high – I don’t even know if I’ve felt that much overall joy before. Anyway, besides seeing my family and friends, I also got to play with my cat!!!

Reunited with my handsome hausmates after a whole year

Got to share a meal with my handsome hausmates after a whole year apart

Got to sing once more with my lovely Wheatones #acababes #webetonin

Got to sing once more with my lovely Wheatones #acababes #webetonin

Got to be back with all of the people I've loved and cared about for the past few years. From class years above and below me, I felt that I was surrounded by so many people I love and cared about; it was incredible!

Got to be back with all of the people I’ve loved and cared about over the past several years. From class years above and below me, I felt that I was surrounded by so many people I’ve loved and cared about; it was truly incredible!

Had my own birthday celebration with the fam

Had my own birthday celebration with the fam

All the good times were had at graduation

All the good times were had at graduation

Crabs and Bohs with the Baltimore crew #firstoftheseason

Finished off my vacay with crabs and Bohs with the Baltimore crew #firstoftheseason

A strange pocket of normalcy in the midst of my grant, but a good one all the same. Yes, I’ll admit I was a little homesick on the plane back… but that’s the thing. I wasn’t homesick, rather people sick. I came to realize how much I truly cared for these people that I have in my life and understood just how fleeting those moments were that I shared with them. Never again will I likely be at Wheaton with all of the same people, those from grades above and below me that I truly care for. It will also be less likely that my family will be able to share much quality time together as time goes on. All of these realizations hit me like a full-speed train and I couldn’t help but to be taken over by emotion by how truly thankful and lucky I am for everything and everyone that I have in my life.

This realization also gave me the determination to keep my chin up and make the best of my grant while I’m here in Panama. As “they” say, life happens when you’re busy making other plans. 10 months really does fly by fast. I hope to take advantage of my time here so that I can make it a worthwhile experience for my students, the University and myself!


The views and information presented in this blog are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the US Department of State.

It’s My Birthday, I Can Teach if I Want To!

May 11, 2015

11141355_10152976644882869_8673351405933822556_n

Probably the most fun day of “teaching” I’ve every had! My students are incredible. Have I said that enough? I don’t think I’ve said that enough. Back when I first started teaching in April we got on the topic of food during International Health Day. We started talking about our favorite foods and typical foods that one might eat in the US vs Panama. Then somehow we came upon the topic of party foods and birthdays and as soon as you know it the students were organizing each other into groups to give me a Panamanian-style potluck in class for my birthday! WORD. With a little bit more planning and structure, we ended up having a few classes beforehand dedicated to learning food and cooking vocabulary so that they could make videos and/or power point presentations of their recipes and process of how they prepared each dish.
My role was to sit back, relax, learn a thing or two about Panamanian cooking, and be ready to eat. My students would remind me each day leading up to it “Bailey, you probably shouldn’t eat breakfast on Monday.” (I did my best to prep my stomach). We started off class with their cooking presentations, and afterwards – I couldn’t help myself – we watched an episode from the new season of MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 with Lil Wayne’s daughter. It was absolutely #priceless and showed another side of the US culture that’s for sure #bougie #spoiled #culturalimmersiononfleek (side note: had to describe “on fleek” … you know, just another day in the life as a college ESL/EFL teacher. My life is awesome).

It truly was a wonderful day with my students. I was proud of them for their presentations and my stomach was sooo pleased with the final results! It was a great way to spend my Birthday and a good send off before my trip back to the States for my brother’s graduation from dental school.

Birthday selfie with my students!

Birthday selfie with my students!

They had forgotten candles, so a few students ran over to El Rey supermarket down the street... but they didn't have any 2's or 3's... so they got 9, 9 and 5... because 9 + 9 + 5 = 23. I burst out laughing and almost cried hahaha I loved their nonsensical logic and made it that much more of a ridiculously wonderful day.

They had forgotten candles, so a few students ran over to El Rey supermarket down the street… but they didn’t have any 2’s or 3’s… so they got 9, 9 and 5… because 9 + 9 + 5 = 23. I burst out laughing and almost cried hahaha I loved their nonsensical logic and made it that much more of a ridiculously wonderful day.

The panamanian spread: corn tamales, chicken and rice, patacon cups with salchicha filling, sweet plantains, corn chicha, and arroz con leche. I might be missing something , but there were just so many things! I felt so special and honored that they wanted to share a part of their culture with me for my birthday!

The panamanian spread: corn tamales, chicken and rice, patacon cups with salchicha filling, sweet plantains, corn chicha, and arroz con leche. I might be missing something , but there were just so many things! I felt so special and honored that they wanted to share a part of their culture with me for my birthday!


The views and information presented in this blog are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the US Department of State.

 

BIRTHDAY WEEKEND!

May 8-10, 2015

988545_10152972786592869_5449781117110129337_n

Time to go to the beach beach round two!

This go-round, fellow Fulbrights Duncan, Emily and I were meeting up with some Peace Corps folks to crash their party celebrating one year of service. We were meeting at Las Lajas Beach in Chiriqui to stay in little cabins on the beach (literally looked straight out of a tourist catalog). Very simple, quaint, quiet and relaxing (not to mention inexpensive) – sounded perfect to me. The only downside was that in order to get there by Friday afternoon we’d have to leave by 5am….. NOT ideal. Especially after a long Thursday at work (teaching from 7:30 am – 4:30 pm). But of course I rallied. Gotta make the best of these opportunities when they present themselves, #amiright? Duncan and I met up at 4:30am, found a taxi to the bus terminal and hopped on that 5:15 am bus over to Chiriqui, picking up Emily in Santiago along the way! I’m impressed we worked out that timing so well. Go us!

Being around the Peace Corps folks was like a breath of fresh air. I enjoy hanging out with my roommate, fellow Fulbrights and other friends around the city, but there are times where it can still get pretty lonely when you’re living in your own little apartment going about the day-to-day. I often miss the community I had in college; the luxury of walking into the cafe during the day or into the library at 3am during finals week and finding a group of people I knew and loved and could pass the time with without a second thought; just being surrounded by good people with good energy. So being with my Fulbright friends and 20+ Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) brought me right back to that jovial feeling! I loved it!

The Pacific waters were also SO WARM, it was like bathwater. A littler nerve-wracking to know that there were a bunch of stingrays in the waves (according to two PCV surfers)… but we were ok as long as we shuffled our feet. Really wasn’t looking to end up like Steve Irwin (may he rest in peace).

Photo taken by yours truly. The view of the gorgeous pacific from the field

Photo taken by yours truly. The view of the gorgeous pacific from the field

The cabañas (cabins) along the beach

The cabañas (cabins) along the beach

Just doin' what we do best

Just doin’ what we do best

Me & da beach

Me & da beach

Time for some henna

Time for some henna

Fulbright-PVC bonding

Fulbright-PCV bonding

The daily schedule - it's important to have some structure to the day.

The daily schedule – it’s important to have some structure to the day.

Sunset frisbee on the beach

Sunset frisbee on the beach

11260707_10152972802537869_860907125116129310_n

Mother's day was the next morning... gotta let mamma know your love

Mother’s day was the next morning… gotta let mamma know your love

Patacones for dinner (aka fried plantains - taste basically like french fries... but they're fruit so it's super mega healthy). They were $2 and delicious; I have no shame.

Patacones for dinner (aka tostones aka fried plantains – taste basically like french fries… but they’re fruit so it’s super mega healthy). They were $2 at the Fonda on site and delicious; I have no shame.

Gecko in the porch lamp #casual

Gecko in the porch lamp #casual

 

On Sunday, Mother’s Day, we made our five-hour journey back home to the good ‘ol PTY, and saw some interesting sights on the way back.

 

11180298_10152995795162869_8761450728636818047_n

"GOD BLEES" #bleeeeeesed

“GOD BLEES”
our bus was so classy and #bleeeeeesed

Lovely Panamanian hills as we get closer to town

Lovely Panamanian hills as we get closer to town


The views and information presented in this blog are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the US Department of State.

 

A True Cross-Cultural Experience

April 25, 2015

36678852

That’s right boys and girls, yours truly was invited to a wedding! Well… two of the several ceremonies of my Mentor Professor’s Niece. I may have mentioned at some point earlier on that my Mentor Profe hails from India. She moved here nearly a decade ago with her husband who runs his own electronics showroom in Albrook Mall (the mall at the major bus terminal). Anyway, much of her husband’s family lives in Panama too, including her niece who was getting married! I really do love weddings. If you are reading this (and I know you) and you ever find yourself in need of a date for a wedding: I’m your girl. Anyway, the beautiful thing about this wedding was that it fairly nouveau-traditional wedding, as in they have the same number of formal ceremonies you might have at a very traditional wedding, but with parties after each one with lots of food, drink and merriment. Say no more, count me in!

However, you know that awkward teenager who tags along with her parents to a work party… yeah that was what I was more or less, but without parents.. and people that I knew for that matter. I was at the table with other UDELAS staff, who I was still getting to know (and struggling to remember their names). BUT I knew them after that! It proved to be a good social experience for me and brought me a bit out of my shell. I need it from time to time, especially when my introverted self wants to hideaway in my cave of a room with netflix and a glass of wine and call it a night. I actually had a really great time. There was free wine (check), an excellent buffet of Panamanian food (check) AND Indian food (check check), belly dance performances (dope), and a truly beautiful ceremony between the young couple. I have never attended an Indian wedding before, but I’ll have to admit: this one definitely set the bar high from now on. It was very sweet for Kaur to invite me and I hope I can do something special for her in the coming months to thank her for her kindness and generosity.

This event amazed me, especially by the amount of Indian Expats there are in Panama! It is quite a large community and got me thinking. I did a bit of online research and found some insight from Joshua Projectalthough I’m pretty sure it’s a christian missionary site – and… a bit of Wikipeida. Just for starters; I’m sure there are many interesting insights and articles out there about Indian-Panamanian culture. Just goes to show that Panama is an incredibly diverse city and country welcoming people from all over the world.

The giant elephant at the entry way to the event. Literally huge - that trunk was taller than I am. And there was another elephant on the other side.

The giant elephant at the entry way to the event. Literally huge – that trunk was taller than I am. And there was another elephant on the other side.

The betrothed's throne

The betrothed’s throne for the evening

The couple walking in

The couple walking in

Me and my mentor, Professor Kaur

Me and my mentor, Professor Kaur

The UDELAS Fam

The UDELAS Fam

Having some selfie fun with Danysabel

Having some selfie fun with Danysabel

11124805_10152944987207869_6555748619464049868_n

11096433_10152944988812869_5228209471967244480_n

Got everything I need: water, wine, ceviche, arroz con pollo, plantains, salad, curry, basmati, chicken masala... it's that good good.

Got everything I need: water, wine, ceviche, paella, plantains, salad, curry, basmati, chicken masala… it’s that good good.


The views and information presented in this blog are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the US Department of State.

 

Finally! My First Day of Teaching

April 16, 2015

First day of Teaching!

10917284_10152941902342869_5669231622597419847_n

… aaaand I still had no idea what I was doing.

That’s the beauty of a Fulbright ETA – like it or not, it’s classified as a Fulbright Student Grant. Why? Because we still have a hell of a lot to learn. For starters, my “name game bingo” that I thought would be easy and fun as an ice breaker for the first day was way too difficult. And these students are English majors or Tourism majors (in which a certain level of English is mandatory for them to graduate) – and I realized that many of them are still at a very beginner level. That exercise, and first class for that matter, really put into perspective what level of English I would need to start catering my lessons towards.

I realized many of my students get held back by none other than their own “pena,” their own stress/embarrassment/shyness, much like I am with my Spanish. I took Spanish for 3 years in Middle School, four years in High School, and four years in College, PLUS six months of that time was spent studying abroad in Buenos Aires immersed in the language and culture at some of the top universities. But do I consider myself fluent? Absolutely not. And that’s my fault, truthfully. I haven’t pushed myself enough, haven’t had enough self-discipline to practice on my own at home, have been too shy to practice with my close friend from Colombia or boyfriend from Venezuela. It’s just so easy to fall back into the familiar. Especially for someone like me who gets a bit neurotic from time to time about doing the best I can. With Spanish I get nervous. I can read, write and understand well, but it’s just when it comes to speaking that I get shy and don’t really want to talk unless I know it’s going to be correct and perfect.

*BING* and just like that the light bulb went off in my head and I realized: this is exactly what some of my students are feeling! This realization has inspired me to chill out about my Spanish language and just go for it, make mistakes #yolo. Might as well practice what you preach, right? I tell my students to make mistakes, talk to me in espanglish or explain it the best they can in spanish and then we’ll find a way to express what they want to say in English. I remind myself what I remind them: it doesn’t matter if it’s perfect right away, it just matters that you can communicate. We always have to start somewhere and we often learn best through our mistakes.

April classes were a month of trial and error. Lots of students testing the water of this mysterious “club” thing… let’s just say Panamanians don’t really have clubs in their universities #culturaldifferences For me I used our conversation club as a way to test out different teaching styles; what works, what doesn’t, what the students like and what kind of leaves them feeling bored. One thing’s for sure – I’m definitely learning a lot about myself along the way!


The views and information presented in this blog are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the US Department of State.

Panama International Film Festival

April 12, 2015 • Panama International Film Festival

iffpaficheinstagrampost_2

While it was somewhat unfortunate planning that the film fest happened to overlap with the Summit of the Americas, it was a pretty spectacular event here in Panama. Their events may have been inconvenienced a bit, they still got a great turnout, and perhaps a little extra from the politicos and journalists flocking to the city for the big bad summit.

Many people joke about how sad it is to go to the movies alone, finding it the epitome of emotional solitude… but I say screw it. Sometimes you want to go to the movies and don’t want to deal with that friend who asks a question every two seconds, or feeling duped into seeing a movie you’re not all that into. What I mean is that sometimes, you just gotta do you. It’s not like the movies make for much of a social outing anyway (except for the two snogging in the back). You’re sitting in a dark theater noshing on over-priced soda and candy. I can do that all by myself thanks. And that’s exactly what I did. It was always on my agenda to see a show in the Teatro Nacional here in Panama, and it just so happened to be one of the screening locations for the film festival. Well, that was easy! So, I decided to treat myself and have my own little movie marathon that Sunday afternoon. I saw three movies back to back (with enough time in between to take some photos of the crazy lights, grab some plantain chips at the chino down the street, and use the restroom).

The awesome light effects they had on each night at the film fest to draw attention. The lights were constantly moving and changing designs.

The awesome light effects they had on each night at the film fest to draw attention. The lights were constantly moving and changing designs.

Inside Teatro Nacional

Inside Teatro Nacional

Inside Teatro Nacional

Inside Teatro Nacional

I was lucky enough to catch premiers of the three movies. After each film they brought up the directors or actors who were there representing the film to give a little speech and Answer questions.

I was lucky enough to catch premiers of the three movies. After each film they brought up the directors or actors who were there representing the film to give a little speech and Answer questions. This was after the first movie I saw about Panama’s history.

The first movie that afternoon was called Historias del Canal (“Histories of the Canal”) (2014, Panama), and was a conglomeration of short films about the History of the Canal from the early 1900s up to today. The directors for each film were Carolina Borrero Arias, Pinky Mon, Luis Franco Brantley, Abner Benaim, and Pituka Ortega Heilbron. Synopsis:

The story of Panama is inseparable from the story of the Canal, that project that forever changed the topography and culture of our country. With its five stories unfolding over the course of 100 years, Panama Canal Stories chronicles these changes with drama, humor and heart. It is a history of the modern Panamanian soul.

 

 

The second film I saw was by Spanish Director Alvaro Fernández Armero called Las Orejas no pierden el tren (“Sidetracked”) (2015, Spain), starring well-known actress Candela Peña. Synopsis:

A good-natured comedy about coming of age in middle-age, Spanish director Álvaro Fernández Armero’s Sidetracked follows a group of old friends and family members trying to make life more meaningful—or at least less of a drag. Everyone will recognize something of themselves in this witty, wise little film.

On stage after

On stage after “Las Orejas no pierden el tren” the Director of IFF Panama introduced Director Alvaro Fernández Armero and Actress Candela Peña.

The third and final movie I saw that day was called El Ardor (“Burning“). The name is appropriate because the film is about burning of the jungle, but the film also runs thick with ardor (passion) throughout its entirety. Directed by Pablo Fendrik in 2014, it stars none other than Motorcycle Diaries dreamboat Gael Garcia Bernal *cue swoons* Its official description writes:

Described by writer-director Pablo Fendrk as “Mesopotamic Western,” El Ardor stars Gael García Bernal as Kaí, a mysterious shaman who emerges from the Río Paraná to defend a clan of tobacco farmers against a band of cold-blooded land-grabbers.

 

 

End of the night

After the third movie it was just after midnight, and as per usual I took for granted just how quiet things got here in Panama, and it was only amplified by the summit. As I was leaving the theater in the direction towards the city, I ran into Alvaro Armero and Candela Peña from “Las Orejas no Pierden El Tren” and two of their friends. It felt surreal to me, Candela strolling barefoot along the cobblestone streets classy as ever with her gold louboutins in hand, as we search for a cab on the abandoned streets of Casco Viejo. An interesting end to the night, but an adventure all the same.


The views and information presented in this blog are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the US Department of State.

VII Summit of the Americas

April 8-10, 2015 – IV Youth Forum

April 10-12, 2015 – VII Summit of the Americas

11040172_10152916674337869_3399628823529809888_n

We are not only the future, but the present too; it is important that our voices be heard and taken seriously. A new colleague and friend, Edmavi Gonzalez, rightly questioned:

“¿Quién dijo que no se puede ser jóven e interesarse por los problemas del país y la región?”

“Who said you can’t be young and interested in the problems of the country and the region?”

We are very young, but with that comes energy and passion about understanding our world and making it a better place, and this Youth Forum was created for that very purpose. It was an incredible honor to have been chosen as one of five U.S. Youth Delegates to participate in the IV Young Americas Forum. Not only was it the first time in the summit’s history that Cuba has been a part of the conversation, but it was also the first time in its history that our hemisphere’s leaders received two official youth declarations: the declaration of the Spanish working groups and the declaration of the English working group.

Over the course of seven hours, split between two days, our working group of 15 created and submitted this document to the heads of state in the hemisphere: http://yabt.net/foro/download/IV-Young-Americas-Forum-Declaration.pdf

11156242_10206420986506120_7854009201869341085_n

You may still be wondering…

What is the Summit of the Americas?

The Summit of the Americas is a meeting of heads of state and other representatives from the 35 countries that make up the Americas. The previous meeting was held in Colombia in April 2012, and they are held about every 2-3 years, but there are no fixed intervals. The leaders of the hemisphere typically meet for two full days sitting at a round table, à la King Arthur and his Knights of Camelot, to discuss key issues facing the mighty kingdom of the Americas. At the end of the two-day summit they agree on a series of action points and draft a final declaration of the goals that the countries will collectively work towards.

 

The overarching theme of this year’s summit was “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas.”  How do ensure development is fair and just? How do we close the income gap? How do we give everyone a voice? Besides the heads of state gathering at each summit, there are also a series of meetings on the sidelines: civil society organizations, indigenous peoples, youth, private sector, labor unions and other social actors play an essential role in the summit process. They provide recommendations on the various sub-themes of the summit and assist in the implementation process of initiatives they hope to become a part of the hemispheric agenda.

 

How did it start?

The first-ever meeting of this nature was said to be organized by the one and only great liberator, Simon Bolivar, who called a meeting in Panama for newly-independent states in 1826. The first official summit was held back in 1994. Emerging from a Cold War period, characterized by confrontation and a lack of confidence, the region drafted their agenda based on three major points: democracy, free markets and the need to strengthen multilateralism (in response to globalization). As a result came the birth of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) – which has proven to be a mega fail, to put it bluntly – but brought the summit member states even closer together like an exclusive clique. #democracy #shamethenonbeliever

superthumb

In response to Peruvian President Fujimori’s effort to crush representative democracy and keep himself in power at the turn of the 21st century, member states unanimously agreed to – and formed – the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Democratic Charter, committing the region to promote and defend representative democratic government. The first Article clearly states: “The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy, and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.” It was an impressive and progressive normative pact considering the region’s history marked by military coups and countless human rights abuses. The Charter has actually been referenced recently regarding recent human rights violations in Venezuela (see here).

To read more about the summit’s history, this page is a good go-to. Richard Feinberg also gives interesting insight into the history of the summit and into the importance of including Cuba (which did in fact happen this year).

 

Why Care About the Americas?

americas population chart

The Americas are home to about 954 million people – almost a sixth of the world’s population. It’s a thriving region of peace, economic progress and touristic interest (for the most part). There is no doubt that Latin America is on the rise economically. Bloomberg notes that by 2020, Latin American GDP is expected to reach $10 trillion—double that of 2010—with 640 million active consumers. Peru is forecast to be the fastest growing economy in the region in 2015, with growth of 4.5%. Colombia is second with 3.5%; Mexico third with 3.2%. The US is slightly behind, by comparison, at 3.1%. That being said – as we’ve seen time and time again – such prosperity has only been enjoyed by a small group of individuals and has not been sufficiently and broadly shared by the people.

That is where the need for equity comes in. Equity is not just an ethical demand, but also a technical condition for the sustainable growth of our countries and for our future peace and stability (and is not the same as equality).

It must be clearly understood what equity really means. Instead of sameness, we must think of fairness; instead of giving everyone the same thing, we must ensure that there is access to the same opportunities. We can only enjoy equality once we first ensure that we’re all starting from the same point. This in itself is difficult, as there are much social, political and economic differences among our hemisphere’s nations.

While the Americas have been enjoying a state of relative peace and – with perhaps a few exceptions – political stability, but these luxuries are balancing on a very fine line. It can all be jeopardized if the region doesn’t address some of the most pressing challenges our people face today. Democracy, for example, can be limited by both inequality and inequities. Therefore, if we want to strengthen our level of democracy we must first fight to conquer these challenges head-on. The cases are similar for security, immigration, and energy resource scarcity, all of which were highlighted as key themes and discussion points of the summit’s agenda.

It is often said that reforms in global economic governance are (more often than not) compromises between an intended ideal or vision and the changes that reforming decision makers will tolerate. As Thomas Pogge once said, “it is quite unfortunate for the global poor, whose best hope may be our [the rich and powerful’s] moral reflection.” (Freedom from Poverty As a Human Right: Who Owes What to the Very Poor?, New York, 2007, pp. 48-49). Hence why the auxiliary gatherings – such as the IV Youth Forum – have so much importance within in the summit process; they bring together different societal groups with their own agenda and priorities so that their needs can be presented to the heads of state so that their voices may finally be heard and taken seriously.

One of the organizing groups gaining significant steam over the years has been the Indigenous Peoples Group. Prosperity in the 21st century tends to come with some prerequisites: growth and development, which over the years (centuries even) have a way of disturbing the environment and relocating some of our region’s most vulnerable communities. This part of the world is home to an incredibly large number of indigenous communities, who find themselves continuously fighting for their rights, their lives, and the protection of their land. In fact, over 300 indigenous peoples’ leaders from across the continent came to Panama City for their own summit: The V Summit of Indigenous Peoples Abya Yala, with the theme “defending the future of our nations.” They covered issues such as territory, autonomy, human rights, environment and climate change, and aimed to create a document that would garner support for the rights of indigenous people throughout the hemisphere.

 

o-GRAPH-2-570

Other reasons to keep an eye on the Americas: our leaders are also some of the most enthusiastic adopters of social media – the top five most active world leaders on Twitter are all from Latin America (they’re just so tech savvy). And politically, the Americas is a region of particularly interesting history and social movements. Harriet Alexander of the Telegraph lays out some interesting facts that have made major headlines over the years: 1) liberating itself from the French in 1803, Haiti was the first independent black country in the world. More recently, 2) peace talks have been started in Colombia with Farc rebels, aimed at ending the world’s longest-running civil war (see here); 3) there have been impressive civil society movements in both Mexico and Brazil (Mexico here, Brazil here); and 4) the student movement in Chile (here). The Americas are also a region in which there is a notably large number of women in politics: the presidents of all three Southern Cone countries – Brazil, Chile and Argentina, for example, are currently women. Bachelet (who had to cancel her trip to the summit) is MAH GIRL – love that woman – but I can’t help but throw in a sassy picture of Kirchner.

#watchout #badbadbitch #kindofactuallytho

#watchout, photo from el meme

 

That being said, the region is often in the headlines for its more negative news  – from reports on race and hate in US and the DR (here), human rights violations in Venezuela (here) to drugs wars in Central America (here) and the current corruption scandal in Brazil (here).

There are a plethora of issues throughout the hemisphere that span the social, political and economic realms. Yet in world that is growing smaller and smaller as a result of globalization, we are only becoming more interdependent one one another. Most westerners assume that our actions and the global order that we impose do not substantially contribute to severe poverty abroad, but they are wrong. And that’s why it is so important to care about this region that remains scarred with history, but rich with culture, countless natural wonders and biodiversity, and so much potential. We must take a step back and truly listen to our global peers coming from each stratum of society so that we may truly and effectively set ourselves on a path towards meaningful prosperity.

It is undeniable that the time for the Americas has come. Prosperity is on the rise, and dreams have been awakened. By breaking down barriers and the old dividing lines, we might be able to finally unlock the potential of our people, help lift them up, and give them a stake in the stability of their countries and their neighbors.

 

Why was this year so important?

All summits are a big deal, but this year was particularly huge. For about a week Panama was in the eyes of the world. Presidents, delegates, journalists and protestors all flocked to the “little Miami” of Central America as a number of events were carried out throughout the city without any major incidents (no doubt thanks to all of those road closures and sniper details scattered across the Panamanian skyline). They even transformed Panama Viejo (the old ruins, now in the middle of a lower working-class neighborhood) into a luxury outdoor dining experience for Obama & co.

Most importantly, this was the first summit in its existence that Cuba was invited to sit at the table, and the agenda had never made so many international headlines until this year. Cuba was invited following some significant peer pressure from other American leaders, as if we were back in high school witnessing a group of freshmen standing up to the big, tall and power senior bully, yelling “ENOUGH!”

images-3

The US can be a pretty mean girl sometimes

Cuba’s presence had always been blocked by the US. Aside from our Cold War grudge, the little island is the last remaining dictatorship in the Americas and goes against everything we agreed to uphold through Democratic Charter back in 2001. But as time passed, it became more apparent just how ridiculous it was to discuss the major issues facing the hemisphere without equal representation from every nation in the hemisphere. Perhaps it seemed like it for some, but the Obama Administration didn’t opt to lift the embargo on Cuba just out of the blue; it had been in the works since the last summit gathering in 2012, when every member nation in the region (except for the US and Canada, of course) voted –  32:2 –  to include Cuba in Panama’s 2015 Summit. Some nations even threatened to forgo attendance if Cuba remained shutout. But aside from peer pressure, this was a big move for the US to finally confront and admit to its 55-year-old failed policy that was obviously more out of pride than anything else. Let’s be honest, who was the embargo really helping? No one.

In a statement back in December, our brilliant POTUS took a stand:

“Neither the American, nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born…. Change is hard – in our own lives, and in the lives of nations.  And change is even harder when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders.  But today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do.  Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future – for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world.”

By lifting the embargo and extending a summit invitation to Havana, Washington hoped to give new-found meaning to its long-abused – and often hollow – rhetorical trope for the region: partnership.

 

11156137_10152916717482869_7966990162973601174_n

Cuba’s attendance not only made top headlines and kept things interesting each day, but it brought a new-found usefulness to the summit. Hostilities between Washington and Havana tended to dominate discussions in previous gatherings. The Obama administration hoped that its new approach to Cuba might win some brownie points in the region and get them talking about and taking action on real concerns related to improving governance or even advancing democratic values instead of getting stuck in conversations revolving around Cuba’s exclusion like a broken record.

But just as the US works to better its relations with Cuba, its relations with Venezuela continue to falter. Venezuela has been a recent source of contention over the past year inflicting serious human rights offenses against its people. John Kerry even mentioned before the House back in March that the US is prepared to invoke the Charter on Venezuela if necessary. In fact, the US has imposed new sanctions on Venezuela in measures describing Venezuela as a national security risk to the US. Maduro was (obviously) leading the anti-US attacks throughout the summit, which is fairly predictable since he accuses the US on a near-weekly basis of trying to stage a coup in Venezuela…. and you wonder why they wouldn’t give me a visa? It is interesting to note, however, that despite nearly two decades of friction between the two countries during the administrations of first Chavez and now Maduro, that the US still remains Venezuela’s largest trading partner, and Venezuela one of America’s most important foreign oil suppliers. #funfacts #gottalovepolitics

Days leading up to the official summit brought the auxiliary forums for various social groups, as well as hoards of protesters looking for any opportunity to have their voices heard. There were the anticipated pro- and anti-Castro groups, prompting several fights between the two sides. There were the anti Maduro exiles (Venezuela) – many of whom have been expatriated here in Panama – hoping to influence the 23 leaders who had denounced Obama’s controversial decree, and similar fights broke out on the streets among those dissidents and those who defend Maduro’s regime. Indigenous peoples from across the continent also came to the city to march for recognition; there was a peoples march, where Nicaraguan opponents of the country’s canal project unfurled their banners and marched, even local Panamanian prostitutes demonstrated to demand their rights. Panamanian Youth also took the opportunity to stand up to their own government for its continued silence around the underlying tension that remains from the US bombing of 1989. As you can see, there was a LOT going on in the span of a few short days.

"¿dónde estan los muertos de la invasión?" Protesting the fact that Panama still neglects addressing the 1989 US invasion of Panama ("Operation Just Cause") // ("just 'cause") to oust Noriega, during which bombings killed thousands and burnt the poor, working class neighborhood of El Chorillo to the ground.

During President Varela’s Address to our Youth Forum, some Panamanian delegates stood quietly in the front corner of the room holding a sign: “¿dónde estan los muertos de la invasión?”
Protesting the fact that Panama still neglects addressing the 1989 US invasion of Panama – “Operation Just Cause” (just ’cause) – to oust Noriega, during which bombings killed thousands and burned the poor, working class neighborhood of El Chorillo to the ground.

Hosting the summit was of major importance to Panama as well. It was back in 1956 when Panama hosted a hemispheric conference attended by 19 heads of state from the hemisphere, including Cuban dictator Batista and US President Eisenhower. The Canal Zone was still controlled by the US at that time and played a significant role in the lives of all Panamanians. The schoolboys who became “martyrs” and set into motion events leading to the transfer of the Canal from the US to Panama were probably still in elementary school at that time. Furthermore, just a year ago, Panama celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal. Panama is the bridge of the Americas, its canal the pathway between the seas. The canal has become a symbol of international relations, new-age globalization, and the universal exchange of culture; it has also completely revolutionized our global commerce. The long and sensitive history between Panama and the US over jurisdiction of the canal is now regarded as a historic turning point in promoting dialogue and consensus between nations. And that’s precisely what the summits seek to accomplish: to bring together nations with far more in common than they are separated by, to identify shared goals, and to work together to accomplish those goals for the collective good. The famed handshake between Cuba and the US didn’t just signify the long belated end to a cold war grudge, but it also became a powerful symbol of our region’s ability (and continued need) to transcend our differences in order to efficiently work towards positive outcomes.

I doubt they went out for beers that night.. but it's a start

I doubt they went out for beers that night.. but it’s a start. From LA Times

 

The Criticism

International

Is cooperation really possible? For the third summit in a row, heads of state failed to issue a final declaration, and it was due to U.S. and Canadian opposition. Both countries opposed clauses in the draft document that made references to the strengthening of collective rights, as well as those that called on states to have greater obligations… pissing off Bolivia and Argentina in particular.

Local

The summit was essentially a “forced holiday” that took many Panamanians and Expats by surprise… even though it has been planned for over a year at this point. There were several road closures, businesses closed for lack of accessibility, and a number of national guardsmen patrolling the streets. Personally, I kind of enjoyed the quiet for awhile. I live in between two very busy streets, and even though I’m way up on the 25th floor, I can still hear the rumble of trucks and horns as if I were down on the street with them. The road closure brought some serenity that week, aside from the occasional police escort caravan or helicopter passing by.

 

What did I do?

14662_10152916665502869_6844515730385880033_n

I was a delegate at the Youth Forum, which formed one of the many components of the summit.

The Young Americas Forum is a space provided by the YABT (Young Americas Business Trust) where youth, as social actors, are actively involved in the summit process. This year was the 4th Youth Forum and centered around the theme “Youth: Partners for Prosperity,” tangential to the overall summit theme: “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas”. The forum brought together young citizens of the Caribbean and the Americas, between 18 and 30 years old, to talk about the various themes of the summit, make recommendations, take action and propose strategies for joint collaboration among each country to successfully address these themes.

Growth, employment, poverty, environmental sustainability, energy security, discrimination and crime are all issues that can be resolved with the democratic adoption and implementation of effective and efficient public policies. One of the goals of the summit process was to identify a multidimensional way to strengthen democracy and governance, helping to reduce poverty and increase opportunities throughout the Americas. As I mentioned above, that all ties in with the overarching theme of equity.

Months leading up to the summit, the YABT held several online forums and virtual consultations, that collected opinions from youth throughout the Americas on the very topics that we were to discuss. YABT consolidated those points ahead of time, presented them to us, and assigned our group the mission to merge our opinions with those of thousands of our peers into a 1-2 page document. No pressure.

A tangential part of the Youth Forum was an implementation component, called the Talent and Innovation Competition of the Americas “TIC Americas 2015” in which young entrepreneurs contributed solutions and innovative projects related to the themes of the Summit. TIC Americas is a start-up accelerator and international support platform for young entrepreneurs. Each TIC entrepreneurial group had their own booth in the showroom (across the hall from the main ballroom) to share their ideas and project proposals, hoping to gain enough support (stickers) from delegates and attendees to win funding for their idea.

10478529_10152937554807869_4892534349494756321_n

I applied to be a delegate my first week here in Panama. Literally, I got an email on my 3rd day in the country being like “Hey Bailey, glad to have you here! You should apply for this, the application is due this Sunday” HAH what are the chances? It’s like it was meant to be, eh? I’ll confess: I didn’t know too much about the summit before I applied, aside from talking briefly about it in my IR Senior Seminar. That being said, I was passionate about the issues facing our hemisphere, and world for that matter. I saw this opportunity as one where I could bring some of my own knowledge to the table, but more importantly so that I could listen and learn from my peers throughout the hemisphere. The whole reason I majored in IR in college was because I felt that my whole life I had been disconnected to what was going on in the world, and even as a graduate, I find there is still so much more that I need to learn and understand. It also made me realize how, as a culture, the US could step up their game a bit when it comes to international awareness. I feel like the average American doesn’t really know (or care to know) much about our world dynamics, because they may not feel like it would ever affect them… but that’s a rant for another day. Even so, I think that’s exactly what we need throughout the world: more people listening and seeking to understand different opinions instead of loudly forcing their own upon others.

10423666_10152916790392869_6509715353545233673_n

Anyway, the Youth Forum took place two days prior to the actual summit in Hotel El Panama, literally a 5-min walk from my apartment. The forum started bright and early at 8 AM with speeches in the main room before we broke into our different working groups. In total there were about 300 youth delegates from all across the Americas. The Cubans stuck out like sore thumbs: instead of suits and pantyhose, they opted for jeans, patriotic shirts and buttons while waving their flags with pride and vigor during most speeches and presentations. They came prepared with plenty of materials too. From check-in the very first day to the closing ceremony, Cuban youth delegates distributed pamphlets, flyers and booklets, many of which protesting the inclusion of “mercenaries” at the Civil Society Forum.

Hotel El Panamá. Apparently the Clintons were staying here during the summit, but I didn't come across any chance sightings. Just my luck.  Photo from El Panama.

Hotel El Panamá. Apparently the Clintons were staying here during the summit, but I didn’t come across any chance sightings. Just my luck. Photo from El Panamá.

11081156_10152916790517869_3849831231188298134_n

US Delegates & friends hanging out with the U.S. Ambassador to Panama and the State Department Special Advisor for Global Youth Issues.

US Youth Delegates & friends cheesing with the U.S. Ambassador to Panama and Andy, the State Department Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues.

As I’ve mentioned, the theme of the Summit was “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas,” and the sub-themes were identified as Education, Energy and the Environment, Security and Migration, and Citizen Participation and Democratic Governance. YABT organized working groups that corresponded with these sub-themes, assigning delegates to each group based on interests and experience that they listed in their applications. My fellow US delegates and I understood the working language of the groups would be Spanish and assumed we would be assigned to one of those groups just like any other delegate; however, we found out that they had actually created a separate English Working Group. Out of the five US delegates, four of us were tossed into that group #duh #gringos. The fifth delegate, Emily (a fellow Fulbright) was assigned to one of the main working groups focusing on security. Side note: 4/5 of us were also U.S. Fulbrights (the fifth was a high school student whose father works for the US Embassy). Hrm. Good turn out USA, now it all makes sense why the Embassy was so encouraging haha I am incredibly thankful that they were, but I also wish more young Americans had known that they had access to participating in this opportunity.

Anyway, our English working group consisted of representatives from the US and the Caribbean, Panama and Peru. It was the perfect size for productive discussion and debate (15 of us in total, compared to 40-100 in the other groups), yet disheartening that we did not have representation from every country in the hemisphere (likewise if more of the US delegates and non-Spanish-speaking Caribbean delegates could have been involved in the Spanish-speaking groups. Some might have required an interpreter, but it would’ve been worth it to make sure that we/they weren’t being excluded from meaningful discussions and from understanding opinions of their peers. That’s what we were there for after all, right?)  Although many of us were disappointed with this language segregation of sorts, our discussions were really fruitful as we were able to discuss all of the themes and issues relating to the summit. Plus, the forum provided other outlets to connect with peers aside from our working groups too, so we were able to meet plenty of interesting people and continue living diplomacy outside of the summit’s domain.

The Environmental and Energy Sub-working group

The Environmental and Energy Sub-working group

Day one in the working group, we divided ourselves into smaller sub-groups to draft a paragraph on each key theme. I went with the Environment and Energy group, consisting of me, Braeden and William (Panamanian delegate and recent Fulbright grantee who’s heading off to California to get a masters in Engineering). Although many of the topics are interrelated to some degree, I find the environment to be of particular interest, personally. It’s impossible to deny that the well-being of the world in which we live is crucial to our survival in years to come. If we cannot eat or drink, or if our homes are destroyed by natural disasters – what do we have? How can we focus on bettering equity and democracy when we won’t even be able to feed ourselves or our families? In our group we discussed a number of topics, from conservation, renewable and alternative energy, preservation, reforestation, and indigenous land rights, among many other areas. While we were working the other groups did the same. After a few hours our first day, we had a rough draft of our recommendations, which we finalized and submitted the following day after much nit-picking and deliberation.

Meanwhile, the Spanish working groups (some with over 100 delegates) were forming their paragraphs before merging them into one final declaration. According to the YABT representatives overseeing our group, our document was ~so good~ that they decided to submit and present it as the official English version. I wasn’t quite sure if they were being straight with us or just saying that to make us feel good, but earlier they did mention they were going to incorporate and translate our thoughts into the Spanish version, which they didn’t end up doing… So I’ll take it. Pretty epic!

All in all, it was a jam-packed, exhausting experience squeezed into two days, but incredible all the same.

 

What were my takeaways?

1. I met some truly amazing people.

10561802_10152916704752869_6407690864513045554_n

11150326_10152918154922869_4774032784303431328_n

One of the major benefits of the Youth Forum is that it brought together 300 brilliant and motivated young people who truly want to make a things better in their countries and throughout the region.  Aside from getting to know my fellow Fulbrights even better, the English working group brought a number of hilarious characters as well, giving our group a unique atmosphere. We were productive and efficient, yet gave ourselves plenty of time to goof around. Because of all of the planned social programs it was also easy to meet new friends out of the English speaking room too. The first night the hotel hosted an open bar and DJ right at the pool area, and the next night they rented out a club in Casco for us #selfiesgalore What better way to break the ice, make connections and lasting memories with some of our (potential) future colleagues?

It was also really cool to meet and hang out with Andy Rabens, Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues, and Ahmad Alhendawi, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth – mostly because we got to chat with them as real people in a relaxed environment instead of in an official setting.

 

2. It’s one thing to forgive, it’s another to forget.

Cuba & USA It's not too hard to listen

Cuba & USA Youth Delegates
It’s not too hard to open your ears and mind to a different perspective,
isn’t that what collaboration is all about?

Like I’ve said, one of my main goals during the summit was to observe, listen, and do my best to understand the bigger picture. In between two of the speaker series in the main hall, the other Fulbrights and I were enjoying our free Pepsi products one row behind some Cuban delegates, and began chatting. One woman commented on President Obama’s and the US government’s deceitfulness, which opened the door to an interesting discussion and debate. Yes, I am proud to be a citizen of the United States, and I am incredibly thankful for the rights and privileges that come with it. That being said, I am also aware that the US continues to uphold its reputation of being the Big Bad Wolf in the hemisphere and throughout the world. Try and deny it all you want, but it’s true. And it’s not something we can leave for the big politicos to deal with, no – it matters for the average person just like you and me: the expat living abroad, the couple looking to travel for their honeymoon, the person prepping for a backpacking adventure or to conduct tropical research. Particularly in Latin America, in which there is still significant anti-imperialist (anti-US) sentiment throughout the region. Participating in the Youth Forum in which US Representation accounted for about 1.6% of the total participants.. yeah, we got to hear our fair share of that. Particularly from the speeches of those leading the region’s Pink Tide: Castro (Cuba), Maduro (Venezuela) and Morales (Bolivia).

If I had a dime for every (US) American “gringo” I’ve come into contact with abroad throughout my 23 years who has perpetuated the stereotypes that others have of our people…. I’d be set for life. There are many who assume that because they’re from the US life is chill, and when we travel everyone will love us and welcome our money. And in some situations, that may be true. But in the US, I find we often forget, take for granted, or don’t even take the time to realize how harmful many of our policies have been in Latin America. While President Obama stated that the days where we “so often presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity…are past,” many Latin Americans have not forgotten those days, and they may often impact the way that we are treated, which is incredibly important to realize. It’s easy to feel like the past is the past, and we should just move on and deal with the present; that we shouldn’t ruffle our feathers over something that happened decades ago. However, participating in the summit was a true reminder that the past is never truly behind us; that we as a country need to take responsibility for our actions, and that we as a people need to educate ourselves on why it matters.

 

3. Being this young, you’ve gotta work to be taken seriously, but doors will open for us.

11166067_10152927093277869_281039118_n

As youth, there are many of us who have a lot of passion and determination, who are driven to really get ourselves places in life. Although it’s easy to get discouraged (that whole “need experience to get experience” block), we have to persevere and just try, try and try again. Maria Contreras-Sweet, the Administrator of the Small Business Administration, said, “if one person doesn’t listen to you, try another. There are people who will open the doors for you, who will see your determination and energy.” So to paraphrase: #yolo why not keep (politely) pestering that job you applied for last month? Why not show up to a job you really want and deliver your resume and application in person? Sometimes a little extra effort and perseverance may show them that you are really invested, dedicated and stay true to what you want. Sure we’re young, but we have so much to give – so much passion, drive and energy – but we need to SHOW it. We have to put ourselves out there and if they still don’t take the bone then say “fine” “ok” and move on. What I learned is that we must continually advocate for ourselves, saying yes we’re young, yes we don’t have as much experience, but we’re fresh, we’re new, we’re not only the future but the present too. Teach me and I will not only do what you ask of me, but I will do it faster and exceed your expectations. Yes it can feel awkward and get exhausting, but with such passion #bitchezbewowed.

11133779_10152916790067869_8757969695445030532_n

US Team & Friends with Maria Contreras-Sweet, the Administrator of the Small Business Administration

 

4. Got to take a selfie with Obama during his speech… kind of.

11119090_10152916810617869_635422301642169226_n

Pero like… we’re both in the same picture, it’s not photoshopped, and it is a selfie. So totally legit.

 

5. Coconut is apparently the future.

There were several coconut products featured in the TIC Americas 2015 Expo. It can be used to make a delicious drink, as a key ingredient in girl scout cookies, and to also fuel a car and make coal, among so many other uses!!! ALTERNATIVE ENERGY FOR THE WIN!

 

Closing thoughts:

There are many who still see this forum as a mere formality, rather than anything meaningful; to keep up appearances rather than taking our input to heart… and you know what, they may be right, it may be an unfortunate reality still. Regardless, this  forum brought together 300 young people from all over the region with varying ideas and perspectives. It allowed us to meet one another, discuss, debate, and compromise on a wide range of issues. It has given us a broader understanding of the region of the world in which we live, which is invaluable for us as we go on to be young entrepreneurs, leaders, and global citizens ourselves, and I can’t wait to cross paths again with some of the wonderful people I got to know that week. This was only the 4th Youth Forum with the Summit, and I hope by Peru 2018 we will be able to have small, more inclusive working groups that focus on each topic with representative members from each nation in the region.


Further Reading:

Summit Summary: US – Cuba Sitdown Drowns Out Venezuela Meltdown

White House Fact Sheet of the US’ Participation in the Summit

Take a look at these 5 Topics That Went Under-reported at the Summit,

President Obama’s Speech at the Civil Society Forum

President Obama’s Speech at the Start of the Summit

Cuba’s Leader Raul Castro’s Speech

Summary of Bolivian Preisdent Evo Morales’ Speech

Summary of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s Speech

Duncan’s Sassy Commentary On Summit Happenings


 The views and information presented in this blog are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the US Department of State.

 

Panamanian Beisbol, Where Tickets are $3 and Beers are $1

April 6, 2015

Panama Metro vs. Chiriqui

Panama Metro vs. Chiriqui

My friend Sam in the Peace Corps put it perfectly:

“Dear ‘Murica,

For the most part, our expansionist pursuits in the 20th century were detrimental to Latin America. US imperialism did, however, impart one beautiful tradition on the world: baseball. As an expatriated American, I believe it is my duty to inform you that we’ve allowed our national pastime to become a commercial abomination. The countries we oppressed on the other hand, have a better understanding of what “going out to the old ballgame” should be. Here in Panama, tickets are $3 and beers are $1. The attendees are enthusiastic and attentive. The trash talk is equally obscene but wittier and seemingly good-natured. There is a live band and no foolish gimmicks in between innings. The players earn meager salaries but hustle like they are making millions.

Sorry if I ruined opening day for you. I hope you find solace in your $10 bud-lite up in the nosebleeds.

Sincerely,

Teacher Samuel”

He wrote that post on Facebook back in April when it was baseball’s opening day back in the states, but I don’t think I could put it any better than that. Tickets are cheap, beer is cheap, food is cheap, the only downside is that it’s a bit tricky to flag down a cab after a game… but eventually one comes along!

What stuck with me the most was the passion of the female fans at the game. Although the game we went to was one of the final games between two province teams (Chiriqui and Panama Metro), it wasn’t very crowed. In our section there were a number of women, obviously not together (they were sitting a good distance apart keeping to themselves, some even with their husbands), but they were the ones most in-tune and passionate about what was going on in the game. One woman in particular was rousing the crowds and starting all of the cheers! It was pretty damn incredible!

Sure, maybe this means that I subscribed to the stigma that women can’t be just as passionate about a sport as men (some take it even further to assume that women must always have some ulterior motive when enjoying the sport). I wouldn’t never take the assumption that far, but it was still a surprise for me to see these women taking the lead in the cheering and sneering – especially when some of their husbands were just sitting next to them complacent and sedentary.

I definitely learned something new that night!

Enjoying the ballgame with fellow fulbrights Duncan and Braeden, as well as Jihan (our token Peace Corps friend)... kidding. kind of.

Enjoying the ballgame with fellow Fulbrights Duncan and Braeden, as well as Jihan (our token Peace Corps friend)… kidding. kind of.


The views and information presented in this blog are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the US Department of State.