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Boquete: Why Some Leave and Others Stay


Phyllis Mc

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Boquete: Why Some Leave and Others Stay

The average time an expat lives in Boquete is four years. At least, that is what I have been told. I suspect the number four was pulled out of thin air and presented as fact by someone.

Why do people who come to live here decide to head back home? After four months, four years or fourteen years?

For younger expats who are not ready to retire and who have children, a friend of mine summed up their reasons for leaving quite succinctly: "Friends of mine have left because of their kids as they felt this was not a great spot to receive a cutting edge education.Or they couldn't figure out a way to earn money here."

Yep. That's right.

The Panamanian educational system is ranked 112 out of 144 countries (2013, Global Competitiveness Index, World Economic Forum). That's not too good. Not good at all. And if you want to make a living here, an entrepreneurial spirit and skill set is needed.

For expats who are retirement age, a friend says: I have heard people give all kinds of reasons for leaving Boquete, mostly it has to do with personal health and/or family health.  Some have left for more cultural stimulation; concerts, restaurants,  architecture, museums, etc. 

People who have health problems, especially chronic or life threatening ones, and are on Medicare (US) or the Canadian health care system often return to their native countries for quality health care that is covered in varying degrees by the government. Or they may feel they will get better care in a medical system that they are familiar with and whose medical staff speak their language.

Being near to families is a big concern whether you are healthy or not. Many people move back to be with their children, grandchildren, siblings or other extended family.

None of us are terribly fond of the power outages which occur on a regular yet random basis, but some of us can shrug it off with candles and a glass of wine. Others can't. Some crave more to do: more restaurants, more activities, more concerts and quality theater. While there are others who are content with the limited culture that Boquete offers as long as they can savor a cup of Boquete coffee and the company of good friend.

Acclimating yourself to a new culture can be hard. It takes perseverance, acceptance of the idiosyncrasies of your new life, and a huge sense of humor. For some couples, one person likes it here in Panama while the other doesn't. This sometimes leads them to say "adios" to Boquete --or to each other.

Why do people stay?

"I stay because this is my home base. Natural beauty. Spanish language immersion.  Clean, mountain water -no fluoride added."

And another friend: "The reason I have stayed is natural beauty, climate and community.  You really cannot top those three anywhere outside Boquete in my opinion."

Another perspective: "I like being at a distance from the overstimulating, demanding culture of the North. I like the freedom I have here to make my choices and take whatever consequences these bring."

As I sit writing this, I am drinking coffee grown at our finca. I'm watching hummingbirds eat from our feeder or sip from tropical flowers in my garden. The wind is blowing origami sun catchers that I made to prevent brightly colored birds doing the whole kamikaze thing against my windows. Thanksgiving with Canadian, American, Chilean and Panamanian friends was simply lovely.

Simply lovely. For me, that about sums it up. Why I stay.

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Your sentiments are lovely too.

I will offer a mildly contrasting viewpoint.  For some of us, Boquete is one stop on a longer journey.  We don't decide to leave it because we hate it, but because there are other places we still want to experience.  

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Thanks for the observations, Phyllis. From my own perspective based on over nine years, I have observed that new arrivals are mesmerized by the climate, views, and slow pace of life for up to the first three years. After that time, many are worn down by the power outages, water problems, inconsistent access to Internet and television, time-consuming shopping, and poor customer service. While some do indeed return home for medical and family reasons, I’ve come to suspect that these are used as excuses by many who just could not adapt. There also are those who came here with unrealistic expectations of costs.

If I were asked for advice about expatriating to Panama, I would strongly suggest that potentials closely examine their budget, including costs for health insurance, travel, and the always-lurking miscellaneous. It has not escaped my notice that more and more folks are arriving under financed, some woefully so. Also, I think there is a better chance for long-term happiness if there is a “handy” person in the household. Being able to handle your own electrical, plumbing, computer, and other problems goes a long way toward eliminating frustration and expenses. Add to all that a laid back attitude, as you suggest.

I confess to having experienced my own set of frustrations that have tempted me from time to time to consider abandoning Panama. But then I remember the wonderful sense of community, the languid pace, and the natural beauty surrounding me. Only tonight, while sitting on my terrace, a lone coatimundi casually strolled through the back garden (inducing hysteria in the dogs).

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Nice thought Woody. I hadn't thought of Boquete as being a stage of a journey. It will be interesting to see what perspectives you bring to your next home.

Bonnie, ever so true about carefully considering  one's budget before you move here. But frankly, it is so much cheaper than it was in the US for us.  Most of the people I know have left for legitimate health reasons- not excuses to return. Others just can't adjust to the culture and to the fact that Panama is still a developing country and has to develop a much better infrastructure. Panama isn't for everyone. It is like  friendship- some people are a good fit for you as a friend, others aren't. It is all about how you mesh.

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12 hours ago, Woody said:

Your sentiments are lovely too.

I will offer a mildly contrasting viewpoint.  For some of us, Boquete is one stop on a longer journey.  We don't decide to leave it because we hate it, but because there are other places we still want to experience.  

 

Maybe we are all explorers.  I like your idea that a current location is just one stop on a longer journey.

Several of our friends are perpetual travelers all around the world. Periodic conversation with these folks provide new perspectives and a better understanding of what might be really important. I enjoy hearing their first hand stories about different cultures (living styles, food, dress); always a learning experience for me.

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1 hour ago, WryAwry said:

Government Officials warn that coatimundis have been proven to sneak across international borders with unclear agendas.

 

Thanks for the caution alert. On the look-out for 'en.

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For those considering, as I am, continuing their journey South, this may be the perfect time. China's slowdown, the strength of the dollar and airfare wars have made South America as cheap as it is likely to be ever again.

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Due to an error, a duplicate blog entry with identical content inadvertently was created on 7 December 2015. In order to maintain the blog posting integrity, the error blog post was deleted, and the two replies associated with it are being "rescued". Because we have no technical means of merging blog posting or moving blog replies, I have no other option except to copy and paste those two replies here.

 

6 hours ago, Roger B said:

"For younger expats who are not ready to retire and who have children, a friend of mine summed up their reasons for leaving quite succinctly: "Friends of mine have left because of their kids as they felt this was not a great spot to receive a cutting edge education.Or they couldn't figure out a way to earn money here."

"Yep. That's right.

"The Panamanian educational system is ranked 112 out of 144 countries (2013, Global Competitiveness Index, World Economic Forum). That's not too good. Not good at all. And if you want to make a living here, an entrepreneurial spirit and skill set is needed."

Well.   I would say that this is not totally correct.   I don't know how this ranking system works and what they really measure but I will tell you about real life facts.   It is probably that the education in Public or state owned schools are not the best one but another thing is private schools.   A great percentage of high school graduates from private school go to study at foreign universities, specially US and other countries in Europe and Latin America. 

When I was in the early 20's I do remember that there were a lot of US EXpats living in Panama and they didn't want to have their kids in the Canal Zone school system and to our surprise they place them in some private schools in Panama.  I can recall two girls who where daughter of Colonel Stone (his wife wrote a famous book about Panama).  Both girls studied in a private catholic school in Panama and did so well when they return back to the US.  

President Varela, president Martinelli, Minister Roberto Roy, Former Panama Canal Alberto Aleman Zubieta and a lot of Panamanian businessmen, politicians, professionals, etc studied high school in Panama and later went to US college to study doing well and without any kind of problem.  So that says a lot.   Even singer/songwriter/actor Ruben Blades studied a master degree at Harvard and he was student of a public school like the Instituto Nacional.  

So.  I criticize what is happening in the public school system in Panama and we, Panamanians, tend to be so harsh with our criticism to our government and systems but I am so proud of those professionals that succeeded and represented the country very well outside Panama that came from our educational system. 

 

4 hours ago, Marcelyn said:

I don't have children in the local education system. My Panamanian friend has two daughters, one a recent graduate of Boquete schools. She (notice a female) has just received a 4 (four) year full scholarship in Mechanical Engineering given by a foreign country. Proud of this young lady and makes me happy when this kind of thing occurs. Wishing her much success.

 

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Right now this is our home and we love it.  We're not overjoyed with the home invasion violence that strikes us as on the verge of out of control.  We ponder that and I guess if push came to shove we would pull up anchor and head back to the states.  We always had that option open...  

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2 hours ago, Brundageba said:

Right now this is our home and we love it.  We're not overjoyed with the home invasion violence that strikes us as on the verge of out of control.  We ponder that and I guess if push came to shove we would pull up anchor and head back to the states.  We always had that option open...  

I agree with your thoughts regarding home invasions, violence is "...on the verge of out of control." Crime statistics may not be much better in the US (recent shootings in California, killings in Chicago, etc.) Maybe one big difference is how violent crimes are handled in Panama vs. the States. In the US, law enforcement personnel (police, FBI, Homeland Security. etc.) communicate progress and notify final results for criminal activity. Seems to me this communication step is sometimes missing for our local situations.

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And violent crimes is a bit different here ( than in the USA ) to a degree.   We (elderly foreign settlers) are more the target I feel.  Keith Woolford recommended seeing the DVD  City of God.  It's about youth gangs in the ghettos around Rio in Brazil.  It's an eye opener.  We saw it last week.  These youths are groomed when they are very young.  Many of them (if not all) come from poor families and have not had a basic education.  The gang gives them a sense of power, control and a sense of being successful at something....belonging.  They have an enormous amount of loyalty to their gang, coupled with lethal and dangerous bravado.   Life of victims has little meaning to them .  This is a very serious problem that needs a multi pronged approach to "solution".  Ending this juvenile gang mentality is a struggle there in Brazil but they are meeting with some success. Now is the time for Panama to take a serious hard look at what is happening to this country. Youth gangs with guns is a serious problem.  The solution is not easy.  I'm talking about solution not merely custody and detainment. The focus has to be on a solution to growing gang mentality.  Our sense of it is the country is asleep at the wheel.  It can only get worse.   Then we leave...I guess.  We'll be too old to deal with it and will be all the more the target. 

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