Monday, December 9, 2013

Encouragement and Photo Booth

"Encourage one another" - a phrase that I have heard a surprising amount lately. At church as well as bible study, we have been talking about how important it is to encourage one another and take enough time away from your own concerns to be able to give someone else words of encouragement or a helping hand. It's pretty amazing how much it can change your day by just having one person take the time to stop what they're doing and say something kind.

I've found this to be super crucial for me during this year. I will definitely admit that being a teacher is not the easiest job, and I have developed an overwhelming sense of appreciation and admiration for teachers around the world. There is so much time, love, compassion, and long hours that are put into this job. But I can't take credit for learning about all these things by doing them and figuring them out myself. I have learned them through my co-workers, several of which have been teachers for up to 30 years. They're all incredible, and I especially love them for their encouraging and positive attitudes. 

I'm always pleasantly surprised at how willing people are to help one another. Most of these teachers are busily running around trying to grade papers in time for their next class, entering grades, planning  for their classes, or doing whatever random job that they need to do. But one thing i have always noticed is that everyone is willing to drop whatever they are doing in order to help someone else if they are in need. I have definitely been that "needy" person a few times (or several times), and I am beyond grateful for how caring and thoughtful my co-workers have been. So, I thought I'd give them a picture shout out:

Two of my beautiful amigas and myself at a Teacher's Appreciate Luncheon. Duyna who is a  Philosophy and Religion teacher and Itzel who is an English teacher

Me and Joseph at the luncheon!

Just had to share the beautiful view from where we had lunch!
Teaching my coworker Juan , professor of Accounting and Tourism, about the wonders of Photo Booth after  school one day

He especially enjoyed the special effects

A few of my other coworker friends: Laura who is a professor of English, Carmen who is a professor of Mathematics, and Juan again

Two professors that already know the art of photo bombing. Juan and Ramires ,  professor of Philosophy and Civics

I have been very blessed to have such a great community at work. Sorry that I actually just posted selflies on my blog, but it helps to give a good feel of how great these people are. 

In other news, tomorrow is the last day that students will be in school, and then it is the end of the school year! Since the seasons are backwards, this is summer break, so we will have about a month and a half off of work. But don't worry, I will definitely not be left with a month to lounge around and watch endless marathons of Friends and Modern Family. Here are some things coming up for me:

-Lots of teacher work days! Meaning lots of correcting tests and entering grades - it will be a good time
-Mom is coming to Panama! There will be a whole blog post of that one.
-I also will get to see my best friend and her family when my mom comes down!
-I am going on a 2 week mission trip to the interior of Panama with the students of 11th grade
-I (might) be going on another mission trip after that! More news about that later

So don't worry, I have plenty of things going on during my summer "break". Until all the Christmas festivities, my life will be consumed of this: 
Grading and then grading a little bit more

Thanks for all the support as always, and all the words of encouragement! They mean more than you know!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


It might not be too surprising that we just had another festival/holiday/parade/celebration! But this time, I have lots of pictures to help explain. 

Last Friday, the school had a Desfile de Tunas, which is basically a parade in which traditional Panamanian clothing is worn and there is loads of singing and dancing. Each classroom in the entire school represented a separate region in Panama, and therefore wore the clothing that was traditionally worn in that region. I really enjoyed seeing this whole day unfold because every student dressed up and they were all very passionate and excited about the celebration. Most of all, I loved how I got to see how proud they are to be a part of this country. At first I literally didn't recognize several of my students because I have only seen them in their uniforms, but everyone looked so cute in their traditional outfits! I loved it. It's a bit hard to explain, so maybe these pictures can help!

The day started off with "La Coronacion", or the crowning of the new Queen of the Pollera. The Pollera is "The National Costume of Panama" but mainly it is the traditional dress of women in Panama

Some cuties from elementary school presenting the crown and some flowers to the new queen

The beginning of the parade

 This is one of the boys that I live with, Michael. Definitely didn't recognize him

A few of my tenth grade students dancing in their traditional outfits

The start of the celebration

A beautiful outfit. This is often worn at Carnaval as well!

Two more of my students. Along with the Pollera, the women wear beautiful hairpieces like the ones that this girl is wearing in her hair
One of my eighth graders!

I really can't express how impressed I was with the entire celebration. Each class prepared a presentation, which included dancing and singing. This typically included one or two girl soloists, and the rest of the class sang in the background. I'm not even kidding, I'm pretty sure every girl in this school has a ridiculously beautiful voice, and it was really cool to hear how talented several of my students are! 

All you need to know is that November really is one gigantic holiday, and I'm totally okay with that.

Thanks for reading! Don't worry, I'm sure I will be updating you in a week or so with the next holiday!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Wedding in The Netherlands

Here they are! Mr. and Mrs. Fiddelaar. Have you ever seen two happier people?

There are so many things to say about this wedding and these two people. Mainly that I can honestly say I have never seen so much love and happiness in one community. Katherine and Stefan's family and friends were not only a lot of fun to spend time with, but are some of the most generous, caring, and genuinely happy people I have ever met. Which is a very convenient thing considering we spent 16 hours together on the wedding day! Literally, 16 hours.

Weddings in The Netherlands are SO different than what most of us are used to. However, once I was able to experience this whole wedding extravaganza, I definitely think I prefer weddings like this! All of their family and friends were able to spend a whole day together, sharing stories and mainly just admiring and adoring this super cute new couple. I'm going to include a few photos so you can have a little bit of an idea of how the day went:
Getting ready with the beautiful bride!

Cutting the Cake!

Kat getting serenaded 

Celebrations of the new bride and groom!

The two best friends that started it all and inspired this love story

The most beautiful bride!

Photo Shoot!
It really was the most incredible wedding. As absolutely heartbroken as I am that my sister will be living on a different continent than I am, I couldn't be happier for her and her new husband. Their happiness was contagious, and as long as they have a special guest room for when I visit, I will allow this marriage to happen :)

It was a whirlwind of a trip, but it was the happiest of times with family and friends, old and new. Once I flew back into Panama, I jumped right back into things and went to a parade the following day. This parade was to celebrate Panama's independence from Colombia, and all the kids in band have to march pretty much the whole day to celebrate. 

The month of November in Panama is FULL of holidays and celebrations. There were 3 holidays while I was gone, and now there is another holiday coming up this Monday! This holiday commemorates the uprising in the Villa de los Santos against Spain that led to independence. Endless parades, food, and celebrations. November is definitely my new favorite month.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, October 26, 2013


IT'S FINALLY HERE! Katherine Elise Ballew Carter is GETTING MARRIED. I cannot even contain my excitement.

I am writing to y'all from the Atlanta International Airport while I wait for my connecting flight to Amsterdam, where the wedding will be held. Yes, that means I am in the United States for 9 whole hours. But don't worry, I  managed to eat a burrito within 10 minutes of landing on U.S. soil, so I already have my priorities straight.

I will be spending the next week and a half preparing for and celebrating the marriage of my sister Katherine and her soon to be husband Stefan! I literally could not be happier. AND I get to see almost my entire extended family, so I am more than sure that seeing family and friends is going to give me a super boost of energy and spirit for when I return back to my post in Panama.

However, I am pretty sad that I will be away from Panama this next week and a half because there are literally 4 different holidays being celebrated while I am gone. In true Panamanian spirit, school is canceled for these holidays and everyone goes out and celebrates including parades, parades, and more parades.

Otherwise, I'm still absolutely loving Panama. Here are a few quick updates on what has been going on:

-I'm playing on a flag football team in Panama! Which is hilarious, because I'm still not entirely sure how this happened, but now there's no turning back. The best part is it's a national league, so it is taken super seriously. However, it has quickly become one of my favorite activities. The girls on the team are great, and after long days at school it's nice to be able to exercise and play! The games officially start in January, so stay tuned for that!

-Joseph and I found out that there are other American missionaries in the city! After we met, we were invited to dinner and had an amazing dinner and were able to talk IN ENGLISH! It was a nice little piece from home.

-Justin Bieber came to Panama this past Thursday and the entire city was in chaos. Every teenage girl pretty much lost their mind - especially all of my students. So that was an experience in itself.

-I found this statue of Einstein by my favorite coffee shop (and only coffee shop in the city). Still completely unaware of the significance of the statue, but it's pretty cool
-At school, the kids just got done with midterms. It's crazy to think we are already halfway through the trimester, and then it is summer! (Summer is in January and February, which still confuses me)

-I'm finally learning a significant amount of the students' names. Since I have so many students, it's been super difficult to remember names. So, it's actually really exciting when I can remember more than  10 different names in a specific class.

-The two most common questions that I have gotten from students are "Why are you white?" and "Can I pet your hair?" - both of which I never know what the correct answer should be.

-My host family continues to amaze me with their generosity and kindness. They have been especially supportive of helping me get to my sister's wedding, as well as everything else.
Celebrating that school was canceled one day - the boys literally celebrated for a whole hour. Absurd.

-A few weeks ago, Panama played the USA in a soccer game which would determine who qualified for the World Cup, and in the last few minutes, the USA scored two goals, beating Panama 3-2. Although I knew soccer was a super serious matter, I learned it's definitely not okay to EVER mention that game again.

-The second Hunger Games movie comes out in one month. I cannot wait.

So that's a pretty basic update on what's been going on! Next post will be detailing the wedding, with probably a gross amount of wedding pictures. I apologize in advance!

Thanks for reading, and as always, thanks for all the support!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Celebrate We Will

"Every single day is worth celebrating" - Something that someone in church told me one day that has really stuck with me. This is absolutely true, and is incredibly visible in Panama. I'm pretty sure that every single day of the year is a holiday of some sort or there is some kind of celebration. One lady told me that half the time, people don't even remember what they're celebrating, but they know there is reason to celebrate, so as Dave Matthews would say, "Celebrate We Will." I'm going to make this more of a picture blog to show things that I think are worth celebrating or events that are currently being celebrated. 
Celebrating 160 years of the Episcopal Church's presence in Panama
The parade of the Episcopal down Via Espana

A member of the band at San Cristobal during the parade
A day retreat that the 6th grade from school went on to learn more about the theme "friendship" - definitely something worth celebrating!
Cinta Costera - a brand new walkway along the coast with a beautiful view of the city

Another view of the city

Flowers in the city! Such a rare but beautiful sight

The smallest park I have ever seen that is located in the heart of the city
Exploring the city at Cinta Costera

Got to see the Panama Canal AND watch two ships pass through the Miraflores Locks - dream come true!
Next year, the canal will be celebrating 100 years!
The Miraflores Locks
Selfies with Patricia at the Canal
A beautiful and (finally) sunny Sunday!
Celebrating having a super cute little brother
My girl Vicky who is absolutely insane but so sweet
Panama celebrates Fashion Week this week, as well as other random celebrations. After dinner we explored the city and randomly got painted for Neon Night - Panama literally celebrates everything
The coolest apartment building ever

I don't even need to explain why it's necessary to celebrate burritos
There is so much to celebrate. Sometimes it's grand events, and sometimes it's the simple things. Either way, I have realized how much I truly have to celebrate, and how much more there is to come. Speaking of GRAND EVENTS to celebrate, I am leaving in 3 short weeks to go to my sister's wedding in Amsterdam. Stay tuned for that blog, which will probably be overflowing with wedding pictures. YAY!

Until next time!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

One Month!

It has officially been a month and 3 days that I've been in Panama, and I'm already slacking on updating my blog with the updates on Panama. But, I'm hoping to make up for it by posting about this really awesome event that I got to attend a week ago.

This event was called Xpresate - a weekend event through the Episcopal church for the youth. Ultimately, it was a great opportunity for the youth around Panama to come together, hang out, worship, and express themselves and express their faith - hence the name Xpresate (Express Yourself). They did this by having the opportunity to choose from 4 options - theater, dancing, singing, or music. Once they chose, throughout the weekend they practiced with whichever group they chose and on Saturday night, we had a talent show to present everyone's talents. It gave the youth the opportunity to explore their faith together, work as a team, and learn more about themselves and each other and truly created a close and tight-knit group. It's really not possible to put into words how powerful this weekend was, so maybe these pictures can do it justice!

Singing group practicing

Music group learning new notes for "Imagine" by John Lennon

The beautiful chapel

Santa Clara - A beautiful beach that we got to go to for a little bit and also where the camp was held

Classic jumping pic - some of the staff of Xpresate

Theatre group performing a scene from Miami Vice
The whole group - I can't take credit for this beaut - credit goes out to Iglesia de Panama's FB page!
Overall it was an incredible weekend that not only the youth, but all of the staff learned a lot from. At first, I was laughing about the groups that I could choose from. I definitely can't sing, I absolutely cannot dance and have no rhythm, my acting skills are awful, and I play piano but it's not that amazing. So I was nervous about which one I would end up choosing. But the thing is, it honestly didn't matter if I had the most amazing voice or if my voice was embarrassingly horrible (which it seriously is though). It was about expressing yourself and doing what made you happy, which is all that we should worry about anyway. This is also a huge reflection of Panamanian culture - everyone is so full of life, energy, and love and they aren't afraid to show it. As the lady I sat beside in church this morning said, every day is worth celebrating!

Rewind to a few days before Xpresate, I was lucky enough to have a week off of work since we are moving into the final trimester of the year and had a week of vacation. The first couple of days I did lesson plans and also helped paint a mural at San Mateo. Then, the next couple of days I was able to get away from the city a bit and spend some time at the beautiful Malibu Beach. It was a great opportunity to relax and mentally prepare for the upcoming week of school. Here are a few pictures to help y'all see:
Malibu Beach

New best friend that we found at the beach!

Unlikely but best of friends that lived at our hostel

Beach on one side and breathtaking mountains on the other side
Also, while I'm word vomiting on this blog, I might as well keep going and give y'all a few pictures of the school. Tomorrow starts the second week of teaching by myself, and I surprisingly feel confident. Leading up to the first week, I was absolutely terrified because this is an entirely new thing for me. However, I found confidence and support in my coworkers and for that, I am incredibly grateful. So, during our vacation I got to creep around school and take a few (horrible quality) pictures. Honestly, I might need to invest in a photo-taking class because this is getting out of hand.
Teacher's lounge - where all the super fun grading takes place


Just needed to take this picture to show that  the school is incredibly open- at the ends of the hallways there aren't walls - it's just a giant window pretty much

Same here - this is where everyone hangs out for recess and lunch - it's just a giant open area. Walls aren't really a thing here.

Planning for classes!
Okay, I think that's enough to keep y'all updated until next time! Thanks for reading!