There are lots of summer vacations during our teenage years that we never forget about. The sun is shining, you are reading by the pool, hanging out with friends, maybe even going off to summer camp! But…what if we told you that there is an opportunity out there unlike any summer you have ever experienced before?
For the past few years, there has been something special happening with our AMIGOS middle school summer programs in Panama. Students ages 13—14 embark on a two-week service and Spanish immersion trip that marks a before and after in their teenage years. During this time, young volunteers open their eyes and heart to Latin American culture and the Spanish language, they volunteer with our local partners, and they learn about the value of human connection by interacting and bonding with friendly locals. The level of personal growth and broadened worldview that happens during this time is unlike any other summer experience!
This is a magical summer full of reflection, volunteering, excursions, bonding, laughing, and learning all about Panamanian culture and local efforts to preserve wildlife in the area.
Cultural Immersion, Spanish language, and Interacting with Locals
During AMIGOS middle school programs, our experienced project staff guide volunteers through unique cultural immersion activities and encourage them to practice their Spanish. They create a comfortable environment where everyone is encouraged to make mistakes and learn from each other! Volunteers will have a fun time interacting with friendly locals and learning about their culture and way of life. They will also learn about the history and culture of the region through field visits and excursions, such as learning how to process sugarcane through a trapiche, or hiking the beautiful Cerro Gaital.
AMIGOS programs have been in Latin America since 1965 and in Panama since 1983. The partnerships we have built in Panama over the years are at the center of this summer experience! Our volunteers learn from and support a local sea turtle protection initiative on the Pacific coast and learn about conservation and biodiversity efforts in the Valle de Antón. Students gain around 20 service hours by participating in a sea turtle protection initiative and, in partnership with Panama’s Ministry of the Environment, learn more about how we can work to conserve the environment to protect these native species.
Global Citizenship and Leadership Development Curriculum
Our middle school summer program serves as an introduction to our Global Citizenship curriculum. Throughout their time abroad, volunteers engage in activities and discussions that let them dive into global citizenship. It is a unique program that asks them to use critical thinking skills and their own curiosity to see themselves within the context of a bigger world. AMIGOS builds skills around creative problem solving, group collaboration, curiosity, resilience, building independence and collective and individual responsibility. Our volunteers gain confidence and leadership skills that prepare them for high school, college, and beyond.
Departure: Panama City
During the last few days of the trip, after experiencing rural Panama up close, volunteers get a glimpse of life in Panama City: they visit the Panama Canal and its museum, as well as the colorful and beautiful colonial center of Panama City, “Casco Viejo”. Here, they learn more about the past and present of Panama and witness the authenticity of this lively city by participating in a guided walking tour. Students might also get to visit Panama’s beloved “Biomuseo” and learn more about the country’s biodiversity.
Time to Reflect and Grow
At the end of their service, volunteers come together as a group to participate in debriefing — where they put what they learned in context and prepare to go home. This part of the trip is particularly special, because students get to reflect on their growth, the community and environment they just experienced, and get to express how they are feeling and share that with their peers and our staff. Year after year, we are proud to see the growth of our middle school volunteers and see them flourish beyond their summer with AMIGOS.
Want to learn more about Discover AMIGOS? Sign up for our next info session and learn even more about the program! The deadline to apply for Session A is April 19.
“My daughter had never done anything like this before but I was surprised by how much she had changed. It was palpable. It was such a leap for her to pull on her own internal resources and now she keeps saying spontaneously, ‘I feel so confident’.” —Jennifer, Parent, Discover AMIGOS