Monday and Tuesday, I had the great pleasure of helping my good friend Professor Dario Quiroz and three of his English classes at Universidad Latina. I have done similar sessions with Dario’s classes over the years.
This time it was finals time and Professor Dario wanted to observe his students in a conversational setting. There were four English speaking volunteers on Monday and three Tuesday night.
Professor Dario divided the class up into multiple groups and each of us took a group. After a certain amount of time, we all switched. One of the objectives is to allow the students to hear a variety of accents.
I alway start by passing out my cards and ask them what my first name is. This time about 50% said “Don”. Normally it is 90% saying “Ray”. The majority of the emails I get from Panamanians, that read my blog, are addressed to Mr. Ray. Don is normally considered a title in Latin America.
The discussions in the groups went in all directions. Some asked the normal types of questions.
- Do you like Panama?
- What do you like about Panama?
- What was your reason for coming to Panama?
- Are you married?
- Does your family live in Panama?
- Where are you from?
- How long have you lived in Panama?
- What is your favorite color?
- Do you like Panamanian food?
- What food do you like?
- Where do you live?
- How old are you?
- What other countries have you traveled to?
Some of the students were very outgoing. Some were shy. All were very courteous and appreciative of our participation in the sessions.
I always come away from meeting with students with a lot of admiration in their desire to master English and for getting a good education.
I remember when I took Spanish in high school. I did it because I was told I had to. That is probably the reason I forgot it all. These students study English because they feel it will provide them better opportunities. I should mention that I got my start, on relearning Spanish, by taking about 15 lessons from Professor Dario in 2004
Universidad Latina is a couple blocks from Parque Cervantes. The students come from all over. Many lived in David. However, some lived in Bugaba, Gualaca, San Pablo, Boquete, Volcan and other remote locations.
Most traveled by bus and had up to or over an hour one way ride. That shows dedication. Many get home after 10 PM that have night classes. Many work during the day and take night classes.
There were students that were studying medicine, some were teachers, some were studying English so they could take more education in the U.S. There was a receptionist with insurance company I use. Many had professional interests that they could not study in Panama because the education system didn’t offer it. They would have to study in the U.S. or another location outside Panama.
I had one good laugh last night. One question I was asked was did I have any photos of my grandchildren. I pulled up the following photo of my two college aged granddaughters.
One student said,”That is why I am studying English. I want to go to the U.S. and meet some girls that look like that”. LOL!
One question I asked was if they had taken their flu vaccinations. One student worked in a lab and said it was required for her. One was a teacher and said the Ministry of Health had sent people to their school to give vaccines for flu, pneumonia and Papilloma. The last one surprised me.
Many people move to Panama and then wonder what they can do to be a productive part of the community. I would encourage anyone feeling this way to offer some of their time to helping the students. So many want to learn English and they have a very limited way of practicing English with foreigners. Conversational exchange benefits both participants. This is a great use of your time and much better than giving money.
I have yet to leave one of these classes that I didn’t feel better about Panama, the youth of Panama, and that I still have something to contribute. Try it and I guarantee you will also have a great feeling.
Following are photos that were taken during the three classes. One was a morning class and two were evening classes. I hope to see a couple comments from students that were in attendance. Click on the thumbnail to see a larger view.