INTERaction – The Universal “U”

Stepping foot on the soil of a foreign country often makes many new travelers want to jump right back into the airport terminal onto the next flight home. The undying fear of having to communicate with natives in a language you know spoken at a snail’s face and mixed with english makes you want to barf every time you have to ask for directions to your hotel. Your hometown didn’t prepare you for this, nor did the years of education and culmination of knowledge and learning prepare you for the moments you find yourself lost, confused, and in mental disharmony. It is in times like these I often find myself trying to fit in, communicate as the locals do and trying to feel “normal.” But this misconception is the simple base of all travel: nothing you can expect and find in a new country will be normal for you, but you must always be yourself and interact in the best way you know how. Interactions and intercultural communication is the basic concept of communication through cultural, demographic, and linguistic barriers. Our interactions are what make our travel memorable and experiential; our interactions are how we learn in new ways about new cultures and traditions different from our own.

Interactions in Panama are seemingly intimate compared to the small Louisville, Kentucky. Though similar in size, the building in Panama, as well as the people and their interactions, as are a lot closer and plentiful. In the United States, honking is simply an act to display distress or to alert another driver. In Panama, honking can have a number of meanings. Such as:

  • “Do you need a Taxi?”
  • “Let me over”
  • “Can you let me in?”
  • “Are you serious?”
  • “Your driving is terrible”
  • “Hey girl, how you doin’ today?”
  • “The light changed .5 seconds ago and you haven’t moved yet.”

Solely by the plain honking of a horn, a myriad of interactions and signals are communicated between people who haven’t even spoken words to each other. Similarly, the daunting task of ordering food from a restaurant came at ease from Panamanian people willing to help simplify the communication process. If you don’t know a word and they see you struggling, they will gesture, hand-motion, and even sometimes use english to push you in the right direction. In the end, I have learned that working with what you know and getting help along the way has made traveling that much more interesting. And by gosh it is only the third day!

Even as I fly abroad and enter a foreign country, intercultural communication in Panama has taught me that no matter where you are, there is no need to act incongruously from who you are. Even though each foreign culture has its own slang and mannerisms with which you are unfamiliar, by simply being “u” and trying your best, your interactions are more meaningful and authentic. Interacting with locals, immersing myself in the culture, and trying new activities have shown me just have important our interactions truly are.