Panamanian students share experiences


In Panama, the month of November brings many days of celebration. On Nov. 3 the people of Panama fill the streets to celebrate Panama’s separation from Gran Columbia. They wear their traditional clothing and don patriotic colors of red, white and blue in a parade filled with mostly high school bands.

Alexis Fong, a graduate student from Panama studying music, played clarinet in the parade during his high school band days. Fong remembers taking great pride in getting to perform.

“I love the parades because it’s part of your life, like when you were in high school, you were walking through the street, and everyone was looking at you,” Fong said. “It’s very fun to see all the college (students) walking through the streets.”

In many ways the parade is a competition. The people watching determine which school has the best band.

“Nov. 2 is (the) Day of the Dead, and at exactly 11:59, everything starts,” said Miguel Centeno, a freshman architectural engineering major who participated in the celebrations. “From Nov. 3 in the early morning until Jan. 6, we have parties in Panama. We start celebrating Christmas. We mold together with Christmas and everything, (and) nobody works. Everyone just has fun.”

Though they have fond memories of the celebrations in Panama, Fong and Centeno have spent this year adjusting to American culture. Fong has been a student at USM for two years and remembers some of the most surprising aspects of

American college life. He was shocked the first time he saw tailgaters on campus.

“When you have the games, and all the families are on campus—when they came here, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s beautiful,’” Fong said.

Centeno finds that Mississippi is very similar to the countryside of Panama, which is one of the reasons he chose Southern Miss. But that is where the similarities end.

“(American culture) is 100 percent different—totally different,” Centeno said. “College is different, architecture is different, language is different (and) activities are different.”

Though he has had to adjust to living in a different country, he has enjoyed reaping the benefits of being a college student. One of the benefits he is most excited about is freedom away from his parents.

“I like that my family is not here checking what time I get back to my apartment, or where I’m going or what I’m doing,” Centeno said. “Here there is more freedom. We can do whatever we want. We can go wherever we want. In Panama, parents are always there asking what you are doing, and they tell you (that you) have to get back before a certain time.”

Both Fong and Centeno miss the friendliness of life in Panama. Even more than in the South, communication within the community is very open.

“When you live in Panama, your neighborhood is part of your life,” Fong said. “Here you can go years without talking to someone if you don’t reach out.”

Though there are many differences between life in Panama and America, Fong and Centeno work to find their place and enjoy their time here before they return to Panama.