Panama City Is A Favorable Place To Raise Kids
“Is Panama City a good place to raise kids?” asked one couple at last week’s Live and Invest in Panama Conference.
In fact, several attendees at last week’s event were considering a move to Panama with school-aged children and wondering what we thought of the idea.
Lief and I may struggle with day-to-day life in Panama City. The traffic, the congestion, the noise, the heat…it all gets to us.
But Jackson? Our 13-year-old son doesn’t notice any of that. As Jackson put it to one conference attendee who approached him last week, “I love my life in Panama.”
Jackson attends the French school in Panama City called Paul Gauguin. This isn’t a Panamanian school where instruction is in French. It isn’t a Panamanian school at all. It’s a French school, under the management of the French Ministry of Education. We chose Paul Gauguin, from among the dozen or more international schooling options available in Panama City, because Jackson began school in France. He entered maternelle (French kindergarten) when we moved from Ireland to Paris. He was 4-years-old. Jackson continued in the Paris public school system until he was 8 and we moved to Panama. By that time, he read, wrote, and spoke better French than English. We were happy with the French education system, and we wanted Jackson to keep his French, so, when we discovered Paul Gauguin among Panama City’s education options, we opted for it.
When Jackson started at Paul Gauguin, he joined a school-wide student population of about 75. Today, five years later, the school has relocated from its original small house in Panama City to a building in Panama Pacifico, and the student body has increased by more than 600%.
Who are all these kids in Panama City attending a school administered by the French? Two of them, Alejandro and Thomas, two of Jackson’s best friends, are in my home as I write. Alejandro’s father is Italian; his mother is French. Thomas’ parents are Colombian. Another of Jackson’s friends has an American mother and a German father and was born in Guatemala.
Each of these little guys and girls has his or her own interesting, mixed-up story. There are more of them all the time because more international businesses are setting up shop in Panama City and hiring more international executive staff all the time. These executives bring their families. The effect is the most eclectic population of school-aged children I could imagine…and charming.
Those of us with kids attending Paul Gauguin are all now preparing for le rentree. This is the French phrase describing the return to school and work after the two-month summer holiday. Jackson’s new school year begins next Tuesday, according to the French calendar. Meantime, other schools in this city follow the American or the British calendar…while Panamanian schools recognize the seasons in reverse. We’re right now at the peak of their winter. Panamanian summertime (and accompanying annual summer break) begins in December, just before Christmas.
Of course, formal schooling options are but one part of choosing where to raise your children. Another is an expectation of their overall experience of the place.
I’m working from home (we’re still without an office, post-flood). Jackson and his two friends are playing in his room. I hear them speaking to each other in French, laughing at jokes I have no chance of understanding. They’re choosing Nerf weapons for a battle they intend to wage in the “social area” of our building. They’ve asked if, after they return from their Nerf war, they can watch the movie Hancock. They’ll stream it (in English). Meantime, Thomas’ mother just texted us in Spanish to confirm at what time she’ll come to collect her son. Jackson responded for me, texting her back in Spanish, as my written Spanish qualifies as illiterate.
When the two boys arrived, they walked directly over to me, greeting me, each, with kisses on both cheeks. Then they walked squarely over to Lief to shake his hand.
“Bonjour,” each boy said cheerfully to each of us. “Ça va?”
Then, remembering that, fundamentally, Lief and I speak English, “How was your summer vacation?” they asked.
Here in Panama City, Jackson has taken guitar and piano lessons. He has played as part of a basketball league. He has competed as a swimmer. He has won volleyball competitions and creative writing awards.
Most recently, he and his sister Kaitlin have launched a new business, Trader Jack’s Bazaar. Their idea is to sell handicrafts and other items from countries where we spend time—cowhide rugs from Colombia, molas from Panama, handmade leather duffel bags from Ecuador, scarves from Vietnam, wooden kitchen utensils with handles carved in the shapes of safari animals from Kenya, etc.
The pair premiered their new product line at last week’s Live and Invest in Panama Conference with great results. In fact, they sold out most of their start-up inventory. Encouraged by how well the idea was received by conference attendees last week, they’re now restocking in preparation for next week’s Retire Overseas Conference in San Antonio.
Young Jackson has many friends, many interests, and a dog named Smokey who follows him around everywhere he goes. As Jackson will tell you himself if you ask him, for him and kids like him, life in Panama City is pretty cool.