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Interview with Ericka Tapia, Habla Ya’s Academic Director

Posted by | September 18th, 2014

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

Posted by | June 16th, 2014

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!

Posted by | August 27th, 2012

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

Posted by | July 26th, 2012

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

Programa

  • 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)

Inscripciones

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 info@hablayapanama.com explicándonos por qué deberían ser elegidos. Las últimas hojas de vida se recibiarán a más tardar el 15 de agosto del 2012.

CONOCE MÁS ACERCA DEL INSTITUTO CERVANTES... »


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Still Plugged into the System? Move to Panama and Start Over!

Posted by | July 11th, 2012

Have you noticed that people always ask you what you DO, as if that were what defines you as a person? It defines whether you are worth being friends with, if you are worth networking with (could you serve a purpose?) or if the conversation will just turn into a short small talk about the weather. It’s the same with education - People always ask "where did you go to school?"... when you answer by naming the country or city, the next question usually is "which school?"

Why is that so important? Well, some schools are more prestigious than others (which essentially translates into being just horrendously more expensive), and the name of your school, or your job title supposedly defines your position and value in society, or even worse - your intelligence.

Full list of the top 10 universities, rearranged in order of tuition (overall ranking in parentheses)
Full list of the top 10 universities, rearranged in order of tuition (overall ranking in parentheses)

If you're plugged into the system, after you graduate and as you grow older you have to keep proving to society that you are successful. Most people do so by buying a big house and a flashy car, or by bragging about vacationing in Dubai or St Tropez, by wearing fancy designer clothes, and you name it. Even the clubs or bars you hang out at define you! Sadly, all of these material things become your only satisfaction to fill a void in your daily routine that you are not even aware of. Pathetic, is't it? I've never liked stereotypes, but unfortunately this is the world we live in. The pressure is on, constantly.

So why are some jobs considered better than others, other than the obvious salary factor? In our world, remuneration is one of the major criteria that define a "good job", but where does that leave our personal happiness and quality of life? Of course, I am not saying that a good salary and liking what you do are mutually exclusive, and very well done for those that found this perfect combination. But for the rest of us who work 8 hours per day because it's expected of us, we should ask ourselves: what good does a great salary do for me, if I never have the time to actually enjoy it? Why do we feel that pressure to please and impress, starting with our parents, our teachers, our bosses, our friends and co-workers with what we do in exchange for money? Why do we feel bad about ourselves when we do not fit into that box?

Even though I managed to land the supposedly cool job with BNP Paribas in London, the only time I really enjoyed myself was out of working hours
Even though I managed to land the supposedly cool job with BNP Paribas in London, the only time I really enjoyed myself was out of working hours

For many years I felt the same way, wondering - what will I do with my life after college? After grad school? My friends all have a plan, how come I don't? I thought I needed to get a "good" job, or else I would be labeled as a loser. So I landed that "cool" job and according to our society's criteria, I wasn't a failure at all, actually quite the opposite, but I was miserable without even consciously knowing it. That was, until a very smart person that is my husband today asked me on our first date: "Why do you keep a job that you hate, in a city that you don't like? Why don't you just move to Panama and start over?"

This was my wake-up call, and it reminded me of the song "Emmenez-moi au bout de la terre" by Charles Aznavour. He is absolutely right when he says that being miserable under the sun is so much more enjoyable. But I intended to get the sun without the misery. After all, what is the worst that could happen to me? If I don't find a job in Panama, I can just go back to Europe (London being the last choice of all places!), and start over again. The sky's the limit, right?

So that night I decided to turn my life upside down, and all it took was someone to just open my eyes. It sort of fell like the Matrix. It was time to start living my life at its fullest, have fun, be happy about waking up in the morning, instead of just sucking it up Monday to Friday, until the weekend rescued me from my misery. I had wasted way too much time already, and life is short.

Having someone ask me what I was doing with my life felt like the Matrix when Morpheus offered Neo the blue pill or the red pill... I chose freedom!
It felt like the Matrix when Morpheus offered Neo the blue pill or the red pill... I chose freedom!

Ironically, when deciding about what we want to do in life, we always think about what the rest of the world will think about our decision. Will they think I am crazy? Courageous? Or running away from something? My boss tells me that not everybody cares about these things but I know I did.

Most of my ex-colleagues would burst out laughing if I told them my current salary, but guess what! I have more luxury now than ever before! And I am deeply convinced that deep down, many people out there that are still plugged into the system wish they were in my shoes. I mean, who else has one of the best snorkeling spots only one block away from their home, or can go surfing before going to the office, or take a break and work out with friends during their work day? Who can spend every Sunday at a different beach - not just any beach, but some of the most gorgeous beaches in the Caribbean?

Back in the days I worked in front of several screens and I always felt I wanted to run away from it all
Back in the days I worked in front of several screens and I always felt I wanted to run away from it all

It is unfortunate that it affects us when people judge us. It shouldn't be that way. We should all give a S*IT! Today I am a Language Travel Consultant at Habla ya Spanish Schools, and very proud of it. I also have a Master's Degree from one of these super expensive schools mentioned earlier, but guess what! It doesn't matter anymore (well, it does a bit because I still have to pay off the loan!!!). That expensive and overrated piece of paper does not make me any smarter, or a better person. It just gave me access to one of these "jobs to kill for" in the finance industry, which I chose to trade for a simple and joyful life in a small village in the mountains of Boquete, and currently in Bocas del Toro, in Panama's Caribbean. Today I can say that I am happy without lying about it!

Sometimes, my friends tell me how lucky I am, and that frustrates me every time. You make your own luck and you live the life you want to live. Why is it luck? All you need to do is just do it! Easier said than done? Not really! Once you realize that your fear is the only thing in your way, you are free to do whatever you want, wherever you want. True, my job is no rocket science, but I love it. I love being in contact with people from all over the world, share experiences, help them set up their Spanish Program and activities, teach them about the culture of Panama, and help them have a great time. I love my colleagues and friends, and work is not torture for me anymore, but rather something I am passionate about. When I wake up in the morning I know that I will have a great time. Of course I also feel stress sometimes, and work hard, but at least I feel that I am making a difference for the business, my co-workers, my community and I get to help a lot of people have a wonderful vacation.

Nowadays I still spent most of my working day in front of a computer, but it is much more laid back and I really love what I do
Nowadays I still spent most of my working day in front of a computer, but it is much more laid back and I really love what I do

Some of my friends and colleagues here are Oxbridge Graduates who left prestigious consulting firms, former developers of computer games at high tech software companies, investment bankers, recruiters for Ford Models in Paris and NYC, Ex-United Nations staff and the list goes on and on... I am sure that many expats living here are in a similar situation, and will smile while reading this. If you are smiling right now, you probably also left behind a generic and monotonous life (the system!) to finally choose to live and be happy in Panama (or elsewhere!), and do something completely different.

My message to all of you who are reading this blog is to please stop judging others by their jobs or their education. Not fitting into the box doesn't mean you are not smart, talented, hard working or that you are a lazy hippie! Don't just choose your friends by what they do for a living: choose them by who they are as persons! It just means that you do not define yourself by what society expects from you, but rather by what makes YOU happy. And by the way, if you're interested in getting unplugged from the system and escaping YOUR reality, we're always looking for talented people who want to live out of the box... just contact us!

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