As students at a traditional public university, we are often convinced by the notion that everything in this world can only be learned through a textbook, a computer screen, or by a professor. It is our weakness in getting caught up in the details of our traditional education that make us believe our learning is limited to a conventional classroom. Traveling the world including Panama, as I grow and advance in my education, show me the importance of learning and experiencing culture in a hands-on fashion. As Hank in Panama learned the culture differences and abuses from the Panama he once knew, I am learning about a culture I have never experienced through an unconventional education.
Education in Panama is structure in a fashion similar, but different to the United States. Similar to a system proposed by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, public education is free of tuition. Students are able to attain an education in Panama without falling thousands of dollars in debt. However, there is much debate to how qualified professors and teachers are at these public universities. Furthermore, classes are taught solely in Spanish and students looking for a “higher” education tend to enroll in private institutions such as Quality Leadership University. Schools like QLU are unique in their diversity of staff and classes in English. In addition to their formalized education, it is my opinion that many students in college have a better sense of street knowledge and common sense than college students in the United States. They more readily exposed to real-world experiences and situations that many young people don’t experience until they are completely independent. From the students in our intercultural communication class, I have quickly learned that Panamanians learn independence from a very young age.
From our discussion in class with local students and our limited experiences with the city, Panama has reinforced the idea that unconventional education through experiences outside of classroom are just as imperative to one’s education. Learning is all around us at all times of the day. Panama, through its rich history and beautiful cultural heritage has so much to offer a young traveler outside of a textbook and a classroom. Even so, I am always carrying a handy pen and notebook to take quick notes, denote outstanding cultural icons, and describe the beautiful culture that is Panama.