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Interview with Lorena Pitti, Habla Ya Boquete’s School Director

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Here at Habla Ya, we are very lucky to have a strong team of directors leading the schools. For me, our Boquete School Director, Lorena Pitti, is an example of a great leader.

I’ll be honest. It’s not easy to find good leaders. The top-down employee hierarchy and rote memorization taught in the public schools is not a good way to build leadership. But Lorena’s story is the perfect example of how great leaders build others up and give them opportunities to grow themselves.

Lorena Pitti, Habla Ya's School Director in Boquete. Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. —Jack Welch (CEO of General Electric 1981 - 2001).
Lorena Pitti, Habla Ya's School Director in Boquete. Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. —Jack Welch (CEO of General Electric 1981 - 2001).

The founders of Habla Ya saw potential in Lorena when she first started at the brand new Habla Ya Language Center back in 2005. Lorena began by teaching English a few times a week (back then Habla Ya also taught English) and was gradually given more work and responsibility as she proved her competence.

When both founders had to leave for a month-long trip, they trained Lorena and two other colleagues to be in charge of the school. Ever since that moment, Lorena never returned to being “just a teacher.” Though she continued to teach because she loves it, she mainly worked in the Reception team managing day-to-day administrative tasks and student concerns.

That was 9 years ago and Lorena continues to lead our Boquete School in her majestic and magical way. Everyone who meets Lorena falls under her spell. Lorena is one of the most genuine, loving, open, warm and conscientious people you will ever have the pleasure of meeting.

What I find particularly impressive is how she has used what she has gained through her experiences in order to build others up. Whether it is another staff member, teacher, student or host family, Lorena’s positive influence has helped others move through difficult personal and professional situations, as well as grow into strong leaders themselves.

Lorena has been an invaluable key to the success of the Habla Ya schools and program. I luckily had a few minutes to sit down with her and ask her about some of the experiences that have forever changed her over the past 9 years. I hope that you enjoy our conversation.

Lorena, first tell me about your family.

I have a 9-year old son, who is very special to me. Jose is autistic, which of course comes with its own challenges, but we grow together every single day. Thankfully Habla Ya has allowed me to properly care for him, even permitting me to travel to Panama City for his monthly treatments. Through these treatments, Jose has gained the ability to talk and express himself in appropriate and safe ways. He continues to improve through every session and we are very grateful to have the ability to communicate better now.

In 2013 I married a wonderful man who is my perfect companion and who loves my son as his own. We are very lucky and happy to have a beautiful union.

Lorena's son and husband
Lorena's son and husband

I think it’s very special that you and Ericka (the Academic Director) both started when the Habla Ya Language Center was brand new. Tell me about the beginnings of the school.

Habla Ya started in August 2005 as a Language Center teaching English to the locals and Spanish to the expats that had relocated here. I signed up to give some basic English classes and after a few months, the owners of the school decided to focus on the Spanish programs since there was more demand in learning Spanish. Ericka (click here to read Ericka's interview) trained me to start giving beginner Spanish classes and I fell in love with the position. I really love teaching Spanish to absolute beginners and also to older students.

Not long after the school had been open, both of the owners had to go on a month-long trip. They left Ericka, Janeth (previous Academic Director) and me in charge of the school. Now, it's worth noting that both of the owners are Panamanian men and it is quite a big deal in our culture to leave three women in charge of a business, especially three teachers who had never managed a business before! Luckily we pulled it off just fine and settled into our “new” roles.

I guess the founders were smart enough to leave us in our new roles when they came back! Me to the left, Erick in the center and Janeth to the right.
I guess the founders were smart enough to leave us in our new roles when they came back! Me to the left, Erick in the center and Janeth to the right.

I will forever be grateful for the opportunity that the school owners gave me to learn leadership, administrative and management skills.

Nine years as the School Director must have taught you a lot, especially since you basically started with no management skills. What have been the biggest lessons that you have learned?

I have grown more than I ever thought possible in this position.

First of all, I have learned patience. Lots and lots of patience. Sometimes we have students who are very distraught for any number of reasons. It’s my job (and my team’s job) to calm the person down, talk out the situation and find a solution. This is much easier said than done! Although most people’s first instinct when someone is yelling at them is to be defensive or run away from a problem, I have learned to take a breather and settle my thoughts before approaching the student. Then we can have a professional conversation with our heads on straight. I learned this through lots of practice, trust me.

I also would say that I have learned that it’s important to separate work from personal life for multiple reasons. A student who is upset and shows his or her frustration, doesn’t have anything against me personally, so I have to remember to deal with the situation in a professional manner without taking it personal. This is something very difficult for Panamanians, especially, because we are quite emotional people.

When we come to work with a positive attitude everything goes better
When we come to work with a positive attitude everything goes better

But it’s also very important to always come to work with a positive attitude because this reflects to the students and can cause them to have a lesser experience if we are not at our best. I always encourage our teachers to motivate, motivate, motivate their students, even if they find that difficult to do because of a tough personal situation. We have to make sure that the students know that we care about them and their progress. That’s why it’s important to separate work from personal life, so that we can actively focus on each in the appropriate time.

I know you must have hundreds of stories to share over the time that you have worked with Habla Ya. I would love to hear about when you had to fix a very difficult situation.

It’s true that my team and I have encountered many difficult situations over the years. One thing you learn about with people is that there is usually much more going on “behind the scenes” than one initially realizes. This is again why I always have to tell my team to please not take things personally. Almost all of our students are happy people but the truth is we do have to deal once in a while with someone not being very nice to us... in those moments we have to think that maybe that person is just having a difficult time and we're simply caught them in the middle of it, and then we're in a better position to help them!

I will tell you three stories that stick out to me and which I will probably never forget.

This first couple’s story is very common in our school. I was the teacher of a beginner Spanish class of mostly older retired students. There was a husband and wife in the class who had moved to Boquete and wanted to learn Spanish in order to communicate better with the locals. The husband especially was very frustrated and felt that he would never learn Spanish because of his older age. What he was especially lacking was a good attitude, motivation and confidence.

I spoke to him separately after class one afternoon and shared with him my own personal experience learning English. Learning a language is not impossible, but it does take a lot of dedication and practice. After our talk, the student rededicated himself to his studies and improved a lot in the remaining weeks. They recently came back to visit me in Boquete (they now live in Panama City) and they are now almost fluent in Spanish!

I get to meet people from all over the world and it's so special when our students come and visit us again. These student had classes with me many years ago and they paid us a visit last month.
I get to meet people from all over the world and it's so special when our students come and visit us again. These student had classes with me many years ago and they paid us a visit last month.

On another occasion, I again taught a class of older students and one day we had a man enter our class (previously it had been all women). One of my students became very aggressive and difficult and refused to be in the class with this man. After the class finished, I took the student aside and asked if we could talk about the problem. The student obliged and asked if we could talk at a restaurant.

At the restaurant, the woman completely opened up and shared part of her secret past which was very very difficult. It involved a lot of abuse from men, understandably why she had a very difficult time accepting the man into the class. I was thankful to her for sharing the story with me and we decided to work through the problem together, her promising me to make an effort to continue in the class with the man.

About a week later, I personally experienced a very difficult situation when the father of my child left my young son and I. As I said before, I try to keep work and my personal life separate, but this particular day was just unbearable. I began crying in class and had to excuse myself in order to collect my emotions.

After I finished the class, the student who had shared her difficult story with me immediately came over to talk to me about what was going on. I told her the situation and she stuck by my side and gave me strength to get through the hard times. You see, we were both holding each other up through our troubles.

At the end of this woman’s program, we had become good friends through our shared situations. I survived mine and I am happy to say that this woman and the man in the class also became good friends by the end. This woman still lives in Boquete and every time I see her, she always tells me, “Lo hicimos (we did it)!”

Now I will give you a positive story from working at our front desk. One Saturday I was at the school and an older couple came in to inquire about Spanish lessons for the following week. Since it was already the weekend and our Academic Department had left for the day, I took down her information and promised to call her on Monday to let her know if there was availability in her schedule for the following weeks (it was high season and we were packed for next week).

Unfortunately on Monday the Academic Department couldn’t give me a definitive answer (we were waiting to get some placement tests from other students) and they asked that I wait until Friday (the lady’s schedule was a bit complicated as well). I called the woman and told her the situation. I promised again to call her on Saturday.

I was not scheduled to work this particular Saturday, so I sent an email to one of my team members with all of the information about this couple so that she could call the couple and finally confirm the classes for this woman and her husband.

I showed up to work on Monday and immediately saw that I had received a bad review on the internet from this prospective student saying that I was irresponsible, unprofessional, a liar, and many other terrible things. My colleague had never called over the weekend and the lady took all of her anger and frustration out on me over the internet.

Of course this made me very sad because I knew that I had followed all of the necessary steps so that this would not happen. I immediately called the lady and asked if we could speak in person. She came to the school that afternoon.

First I told her that I did not want to give any excuses nor blame anyone, but I explained that the job had been delegated to someone that did not follow through. I showed her the email that I had sent to my colleague with all of the information for the client (I translated it for her through Google Translate) and this not being my intention, the woman started crying.

I felt terrible and started apologizing profusely and she told me that she felt miserable for writing the bad review on the internet. She had let out her personal frustration by wanting to harm me through the internet and she felt awful for what she had done. She told me that she was going through a very tough time personally with health problems and that she had just left the hospital the week before.

Because she felt very bad about what she had done, she told me that she would take down the bad review and she thanked God for putting me in her path to help her understand that she shouldn’t make abrupt decisions without first finding out all of the truths of the situation. She also sent the school a letter, meant for the school owners, congratulating them for having me as part of the Habla Ya team, saying that I am a brave person and that I handled her situation very well.

She did end up taking Private Spanish lessons at our school and enjoyed them very much. This woman still lives in Boquete and every time she sees me, she always calls me “Mi Amiga Lorena” (My Friend Lorena).

The relationship that I see at the Boquete school between all of the staff from the different teams is really remarkable. How did you form such a tight-knit team?

The owners of the school placed the responsibility on me, Ericka and Janeth at the very beginning to lead our team members as if we were all one family. We have stuck to this because it really is so important for our team and to be able to work effectively together and for our students.

Erick, Janeth and Lorena with three of our first Spanish teachers
Erick, Janeth and Lorena with three of our first Spanish teachers

We want everyone to feel special and truly a part of the team, because we cannot do our jobs effectively if even one link of the team is missing, physically or even in “spirit”, meaning not fully focused on their job because of an overwhelming personal matter. We are here for each other through the good and bad and that helps us all move forward together as a team, as a school, and as a business.

An example of something special we do is every month we have a birthday celebration at the school after hours. All of the staff participates from all teams (even the cleaning team!) and we enjoy time to chat and celebrate the people with birthdays or other celebrations (wedding, baby, etc.). Our Human Resources Director is very sneaky and she always manages to surprise the people we are celebrating sometime throughout the day with a little gift. Surprises are fun and give us something to laugh about (laughter is the cure for everything!).

Do you have any big plans or projects for the Habla Ya Boquete campus?

Actually, since we were the starter school, we are now positioning ourselves as the established institution giving support to the Bocas del Toro and upcoming Panama City campuses. Therefore, we are really focused on keeping the same excellent quality that Habla Ya is known for in order to provide the best example for the other schools.

Lately I have been focusing a lot of effort to increase our Home Stay program. This is an extremely important part of our students’ experience, so I always spend a lot of time making sure that our relationships with the host families are very good. We have over 100 families, so this takes a lot of time visiting and catching up with families that I don’t always see often!

Of course we have families who occasionally have to leave the program for various reasons (health problems, moving, family relocating to Boquete and no more room available for a student, etc.), so I also have to keep my eyes open for new families who fit our high standards and who we could invite to join our program.

¡MUCHAS GRACIAS, Lorena por tomarte el tiempo de contarme sobre nuestra Escuela Habla Ya en Boquete!



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Interview with Ericka Tapia, Habla Ya’s Academic Director

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It takes a lot of courage, planning, passion and dedication to lead Habla Ya's Academic Department. Thankfully our fearless Academic Director, Ericka Tapia, is perfect for the role and keeps everything in tip-top shape.

We create an environment in which only the best people fit and Ericka does just that to makes sure that our Academic Department is right on track every single day to fulfill our mission: "to provide the most amazing Spanish learning experience."

If you’ve ever ventured to learn a foreign language or have had an experience teaching your native language to foreigners, you can probably understand that it is not an easy task! I am so impressed by our teachers and their amazing ability to teach their native language to foreigners from all over the world. From what our students say, they seem to be doing a pretty outstanding job...

Ericka shared with me a few of her tips and memories from the past 8 years of teaching Spanish to foreigners. I hope you enjoy getting to know our stellar Academic Director a little better! Maybe if you come to Boquete you will actually get to meet her in person! She is a true joy. :)

In the photo below, Ericka is the one in the middle, surrounded by other Habla Ya teachers and authorities from the Instituto Cervantes. This was during the VI Worldwide Congress of Spanish held last year.

1. Ericka, where are you from? Tell me about your family.

I am from the city of David (35 minutes from Boquete) and I still live there with my husband and daughter. My husband and I have been married for 9 years and my beautiful daughter is 6 years old.

2. Tell our students and future students about your background teaching Spanish.

I first started teaching Spanish to middle schoolers as soon as I graduated from college. I was nervous at first, being a new teacher, but the kids were so excited and full of energy, I frequently lost my voice by the end of the day!

I started with Habla Ya in 2006 as an ELE teacher (‘Español como Lengua Extranjera’, an internationally-recognized graduate certificate for teaching Spanish as a foreign language) and a few years later I was promoted to Academic Coordinator. Now I am the Academic Director.

My time with Habla Ya has been very enriching. Working as an ELE teacher has allowed me to grow professionally and learn a new method of teaching my language to students from other nationalities who wish to improve and learn Spanish. Throughout my career, I have learned new techniques and methodologies to make teaching and learning our language a fun, entertaining and productive experience.

3. Why did you decide to become an ELE teacher? Why do you like to work with foreigners?

The truth is it was an accident! One day I was with a colleague and she asked me if I wanted to work for a school that teaches Spanish to foreigners. In the beginning I doubted it because I didn’t know English and I thought that was something fundamental in order to teach Spanish to people who don’t speak our language. But my friend explained to me that it’s not necessary to speak English. I decided to accept the opportunity to work with Habla Ya and to take on new challenges and goals in my career.

I like to teach my students everything about my language, culture, gastronomy, history and our idiosyncrasies. Throughout the time that I have been teaching in this position, I have learned to pick up on the individual differences of each student. Based on this, I work in a way so that the student can develop and improve the diverse general and linguistic competences, and also so that the process is the most optimal. There are many times when a teacher has to play different roles in a classroom, such as psychologist, mother, doctor, athlete, lawyer, artist, etc.

Through my students, I am able to learn about different cultures and forms of learning, which excites me and awakens my curiosity and desires to keep studying in this field of teaching Spanish as a foreign language.

4. Why is Habla Ya’s teaching method the best for foreigners?

Our methodology is based on the Communicative Method, which allows the student to develop communicative competence through the negotiation of significance, interaction or the exchange of information. The focus on communication is the result of a long process of searching and experimenting to find the best form for the student and the teacher to fulfill their task.

We teach so that the student learns to be more autonomous and this permits the student to think about the learning process, not just the language. They put into practice what they learn through real everyday situations played out in a learning environment.

Unlike previous methods, the communicative method emphasizes the functional and communicative potential of the language. The focus on tasks is part of the common communicative methodology for learning languages. This means that the student acquires abilities and skills through different activities with the objective for all of these activities to help the student achieve one overarching task.

Currently it’s the most widely used method when teaching second languages because of the optimal results that are obtained.

5. How does the whole school work together as a team?

Working at Habla Ya is like working in a family with good vibes. We are a big family and a great team because we worry about each other’s well being. We have all had good times and bad times in our personal and professional lives, but we have learned to endure and get up with the mutual help of those who we can always count on.

Everything that I have mentioned has influenced me to stay on this team, working enthusiastically and with dedication with the certainty to find help, solidarity, comradeship and a good atmosphere.

6. Do you remember some students who overcame problems or achieved specific goals with Habla Ya?

Two examples come to my mind right now.

We had a young family who came to live in Boquete with the idea of enrolling their children in local schools. However, the children didn’t speak any Spanish and so they had to prepare for an exam in order for them to be accepted at the local school. After a course with us, the children passed their exams and were accepted to the school.

I also remember another student who came to study with us not knowing any Spanish. Her goal was to become fluent and to pass the DELE C1 exam. Although it was difficult at first for her to adapt to our culture because she missed her home, family and boyfriend, she knew she had to meet her goal. She studied with us for five months and it was definitely worth it because she became fluent and passed the DELE C1 exam!

7. For different age groups, are there different ways of teaching? What methods do Habla Ya use?

Definitely! For example, children and teenagers learn much quicker than adults so we don’t need to cover things from different angles most of the time. They catch things very quickly.

For small children, it’s important that not all of their activities are focused on learning Spanish directly, but also a combination of using motor and linguistic skills. They need to learn to do things, such as with songs, games, stories, crafts, visual mediums, etc., and by doing these things immersed in the language, they pickup the language.

With older children we try to combine fun with grammar, but it’s important that the teacher is always attentive and knows the likes, preferences, needs and learning styles of each child.

On the other hand, working with adults is very different because they know why they are studying and therefore they require a distinct teaching system. They demand from the beginning (sometimes without being forthright) that the teacher attend to their personal and individualized needs and many have high expectations like achieving a high Spanish level in a short amount of time.

We also work with retirees and older adult students who have their own set of needs, which the teachers have to take into account. For example, in our Expat Course (mainly retirees), we cover topics such as using health services, giving instructions to gardeners or housekeepers, taking a car to the shop, learning about regional cultural activities, shopping at the supermarket or mall, how to be polite with your neighbors, etc. In these classes we do a lot of activities outside the classroom, putting into practice all of these situations.

8. What advice would you give to future Habla Ya students about their goal to speak Spanish fluently?

I would tell them that to learn to speak Spanish fluently, one needs a lot of perseverance, dedication and discipline. Enjoy the process, but you should make an effort to achieve your goal. Remember that to achieve it, you should have efficient communication and good grammatical competence. But above all, you should have confidence in yourself and this only comes from forcing yourself to practice, practice and practice. When in Panama don't miss the opportunity to become immersed in the language and practice with the locals every single day. Practice makes perfect!.

9. For you, what is the mission and vision of the Habla Ya Academic Department?

The Mission is for us to achieve that the student can fulfill his or her goals and proposed objectives in learning Spanish and that they have the best experience, both inside and outside of the classroom. This is why both Boquete and Bocas del Toro are the best places to learn Spanish as there are so many things to do. It's not only about learning the language: we also want our students to experience Panama and have an amazing vacation. We want our students to have fun and learn in a relaxed and enjoyable manner. This is why we offer so many extra activities.

Definitely my vision is to become the best group of schools in Latin America and put into action all the recommendations given to us by the Cervantes Institute so that our department can offer excellent quality teaching.

10. Are you working in something particular to better the program, or something for the future?

Of course! Currently we are working on:

  • The creation of new ELE books (Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language)
  • Redistributing the hourly load for our different courses, as recommended by the Cervantes Institute and the Common European Framework for Languages
  • The plan of betterments to continue the process of reaccreditation of the school
  • A training program for teachers who want to be ELE certified

¡MUCHAS GRACIAS, Ericka por tomarte el tiempo de contarme sobre nuestro Departamento Académico en Habla Ya!



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Posted in Experience, Habla Ya, Interviews, Learning Spanish, Staff

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Interview with Volunteer Director at Habla Ya Bocas del Toro

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If you’ve “liked” our facebook page, you may have seen our occasional job openings, either as a Language Travel Consultant or as a Volunteer Director and Front Desk Assistant. You may have wondered whether you fit the profile, or you may have asked yourself whether this is something you had the guts to do.

It is very tempting to get a job on a gorgeous island in the tropics, but truth is the unknown can be scary. It can be frightening to commit to spending 6+ months in a country you don’t know, hearing a new language and being surrounded by total strangers. You may have wanted to apply, but have not done so because you don’t know what you are getting yourself into, or because it is hard for you to picture what it will be like. For some, leaving their families and friends for a long period of time is an important factor to consider.

But fear not, we are nice people, and we will treat you well, we promise! But you don’t have to take my word for it. Let me introduce you to our newest staff and Habla Ya family member Ludovic Jolly. This laid back, young Frenchmen joined us a little earlier this year, and decided to join our team in order to work as our new Volunteer Coordinator.

Here's Ludo at the front desk of Habla Ya Bocas del Toro
Here's Ludo at the front desk of Habla Ya Bocas del Toro

We were looking for a dynamic and motivated person, with a fun personality and a willingness to help the community. Ludo fits all the requirements, and is now officially part of the family. His role is to welcome students at the reception desk, provide customer service, and set up volunteer projects for those who want to give back to the community while studying Spanish with us.

I first met Ludo through a common hobby, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Bocas del Toro, where we meet 3 times per week to train. Ludo was working as an independent massage therapist back then to finance his trip in Latin America, but decided that he wanted a more stable job opportunity (preferably in a place where he could surf!). When I told him about what we do at Habla Ya, he was instantly excited about the idea, and joined a week later.

But instead of me doing all the talking, why don’t we let Ludo answer all your questions about what it is like to work at Habla Ya Spanish Schools. Maybe his story will inspire you to embark on a similar adventure.

What do you think made you a suitable candidate for this position? What does it take to do what you do?

First of all, I have always been looking at opportunities to work in a sustainable business operation, especially one that works with volunteers to help the local community. Volunteering is definitely an activity that I’ve always wanted to invest time, effort and money in.

I had also been working as a volunteer in Costa Rica, during which I studied permaculture farming and sustainable living solutions, which became my passion and personal project in life. I eventually ended-up being in charge of volunteer projects involving other volunteers, which allowed me to develop leadership skills and the sufficient knowledge to put new projects together.

Another advantage that I have is that my Spanish is fluent now, so I knew communication wouldn’t be a problem for this position that involves frequent meetings with non-English speakers and communicating with the local community.

What was your first impression of our school and the staff when you started with us?

What I noted can be summarized in just a few words: professionalism, enthusiasm and vision! As I first walked into the school's building, I could immediately appreciate the tidiness and the sense of detail of the structure. Then I got to meet the different staff members and found myself immersed in a really positive and enthusiastic atmosphere, as we've instantly started to joke around with the teachers and staff members, who were very welcoming and warm. Finally, when discussing the goals and objectives of the school regarding the volunteering projects, I felt that I wanted to contribute because they matched my personal expectations of a smartly run, and truly community oriented volunteer program!

Did you already speak Spanish before coming to Panama? How did you learn the language?

Yes, I learned Spanish in Costa Rica in a similar establishment, and I'm actually really happy to have a chance to immerse myself again in an educational environment. Here I can benefit from the teachers helping me improve my formal Spanish, which got tainted with incorrect grammar along the years living in a more rural environment.

Do you feel you have improved your Spanish during your time in Panama, and does it help you with your current position?

Yes, I'm definitely learning new vocabulary and a different accent in Panama, thus training my ear which gives me a better comprehension.

What were your first thoughts when you were told about the job opening at Habla Ya? What made you want to apply?

I had been looking for such a work opportunity for a little while already, so I got really interested right away. Then, witnessing the great deal of professionalism put into the operational part of the school and meeting the staff made me want to apply the very same second I discovered those different aspects!

What are some of your ideas for new projects that you would like to implement at Habla Ya?

I would love to work on improving the (barely) existing waste management system, and incorporate plant based infrastructural solutions, creating a local food production system based on organic waste reuse, thus facilitating access to healthy foods, and run educative programs to raise awareness about sustainable living solutions that people could implement in their home.

Do you have a funny story to share, that happened to you so far?

Carlos, the School Director, can be quite sarcastic and likes to joke around with people. Some of us recently rescued a malnourished cat from town and were taking care of It. Without wanting any harm, a teacher took it to his class, which he shouldn't have done, since the cat hadn't been vaccinated and the classrooms are shared with other students who are allergic to animals. So Carlos wrote an email remembering all staff members to please not take any animals into the classrooms and he also mentioned in that email (to all the staff members) that I was not allowed to bring geckos and lizards as my pets to the school anymore. Of course I had never done that, but since then some teachers have been asking me about my geckos =)

My co-workers and new friends at the Front Desk: Carlos (left) and Dominique (right)
My co-workers and new friends at the front desk: Carlos (left) and Dominique (right)

Do you miss home sometimes? What do you miss the most? What is it you definitely don’t miss?

I feel home pretty much anywhere on this planet as long as it is warm and as long as there are waves to surf, and I haven't been back to my home country (France) in more than 2 years now. I do miss it a bit, but I find it really hard to go back as this job and the people I´ve met here mean a lot to me. It is not really about what I miss, but more about who I miss, which is my close friends and family members.

On the other hand, I definitely do not miss my country as the social dynamics there have been really stuck on materialistic, superficial so called "problems", but on a more optimistic note I'm looking forward for it to reorient toward a more "solutions seeking" attitude, so that I'll be able to bring the knowledge I gathered overseas to help.



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Posted in Ecotourism, Experience, Habla Ya, Interviews, Staff, Sustainable Development, Volunteer

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Livin’ the Life of a Jedi: come to Panama & let the Force be with you!

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Recently, my colleague, Evelyne, wrote a blog about unplugging from the system, not letting your life be controlled or dictated by what society says, and I have to be honest, when I read it, I thought she wrote it just for me.

A year ago, I reached a moment in my life where I knew I wanted to do something different, something “outside of the box.”

At this point, I was working steady at a job that was in my field of study (check), renting a house with a friend (check), had recently purchased a new car (check), and I had applied and been accepted to a Master’s degree program in Social Work (checky check). Done and done.

All my ducks in a row, my image was set, and all the boxes on the checklist for being a 26 year-old, single, female in the "real" world were marked as complete.

I had achieved everything I was supposed to achieve but I still felt there was something missing
I had achieved everything I was supposed to achieve but I still felt there was something missing...

So why was I still questioning myself everyday about whether it was what I really wanted to do with my life? And why, at the end of the day, when I was alone with my thoughts, was discontentment the last thing that I felt?

I can assure you, it had nothing to do with questioning whether or not I would be successful, as I was already excelling at my job and had no doubt that I could thrive in graduate school. It was more a knowing, deep down, that I wasn't prepared to live the life that others had chosen for me. I wasn't willing to be "locked in" to a life that I could see stretched out in front of me like a story that has been repeated too many times. And I knew that I was doing it because it was the life that was expected of me (minus the husband and kids, a point of "lacking" that I got reminded of often).

And what have I done instead, you might be asking yourself...well, I became a Jedi.

Although it does look cool, no, I did not become that type of Jedi... and yes, girls can be Jedis too!
Although it does look cool, no, I did not become that type of Jedi... and yes, girls can be Jedis too!

So, no, not the robe wearing, Yoda speaking, light-saber wielding type of Jedi (though we are still considering petitioning for the light sabers), but a Jedi who helps people experience the treasure that is the Panamanian culture and language through studying with Habla Ya. If you're wondering why "Jedi"? Well it's just an internal term that is given to anyone who has passed the 3 month probation period and officially has become part of the team of Language Travel Consultants here at Habla Ya Spanish Schools.

Now, when Evelyne first told me about the job as a language consultant and that I would be working on the computer all day, I was skeptical. Been there, done that, not my thing. However, within a week of starting, I realized that this job was different.

First, I get to talk with people from all over the world and encourage them to do something that I am passionate about, travel and learn a language. Having taken Spanish classes myself with Habla Ya, I believe in what I am offering and know that it is an experience worth having.

But the language is more than just about learning the verbs, nouns, etc., it is getting to know the culture and context of these words. Being a language consultant has taught me so much about this culture, and how much Panama has to offer as a Spanish learning & vacation destination.

It's easy to get trapped by the rat race without asking yourself what you want to do with life. Oon't be afraid to be bold in your pursuit of happiness. This is me in Starfish Beach in Bocas del Toro. I have to say that taking the risk to do something different has definitively paid off!
It's easy to get trapped by the rat race without asking yourself what you want to do with life. Don't be afraid to be bold in your pursuit of happiness. This is me in Starfish Beach in Bocas del Toro. I have to say that taking the risk to do something different has definitively paid off!

From amazing eco-adventure tours, including canal and san blas tours from the city, to hiking the Volcan in Boquete, to living with a host family, to offering time and talents to the local NGO's, we, as Jedis, focus on building not only a Spanish language program, but an experience, a Spanish learning experience for our students.

Probably one of my favorite aspects of this job, is getting to know the students. From the first contact until they arrive at one of our locations in Panama, we are the face of Habla Ya for individuals interested in coming to study.

For me, it is cool to see the excitement build as they realize that not only can we make sure they improve their Spanish while they are here, but we can also, through arranging flights, accommodation, tours, etc., make it a simple endeavor to discover a new country.

And of course, there is "mis compañeros".

I can honestly say that I have never worked with a cooler team of people. Not only are my colleagues exceptional at the work that they do, and I consider it a privilege to work alongside of them, but they are genuinely free-spirited people.

My colleagues are my friends... it's been the best job I've ever had specially because of my co-workers
My colleagues are my friends... it's been the best job I've ever had specially because of my co-workers

They remind me everyday why I chose to stay here in Panama, because I have found the freedom to do what I love without the pressure to build a life of image instead of contentment.

There is a quote that I ran across recently that I really like and it goes like this -"The one who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The one who walks alone, is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been."- Albert Einstein

Since I've moved to Bocas del Toro, I've learned how to surf and that has definitively been one of the coolest additions to my life... if you surf, you'll understand what I'm talking about...
Since I've moved to Bocas del Toro, I've learned how to surf and that has definitively been one of the coolest additions to my life... if you surf, you'll understand what I'm talking about...

This is the attitude or "force" that I feel like I encourage by working as a "Jedi". To encourage people to continue to branch out away from the ordinary and seek a life where personal growth, learning, and discovery never stops. This is how I want to live my life and I love that my job lets me help other people do the same.

So, whether you might be considering a big life change (living and working in Panama) or a change from the normal routine (vacation & studying), let the "force" be with you and come to Panama, where we are truly livin’ the life of the Jedi.



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Curso de Actualización para Profesores de Español como Lengua Extranjera

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El Instituto Cervantes, en colaboración con la Agencia Española de Cooperación (AECID) y el centro acreditado por el Instituto Cervantes, Habla Ya Spanish School - Boquete Campus, presentan:

1er Curso de Actualización Didáctica para Profesores de ELE en Panamá

Logos of the Instituto Cervantes, AECID, La Universidad de Panamá and Habla Ya Spanish Schools

Si te dedicas o aspiras dedicarte a la enseñanza del español como lengua extranjera, no te pierdas esta única oportunidad. Contaremos con la presencia de instructores provenientes directamente desde el Instituto Cervantes y de Lectorados MAEC-AECID.

  • FECHA: 17 al 22 de septiembre de 2012
  • Lugar: Biblioteca Pública de Boquete
  • Total de Horas: 40 horas presenciales
  • Horario: Lunes a Viernes de 7 a.m. - 1 p.m. Sábado de 7 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
  • Facilitadores: Instructores del Instituto Cervantes
  • Costo: Gratuito (los desplazamientos, alojamiento y manutención corren por cuenta de los participantes)
  • Requisitos: abierto a Profesores ELE, y a estudiantes de la Licenciatura de Español
  • Cupos: Limitados


  • Tema I: Pragmática para profesores de ELE. Ponente: Prof. Jesús Parrondo (Instituto Cervantes de Recife).
  • Tema II: Dinámica de grupos. Ponente: Prof. Jesús Parrondo (Instituto Cervantes de Recife)
  • Tema III: Diseño Curricular. Adecuación del MCER al Plan curricular del centro. Ponente: Profa. Inmaculada Gallegos (Instituto Cervantes Brasilia)
  • Tema IV: El portfolio como herramienta para la clase. Ponente: Profa. Inmaculada Gallegos (Instituto Cervantes Brasilia)
  • Tema V: La enseñanza y el aprendizaje de la cultura en el aula de ELE. Ponente: Prfa. Miriam Palacios. (Lectora AECID- Goiania)
  • Tema VI: Actividades de producción para potenciar la autonomía del alumno. Ponente: Prfa. Miriam Palacios. (Lectora AECID- Goiania)
  • Tema VII: La integración de la literatura en el aula de ELE. Ponente: Prfa. Clara Pajares. (Lectora AECID-UF Viçosa)
  • Tema VIII: El uso de textos escritos y orales en las clases de ELE. Ponente: Prfa. Clara Pajares. (Lectora AECID-UF Viçosa)


Los cupos son limitados, y los participantes serán elegidos de acuerdo a sus estudios universitarios y/o experiencia en el área. Los candidatos pueden enviar sus hojas de vida a explicándonos por qué deberían ser elegidos. Las últimas hojas de vida se recibiarán a más tardar el 15 de agosto del 2012.



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