Expat Kids in Panama
Panama has long been recognized as one of the best places in the world to spend the golden years of life, and the traditional expat in Panama is often a retired one. However, more and more younger people are realizing the benefits of living in the tropics. Getting out of the rat race in the United States, Canada, or Europe is only one reason that people in their twenties, thirties, and forties relocate to this country. It is also an appealing place to raise children. All relatively new, founded in response to this growing population of expat children are three international schools in the beach area (along with many more in the city and throughout the country) that are a testament to this. Panama Coast International School, Coronado International School and Five Stars Academy have been established in Gorgona, Santa Clara and Coronado.
Kathy Kress, principal of Panama Coast International School, is getting ready for nearly 100 students this fall; the sixth year the school has been in operation. It was the first international school to open in the area, and is ready to accommodate further growth after having 77 students last year. "We currently have nine classrooms and just started adding a new building with three more classrooms and an open-air auditorium," she says. Students earn a Canadian or American diploma, and learn from certified North American teachers in a supportive, family-style environment where the material "...is modified to reflect a more global understanding of the world and to incorporate Panamanian language and culture."
Raising children can be difficult in itself, and raising them away from their home country introduces some additional challenges: they're away from other family members, they might miss some opportunities that aren't available in their new country and, often they don't have nice smooth roads for riding bicycles.
However, the advantages for expat children in Panama seem to make up for all of that.
According to Brett Wikyord, one of the greatest advantages is that his kids can be kids. "They have been allowed to act their age," he says. "There is no bullying, no lock downs, no inappropriate touching, no parental conflicts, no one 11 going on 18, and no 17 and 18-year-olds that feed the fire."
His daughters, ages nine and eleven, attend Five Stars Academy and are thriving in school. He says they have confidence in subjects that used to be a struggle and they are not afraid to ask questions. Class sizes are small, giving each student plenty of individual attention. In their free time, the girls like swimming, ballet, and surfing. They are studying both Spanish and French.
They're not the only youngsters taking advantage of the language and cultural opportunities. Anne-Marie Bergeron, a long-time resident of Panama from Canada, has a son, age seven, who is also well on his way to trilingual fluency. He participates in golf, karate, baseball, swimming, tennis, and surfing, and his mother is delighted by the many opportunities he has here and the fact that he can be outside doing them all year long! Unlike Wikyord's daughters, Bergeron's son was born here.
Despite this active schedule, shared by many expat children, Wikyord says, "I feel like I have my children back. In Canada, I felt that everyone but me was raising my children. Here in Panama, somehow it just doesn't seem as rushed and there seems to be more time to spend together."
The Wikyords have been in Panama for less than a year, and while they have faced some transitional challenges, Wikyord looks at these as learning experiences. "There have been some trying times with the language barrier, the banking system, transportation, communications and internet (in Pedasi), but with a strong family unit it has never seemed all that hard," he says. "We made sure we were good with each other, and then worked outward.” Besides, he adds, "Isn't it a good thing to learn something new every day?"