A Farewell to Panama

By Marissa Sanchez, MURP ’16 & International Practice Pathway Fellow 

Saying farewell to a country that welcomed me with open arms was not easy. Although I only lived and worked in Panama for 10 weeks, my time in this Latin American country was enough to help me create unforgettable ties to the people and its places. As I contemplate on my internship experience abroad I must say how fortunate I feel to have been a part of it.

Working in Panama was a complete experience on its own. Interning as an urban design student I was responsible for conducting various site visits to the neighborhood that I was studying. This was done with the purpose of grasping an understanding of the existing conditions of the built environment and the community that lived there. Through research and data analysis I learned that the neighborhood I was studying was a very low- income marginalized community that unfortunately strongly suffers from gang violence and very few resources. My site visits to the neighborhood were crucial and carried out with the guidance of a local community member. During my first visit to the site I was shocked at some of the detrimental living conditions of families residing in the area, and of the physical differences of the built environment in comparison to the nearby neighborhoods. As I continued to visit the site during the following weeks I made the realization that the best way to assist this neighborhood was by walking in their shoes and being culturally sensitive to the community and their needs. After all I was the outsider, and no one could teach me more about the neighborhood than the community itself. With this mindset I saw beyond the neglected facades and empty lots, and began to recognize unique neighborhood elements and qualities that were culturally essential to the neighborhood. The neighborhood suffered from neglect yes, but a positive outlook from that meant space for opportunity and improvement.

Towards the end of my internship as I worked to provide design recommendations for the study area, it remained engrained in me that preservation of the community culture was vital. So I worked to recommend interventions that would enhance positive neighborhood characteristics while simultaneously revitalizing the area. Working in Panama allowed me to physically experience urban planning issues to a level that I did not believe were possible. It allowed me to not only grow as a planner but also as an individual.

In terms of looking at the grand spectrum of living in Panama the experience was incredible. Immersing myself into this country gave me the wings to witness the many natural hidden gems that this country has to offer. My adventures could become a novel on their own, so I will end this blog by extending a really big thank you to my funders and the UCLA Global Public Affairs team for making this happen. Living and working in Panama was truly a wonderful experience, one that I will always cherish. Thank you!

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