During the fall of my junior year (2018) I studied abroad in Costa Rica. One of the most valuable aspects of my time abroad was traveling to Panama City for a long weekend. I visited the historic neighborhood of Casco Viejo in Panama City with one of the other girls from the Costa Rica study abroad program. Founded by Spanish colonists in the 1670s, Casco Viejo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that contains many examples of Spanish colonial architecture
We spent time walking around Casco Viejo to see important plazas and historic churches, including Plaza de la Independencia, Catedral Metropolitana, Iglesia La Merced, Plaza Herrera, Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, Iglesia Santo Domingo, Arco Chato, Teatro Nacional, Plaza Bolívar, Palacio Bolívar, Paseo Esteban Huertas, Plaza de Francia, and Iglesia San Francisco de Asis.
While in Panama City we also visited Museo de Historia, a Panamanian history museum located within the Municipal Palace, which was constructed in 1910. We also visited Museo del Canal Interoceánico de Panamá, the museum dedicated to educating visitors about the Panama Canal, and Galería de Arte Indígena, an art gallery and shop dedicated to indigenous artwork. We took a Fortaleza Tour, which presented us with the unique opportunity to learn about the reality of life in Panama City from locals themselves rather than simply visiting tourist attractions. Finally, we went to Miraflores Locks to see the Panama Canal in person. There is another museum there, which features educational videos, observation decks, and exhibits about biodiversity to help educate visitors about the Canal.
As a Global Studies and Spanish major, it was incredibly valuable to me to see in person the mammoth impact the Canal has had and continues to have on Panama. Migrant workers from 97 countries moved to Panama to help build the Canal, making Panama a small but very diverse country. It was incredible to see how these cultures have mixed with indigenous cultures, Spanish culture from the colonial period, and American and French cultures more recently. The timing of our visit also coincided with Panama's "mes de la patria," a month long celebration of Panama’s culture, independence, and history. Throughout the month of November there are parades and celebrations across the entire country, and we were able to see what these festivities look like in the capital city. In the three days we spent in Casco Viejo there were two parades: one to celebrate Panama's separation from Columbia and another to celebrate Panamanian patriotic symbols. The parades were absolutely beautiful, and they were a great way to see firsthand the lasting influence of indigenous cultures, mass migrations, and U.S. military involvement in the country. All of these elements of Panamanian culture were highly celebrated by the parades.
As a Caribbean, Latin American, and Latino Studies minor, it was also very valuable for me to see how much Central American cultures vary from one country to the next. Within moments of our arrival in Panama City (which is only an hour away from San José by plane) we began to notice stark differences between Panama and Costa Rica.
From start to finish my trip to Panama City was an absolutely incredible experience that contributed greatly to the educational value of my time abroad. My experience there has continued to impact my education since returning to St. Lawrence as well.