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“Panama Proved to be a Pleasant Surprise”

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by Sandra Snyder

Panama continues to be a destination for corporate executives of international businesses large and small. They come from as far away as France and Israel or as near as Colombia and Costa Rica. For many of them, this isn’t their first or even second international move. After they have made the decision to accept the relocation, they have many concerns for themselves and their family’s comfort and safety in addition to finding housing, schools, and resolving legal issues. Relocation firms from around the world assist these corporate executives and their families to make the transition easily and positively.

Sandra Snyder, Relocation Specialist, interviewed four such relocated executives on the anniversary of their first year in Panama. Here is what they had to say about their experiences:

Rafael Sanchez, Country Manager, American Airlines in Panama just celebrated the completion of his first year in Panama. He and his family are in many ways typical of the international corporate family. Rafael, his wife, Rocio, and their two children relocated from Santiago, Chile but they call Costa Rica home. This was their second international move and not much different as far as the need to address the basics: housing, schools, banking, social activities all of which were taken care of with the help of the relocation company. As Rafael confirms, “American Airlines always provides its expats with this service as they recognize its benefits.”

“While it is easier to relocate when the new country is similar to your home country, Chile and Panama are two different worlds despite a shared language. The culture, traditions, and the city itself, are different.” Santiago is very cosmopolitan and while Panama may fit that description as well, it is not nearly as big. However, Panama is much closer to home, both geographically and culturally.

“The most important aspect of making a successful relocation once the decision has been made, is taking care of the children.” Rafael goes on to stress “the importance of having to help them realize the differences in culture, ways of life and appreciating the opportunity they have in experiencing these differences.” Now and in the future, his children will be able to compare their experiences and appreciate the benefits derived from them. Already his children tell him, ”Children here are brought up differently than in other countries. For example, they live in Panama City Monday through Friday, but weekends are spent in the country. In fact, it is as if all of Panama City moves to Coronado or El Valle for Friday evening through Sunday afternoon.” Rafael says, “There are many benefits of being an expat but it is also important to understand, and be sure the children understand, that they may have these exciting opportunities momentarily but they are only temporary. You must always be prepared to return home and back to reality. Failing to realize this and believing it will never end, will create problems.”

Once the decision was made to come to Panama, Rafael was pleased to discover that Panama is very safe. Safety is for Rafael and his family important but he is also “pleased to find the Panamanian people warm, open and wanting to be friends”. He has made many friends as a result. And, although there are lots of social opportunities in Panama, many things he and his family enjoy doing, don’t get done because of the weather! After growing up in San Jose, Costa Rica, and living in Santiago, both with cooler climates, they find Panama hot and humid. For those newcomers unaccustomed to the warmer climate, it presents limitations when it comes to planning a picnic or a basketball game.

The Sanchez children are 8 and 11 and school considerations were paramount in making the move. As for many expats, the Panamanian school calendar vs. the Western school calendar was one of many considerations. American Airlines assignments range from two to three years and it is likely that at some time the children will need to switch to the Western school calendar. In the meantime, the children have settled in and made friends. Leaving friends was also the most difficult part of their leaving Chile. On the lighter side, the children have noticed an interesting cultural difference – they found people in Chile “more formal in interactions than in Panama”. They also think “Panamanians talk louder than Chileans or especially louder than Costa Ricans”. In general, however, Rafael finds the children adjust well and are already starting to understand the advantages they have over others that have not lived abroad.

As for adjusting to life in a new country, Rafael says “The important thing is to understand there are differences, not good or bad, just different. And, speaking of good and bad, it is most important to come to a country looking for the good. Whatever good there is in a country needs to be what you focus on.” “You, the expat, need to adapt to the Country because it is not going to change for you”. Further, “interacting with people who say nice things about the country will put you on the right foot for success”. Rafael cites his experience with the positive consultants from Panama Relocation Services and the Panamanian friends he has met who talk about the good things in Panama. “Panama has some really good things to offer – restaurants, beaches, people just to name a few. However, much of the needed infrastructure still needs development.”

Rafael is very pleased with the whole experience. He says he ”feels it is very important to thank the host country. They embrace you and your family personally and professionally and, therefore, it is important to leave something of yourself behind as a way of thanking them.” Professionally, he says he wants to be remembered for “the way he gets things done like providing good service”. Personally, he says he knows he will always think about and care about the people he has met, and he will remember for many years the wonderful experiences and friends made in Panama when it is time to move to the next assignment.

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The International Book Fair 2009
Sandra will be available to autograph books and answer questions
August 19
through August 23, 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Info

Gran Morrison will inaugurate Book Week with Panama Authors: Sandra Snyder, Rose Marie Tapia, Rafael Candanedo and Rosita Cordoba.
September 19, 2008, 4:00 p.m. at Gran Morrison El Dorado, El Dorado Mall.

Tuesday Morning Meeting
Sandra will share some of her experiences and provide some helpful hints for better living in Panama. Info
March 11, 2008

P.B.C. Person2Person
Sandra & David on the radio. Podcast
January, 2008



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