The College of Saint Rose and UDELAS in Panama

A partnership about education, culture and the exchange of ideas

The Importance of Family and Free Time in Panama

MARIANNE


Family is one, if not the most important, aspect in many cultures. While living here, I decided to save this blog for one of my late entries because of the various interviews I’ve encountered. I am combining this topic with que hacen durante su tiempo libre (what goes on during the free time here in Panamá) because it is very common for families to spend time together during their free time. Observing families and interviewing friends I have made here has helped me understand the family dynamic within Panamá. It is extremely similar to that of the U.S. We tend to spend weekends with our families and evenings at home after school or work. We return home for dinner as do the families here in Panamá.

I believe family time is quality time in Panamá. I interviewed a Professor from UDELAS, Julio, and he told me how important it is for him to be home for dinner with his wife and two children every night. I was lucky enough to meet Julio (Jr.) and Marisabela on a trip this past weekend to La Isla Grande in Colón. Julio explained how younger, modern generations in Panamá tend to marry later in life, which is extremely similar to the U.S. In the U.S. we see younger generations marrying later into their 30s as opposed to earlier generations who married by 20-25. Julio provides for his family and he said he sends his children to the best schools because he believes education is important to survive in today’s world. In his opinion, the best schools in Panamá are private. He said private schools focus of teaching English as a second language and from his experience studying in West Virginia, it is important for his children to learn English if they should choose to study abroad in the U.S. one day!

One important aspect of family in Panamá is housing. One of our tour guides, Professor Alexi, told us a home with two or three bedrooms can cost up to $30,000, while a home close to where we are in the city can cost much more. Alexi said his water bill is $12.00 per year. He also said most working people have two homes, one closer to the city (work) and one in the towns located on the outskirts of the city. I found this to be interesting and similar to having a summer home in the U.S. or a weekend getaway home.

The ideal family unit for Panamanians is the nuclear family of a married couple and their children. I interviewed a student from UDELAS, Adan. Adan had an immense amount of information about family life in Panamá. Adan told me that lower class families have more children as opposed to middle to upper class families. I thought this was extremely ironic; however, it clearly makes sense. Most lower class families do not have the money for higher education and insurance to cover for contraception. Adan also said that most lower class families marry younger because of the lack of education. In lower class families, he said both parents have to work in order to provide income for their families. Also, most mothers who do work in lower class families usually work at the local vendors or Artesenias. It saddened me to hear that some lower class families cannot afford to send their children to school; therefore, they allow their children to work at such young ages. Upper class families that have fewer children do not need income from both parents. Most fathers work and mothers stay home; however, the upper class families living in Panamá usually have nannies to take care of the children! I believe it is similar in the U.S. We see many upper class families with nannies and help in their home, especially in richer areas within the states. Children from lower class families often attend public schools because private schools cost more money. Adan said some parents will sacrifice their lives to send their children to private schools because it is known to be a better education.

I am currently working in la Clínica de Psicopedagogía with Doctor Sanchez. She allows me to sit in on each of her appointments and I find it to be extremely interesting. One day, I met a man named Jesús. Jesús is a native here in Panamá; however, he worked in Austin Texas for many years. Jesús is divorced with two children living in Texas. He decided to move back to Panamá because he missed his roots. He has been divorced for many years and I asked him about divorce rates in Panamá. He told me the divorce rate in Panamá is extremely low, in fact, I found the statistics on Google: 0.68 per 1000 people get divorced in Panamá. WOW! Divorce is permitted under liberal terms by the Civil Code. The rate in the U.S. is 4.95 per 1000 people. Jesús said that divorce is not common because most Panamanians are religious and it goes against the religion to divorce, also divorce is expensive and many do not have the money to pay for it. It is also uncommon for indigenous tribes to divorce because some men and women live together forever without marriage. As opposed to the divorce rate, the birth rate in Panamá is high. For every 1000 people, 19.34% of children are born by midyear (Google.) Jesús told me that it is slowly decreasing because of the recent “child support” laws. If a woman becomes pregnant, like the U.S., the father is responsible to pay child support for their child if they are not living or married with the woman. Jesús says most men are watching what they do now because it has become strict to pay child support!

I have decided to include what Panamanians do during their free time because family is a big part of it. When I interviewed the Profesora I was working with at Instituto Panamericano, Belén. She told me that most professionals leave work and return home to their families for dinner during the week. It is common for weekends to be filled with many activities such as going to the mall, spending the day at the beach, playing at the park with the children, and not doing any work. I believe it is a great idea not to bring any work home for the weekends because it is quality time to spend with friends and those you love. Another Professor at IPA said most weekends are spending traveling to visit family and friends outside of the city of Panamá. Celebrations within each town are another common monthly activity. I’d like to compare it to block parties where everyone prepares a meal and get together to talk about life and how things are going. Julio, the Professor I went to La Isla Grande with, said these celebrations are a time for his children to meet new friends and socialize. Free time in Panamá is spent relaxing, getting house work done, and making time for family and friends. Other activities include, going to national parks, shopping at the mall, and playing sports. Throughout my shopping adventures in Panamá, I have seen many women sewing and making beautiful clothing and tablecloths. This is common for women especially indigenous women from the Kuna Tribe.

As for the younger generations who are not married or settled down with children, the nightlife is very adventurous! I went to La Zona Viva, which is a strip of discothèques (clubs.) The músic is a major part of going out because most (if not all) Panamanians loves to dance! I had such a great time meeting new people and learning how to dance in new and exciting ways. Another popular street of Panamá’s nightlife is Calle Uruguay. It is a street filled with bars, clubs, and restaurants. As opposed to La Zona Viva, Calle Uruguay is “hot & popping” every day of the week, especially from Wednesday to Saturday. These are definitely the places to go to enjoy Panamá’s nightlife!

Family life in Panamá is special. Panamanians value their time spent with their families and take advantage of any free time they can spend at home. I have been acquiring lots of information while I am here and will share much more with you all soon!

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