Panama Quotebook: Homestay Bonanza

By: Benjamin Kilimnik | January 7, 2019
Topics: Interviews, Student Voices
“...within a few hours we had transformed an uneven slope of mud into something that rivaled the marble staircases in Ancient Roman temples. Take that Zeus.”

In early October, our squad spent over a week living with local families in the small mountain community of Piedras Gordas, Panama. With the guidance of a ThinkImpact instructor, we immersed ourselves in the language and culture of our host families, examined the needs of the community and worked together to support local entrepreneurs. Since each of us stayed with a different family and was involved with different projects, our experiences varied considerably. To showcase our varied perspectives, I asked my fellow squad members to reflect on their time spent in Piedras Gordas. The following collection of responses grants a glimpse into the thoughts of Squad 2 throughout our rural homestay experience.

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What is your favorite memory from Piedras Gordas?

“Waking up every morning to a steaming cup of freshly brewed coffee and piping hot fried plantains was very surreal. As I sat in silence reading, the world around me was already getting on with their day: roosters shrieking, kids complain about going to school, and our host family reporting on the wellbeing of their crops.” Micah

“One time, I heard this crazy, almost demonic-sounding cackling from behind the house. Concerned, I asked my host mom what was going on, but she just started laughing… Eventually she took me around the house to show me what was going on and it turns out she kept a pair of very talkative parrots as pets. Once I realized they were just harmless birds, we both burst out laughing. It was a great time.” – Sam

“On the last night, we had this lovely dinner with our host family and played games afterwards. At some point, we started playing Bingo where you had to pay 5 cents a card and the winner got all the money. Pretty soon into the game, we started running out of nickels, so all of us just kept giving the money back for everyone to play another round. That was super fun.” – Ivan

winterline global gap year
Micah Inspecting Freshly Harvested Coffee | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

“I went into Piedras Gordas with the goal of improving my Spanish skills. So, having a long conversation with my host family and actually understanding the majority of it was an awesome personal victory.” – Sam

“Working with local entrepreneur Señora Edith to expand her artisanal weaving business was really rewarding. One part of that project was constructing signs to direct people up to her house, so that she can sell more of her crafts there. Creating something physical and useful in just a few days was very satisfying.” – Ivan

“Before Ernesto’s farm I thought building stairs would require a degree in carpentry and a trip to Home Depot. Not anymore. Just on the short walk to the farm we found all of our supplies and materials lying on the side of the trail, and within a few hours we had transformed an uneven slope of mud into something that rivaled the marble stairways in ancient Roman temples. Take that Zeus.” – Micah

winterline global gap year
Beware! Carpentry Lies Ahead. | Photo By: Maria O’Neal

What was most challenging for you?

“Not knowing Spanish was heartbreaking at times. Although it was very fun learning from my family and teaching them some English along the way, I wish I had been able to really connect with them. As much as cooking and eating together bonds people, such lingual barriers are nearly impossible to overcome.” Micah

“I was surprised with how much I could communicate using broken Spanish and plenty of hand gestures, but the language barrier was definitely still a challenge to overcome. There were a lot of times where I felt like I was missing out on what my host mom was saying, so I wasn’t learning everything I could from them. Google translate only goes so far…” – Sam

“Being in a place where being able to shower and keep my hands clean wasn’t as available as I would have liked made me – just in my own head – feel a little uncomfortable.” – Ivan

If you were to sum up your experiences in Piedras Gordas with a single word or phrase, what would it be?

“Peaceful” Micah

“Excited for another homestay experience!” – Sam

“Simple and noble” – Ivan

 


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