Juan and I got married in Napa, July 2010. Two weeks later I was sitting in a random apartment, ALONE, in Panama City. I knew two people, I couldn’t speak more than a few words of Spanish, and I was about to start teaching third grade at an International School where I knew none of the faculty, staff, or students. I precisely remember the combination of feelings I had: confusion as to how this had become my reality, mixed with a longing for home and everyone I loved, all dripping with a delirious comic value because the whole situation, at that point in my life, just seemed so very random that I couldn’t help but laugh. I was sad, excited, lonely, afraid, courageous, and independent – I was LIVING life.
I went on for three months that way (living in Panama alone, laughing and sometimes crying in spite of myself) as I started my new job and Juan finished his contracted job in California. Although it was a strange period of time and I was lonely in many ways, I was also inspired daily by the fact that I had just gotten married but had almost never felt so free and independent before. As I relaxed into an entirely new world, I held tight to the ultimate vision that Juan and I shared for living abroad together since the early days of dating each other. I stayed really busy in those first few months setting up my classroom and pouring my heart into my lessons and students, learning my way around a new city with the greatest taxi driver of all time, Señor Perez, butchering the Spanish language and all too often getting off the hook with English, meeting a ton of expats, Panamanians, and Zonians, and overall, just absorbing the heat, rhythm, and pace of Panama as a “single newlywed”.
Five months prior to moving down to Panama, Juan had accepted a job with a tropical forestry company. He was making a giant shift from 10+ years in the film industry to something he has a family history and passion for: trees. (Check this out!) Meanwhile, I was offered a teaching position (after graduating from my credential program here) which sealed the deal. We packed up our place in California, sold cars, got married (which was already planned), and did what we had to do solo in different countries for twelve weeks. Cut to the present moment, three years later and we’re still in Panama. In retrospect, it all seems like it was relatively easy – we both landed jobs quickly, we found an apartment we loved, and we had a little bit of savings to help us get our flights, deposit for a furnished apartment rental, and to buy the basics. But there were also a lot of things that weren’t easy – the initial separation was tough, we didn’t have a car, we didn’t know anyone, we were completely removed from both of our families and all of our friends, and we were both starting new jobs in a developing country while earning about 60% less than in California – we literally started over. I can entirely see why these unknown elements would stop a lot of (probably most!) people in their tracks and force them to reconsider such a move. I mean, c’mon, who wants to be 31 years old making pennies on the dollar in a country where they don’t speak the language and know nobody?
Well, call me crazy, but I did and I still would.
Looking back and comparing all of those “hurdles” we jumped to the life we have been experiencing for the past three years, the adventures we have been having all across Panama, and reflecting on the friends we have made since making that move, it has all been worth it. Every single step of the way. I guess I wouldn’t have started this blog if it hadn’t.
Have you ever lived abroad? If so, what did you love or hate about it? If you’ve never tried it, have you thought about it? Where would you like to go? What do you think is stopping you? Would be great to hear your thoughts!
PHOTOS: Molly Walking Single : Our Wedding Dance Floor : Alone Time In A Hammock : Juan Drawing in Cala Mia On Our Honeymoon in Panama : Casco Viejo Skyline : San Blas