All Hallow’s Eve, Panama-Style
By the end of the evening, 80 kids had assembled. We know because a count had to be made when the time came to order pizza for their dinner. They spoke Spanish and English among themselves, switching from one language to the other easily, as they ran back and forth across the wide streets, from porch to porch, shouting “Trick or Treat” in unison as each front door was opened for them. They were dressed as fairy princesses and Minnie Mouse…zombies and Captain America…clowns and skeletons…
It could have been Halloween night in any neighborhood in any suburb outside any city in America. Only we weren’t in the United States. We were celebrating Halloween in Costa del Este, the planned community on the peninsula that sits 10 minutes east of Panama City. The organized trick-or-treat night was for Costa del Este residents only, but a friend had invited Jackson to join in and got his name on the list so that the security guard at the front gate would let us through.
Following the group of trick-or-treaters up and down the tree-lined streets last night, I had to remind myself where we were, and I was struck more than ever before not only by how very American life in this part of the world can be, but also by how very different are the lifestyle options Panama has to offer.
I remind you often that the key to finding the right place to launch your new life overseas is knowing what you want. The question isn’t, is XYZ country for you as much as it is, where in XYZ country might you find the lifestyle you seek?
The most important follow-up question you should put to yourself as you pursue this line of thinking is, how local do you want to go? If the answer is, not at all, then a neighborhood like Costa del Este could be your ideal new overseas address. Last night, we met other Americans, in Panama for business, like us, but even the Panamanians we met spoke perfect English. Their kids, too. We talked about travel plans for the upcoming holidays…the best place in Panama City to shop for a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner…where to find the freshest live Christmas trees…how our kids’ sports teams are faring so far this season…all the same things moms back in the United States are also discussing this time of year.
Jackson came home with a sack full of candy, and we all enjoyed the evening tremendously. After we’d tucked Jack in for the night, though, Lief turned to me and said, “That was fun, but, just so you know, I could never live there.”
I laughed because I understood. While we’d all had a great time with our friends, and while, I have to admit, I appreciated its clean, wide, 100% pot hole-free streets, new sidewalks, and trimmed grass and tidy gardens, Costa del Este isn’t for me either.
Years ago, when we were considering schooling options for Kaitlin in Paris, I had a similar experience. One morning, Kaitlin and I toured the American School. It was big, bright, and shiny, with computer labs, locker rooms, playing fields, and gymnasiums, all exactly the same as you’d find in any American high school in any U.S. city. Everyone we passed in the hallways was speaking English, all classwork was in English too (save twice-weekly French lessons), and most of the faculty had been imported from the States.
I’m sure kids at the American School in Paris get a fine education, but, after our tour of the campus, settled in a taxi for the ride back to central Paris, Kaitlin looked at me and said, “Just so you know, I could never go to school there.”
Lucky for me, Kaitlin had the same reaction to the American School of Paris that I’d had and that Lief and I had to Costa del Este last night. Great option for many…but not for us.
In every place where we’ve lived these past 14 years since we left the States, in Waterford, Paris, and now Panama City, we’ve gone very local when it’s come to things like where to base ourselves and where to send our children to school. Why move the family to Paris, we figured, and put the kids in a school (the American School, for example) where they might graduate without learning to speak French?
But that’s us. My point is not that you should go local, as we have. There’s no should about it, no right or wrong way to do this.
My point is that you should approach this move, whatever form you intend it to take, as a chance to seize the life you’ve always wanted. What do you want to see from your bedroom window every morning? And who would you like to have for your neighbors?