The Amazing Adventure of Living Abroad

I am sure that many of you have read articles about how living abroad will change you and maybe you think “Come on! It can’t be that good!”.

The truth is that for those who have done it, it is for sure a life changing experience, but what is so special about it?

The first thing that I would like to make clear is that not everything is perfect, but even the challenges that you might have will make you grow as person.

Living abroad will push you out of your comfort zone, from making new friends, to living for the first time by yourself and even speaking a new language.

When I moved to Tortola everything was new for me, I was moving out from my parents’ house, had to make new friends, learn a new area of law and on top of that speak in a different language.  I have to be honest, it was a bit scary at the beginning. However, the best thing you get out of that is confidence, which will reflect in some many different aspects of your life.

Now that I am living in Boston, I see things different from the first time. I have this feeling that no matter what,  I will always come up with plan A, B and all the way to Z. Your perspective and approach to challenges changes. You learn to adapt, to take risks and change if necessary.

The exposure to new cultures is one of the things I value the most, you get to know different points of views, different realities. For me is interesting to find similarities in people from distant countries,  you realized that we are not that different and that most of the time, things that separate people are not really important. You respect differences and understand that your truth is not necessary the only one, each opinion is valid even when is different from yours because is based on a different history.

Another amazing thing about living abroad are your friends, because  you are away from your family, so your friends become family. Yes, I know it sounds dramatic, but it is true, I can’t imagine my life all these years without my friends. Friends are a gift, it could be difficult to say goodbye when the time comes, actually it is really difficult.  It is a roller coaster of emotions, but the good part is that with time you discover that no matter how far they are or if you do not talk all  the time, they are always there for you. Since your connection is so strong a few miles apart will not take that away.

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Living abroad is an experience that will change you forever, for me it is very emotional, but I have no regrets. Your heart is full of little pieces from the places you have been and the people you have met, including those funny memories from your country. When I go back home I treasure every second with my family, my friends. I enjoy more the things I have now, I have missed a lot of birthdays and “special celebrations”, but now I believe is not about the date is about the moment you share that makes it special. I value the NOW more than before. At the same time, I can’t wait to be back to my second home, whenever that place might be.

If you ever have the opportunity to live abroad or to visit another country, even for a short period of time, do it!  Keep in mind a few things:

  • make sure you have health insurance, if you are going abroad because of studies or work, health insurance is mandatory! In some countries like the United States medical care is really expensive, it is better to be prepared
  • Be prepare for the weather, Tortola was easy because, it is tropical weather but Boston..well  I am still trying to understand the weather here, but if you know you are traveling to a place with different seasons, include in your budget a section for clothes and check online prices so you have an idea of the cost.
  • check cost of living, this is fundamental for everything, work, studies, adventure.
  • research about public transportation, you need to know if you will have to buy a car and take that into consideration for your budget.

El Piropo: Acoso o Halago

Grafitti por Jorge Gobbi

Hace unos meses, la Diputada Ana Matilde Gómez presentó en la Asamblea Nacional de Panamá el Anteproyecto 177 “Que previene, prohíbe y sanciona el hostigamiento, acoso callejero, acoso, acecho, favoritismo, sexismo y racismo en todos los ámbitos.”

Los medios de comunicación la llamaron la Ley anti-piropos y rápidamente causo revuelo en las redes sociales, muchas personas la llamaron ridícula.

La reacción en contra de la iniciativa fue tal por parte de hombres y mujeres que decidí leer el documento. Sin entrar a discutir en detalle la Ley, llama la atención como los medios de comunicación encontraron un apodo limitante Ley anti-piropo, cuando tanto el titulo como el contenido abarcan mucho más, desde acoso callejero hasta equidad laboral, la Ley busca crear políticas públicas de prevención.

Existen varios puntos que se pueden rescatar del documento que considero beneficiosos, por ejemplo, la obligación de que todo empleador, institución pública y centro de enseñanza público o privado deba establecer una política interna que prevenga, evite, desaliente y sancione las conductas de Hostigamiento, Acoso Callejero, Acoso Sexual, Acecho, Relación de Favoritismo, Sexismo y Racismo.

En mi opinión, esto es una política responsable, sobre todo el hecho que se incluyan a los centros de enseñanzas; cuantas historias de acoso por parte de profesores no se comentan en las Universidades e incluso en las escuelas? Personalmente en la Universidad tuve que lidiar con el profesor “liso y lujurioso”  y les aseguro no fui la única.

Recuerdo claramente como en primer año de la universidad, una compañera entró llorando al salón de clases, cansada del acoso de un profesor. Resulta que básicamente todas las mujeres que estábamos en el salón habíamos recibido algún tipo de insinuación de parte de este individuo, pero a pesar de lo común de la situación, no existía ningún mecanismo de conocimiento público para denunciarlo.

 

La Ley cuando se refiere a políticas públicas, habla de programas educativos y hace énfasis en que se requiere un enfoque multidisciplinario para la situación.  Es importante mencionar que en otros países, se han presentado iniciativas legislativas de este tipo.

No es mi intención analizar toda la Ley, ni entrar a discutir si las sanciones son excesivas, muy bajas o demás, el objetivo es reflexionar sobre la reacción del público.

Muchos de mis contactos en distintas redes sociales, hombres y mujeres manifestaron lo ridículo de la medida,  otros indicaron que el piropo es un halago, una muestra de apreciación del hombre hacia la mujer. Sobre este último comentario en particular, lo primero que tenemos que hacer es ser honestos.

Esta Ley no se refiere a un comentario agradable o cumplido, acoso callejero, hostigamiento es lo que vivimos a diario las mujeres de todas las edades; que un hombre te siga en su carro diciendo todo lo que te hará en la noche, que un tipo desde un edificio en construcción te grite barbaridades. La línea que separa uno del otro es clara y querer justificar una acción como esta, bajo premisas de galantería es mucho más ridículo que cualquier iniciativa legal o social para atacar el problema.

Algo curioso del machismo es que hemos vivido tanto tiempo bajo estos patrones, que las mujeres toleramos actitudes que NO son normales y que constituyen una agresión. Muchas mujeres comentaban en las redes sociales “yo me defiendo sola”. En mi caso, la mayor parte del tiempo ignoro los “piropos”, pero en ocasiones son tan ofensivos y la sensación es tan desagradable que uno contesta. El simple hecho de defenderte o sentir la necesidad de hacerlo demuestra que es una agresión.

Para mí el piropo vulgar y ofensivo, es una pequeña muestra de ese sentimiento de titularidad del hombre hacia la mujer. Muchas mujeres están tan acostumbradas a esto que piensan es algo folclórico, por llamarlo de alguna manera. Seamos claros, no es lo mismo que un hombre le diga a una mujer que tiene una bonita sonrisa mientras se toman un café versus lo que escuchamos todos los días en las calles. Esto es frustrante, desde nuestra adolescencia tenemos que manejar esta situación y no hay nada que lo justifique, más que decir, así son las cosas ni modo.

Recuerdo en una ocasión estaba en la línea del banco, este individuo ha comenzado a “piropear” a una muchacha, que quizás para su fortuna entendió la mitad de lo que él dijo, pues hablaba español y ella inglés, este tipo describió su fantasía sexual con ella en plena línea del banco. Como podemos justificar esta conducta y porque tenemos que tolerarla?

Vivimos en sociedad,  hemos evolucionado desde la época de las cavernas hasta ahora y continuaremos avanzando. Durante este proceso debemos recordar un elemento básico de la convivencia social “Mi libertad se termina dónde comienza la de los demás”, como bien dijo Jean-Paul Sastre, tenemos que respetarnos, si es necesario crear marcos legales para garantizar esto, para crear conciencia y generar discusión pues que así sea.

Invito tanto a hombres como mujeres a reflexionar lo que representan realmente esas palabras “los piropos”, entendamos que la reacción no debe ser “yo me defiendo sola”, lo ideal es que detengamos esa conducta cuya reacción es la defensa. Tenemos que despertar EXIGIR respeto e inculcarlo a las nuevas generaciones.

 

P.S. Abajo algunos  videos curiosos sobre acoso callejero

https://youtu.be/v6PtZxX9Ygc

https://youtu.be/SJuTk1p1REA

https://youtu.be/1_Um8OYEVVc

https://youtu.be/TVfyxNLkXdc

Universidad en CRISIS

En esta ocasión no escribiré sobre igualdad de género, pues quiero dedicar unas líneas a otro asunto de igual importancia.

Desde hace meses venía dando seguimiento a la disputa del profesor Miguel Antonio Bernal contra el rector Gustavo García de Paredes. Un buen día leo en las noticias que el profesor Bernal había sido expulsado de la Facultad de Derecho. Sin entrar a discutir la figura polémica del profesor Bernal, algo que no se le puede negar, por lo menos basado en mi experiencia, es su calidad como docente y el amor que siente por la Universidad. El profesor Bernal  siempre fue puntual en sus clases y distinto a muchos profesores de la Facultad de Derecho, su método de enseñanza incentiva  el pensamiento analítico y crítico que tanta falta hace en nuestra sociedad.

Luego recibo vía Facebook un video del profesor Graciano Pereira, quien también es un docente muy comprometido, enfrascado en una discusión pública con el Decano.  Esto fue sorprendente,  no recuerdo haber visto algo así durante mi tiempo como estudiante.

Finalmente hace unas semanas visité la Facultad de Derecho, pues tuve que solicitar documentos en  la famosa Colina y aproveche para dar un paseo por mi querida alma máter.  El sentimiento fue una mezcla entre nostalgia, tristeza y orgullo.

Nostalgia pues recordé todas las veces que recorrí esos pasillos subiendo escaleras; tristeza por el estado de la facultad. Las paredes llenas de moho, el patio interno parece más una muestra de la flora y fauna de Panamá que un campus universitario. Pregunté a antiguos compañeros quien era el actual Decano, para mi asombro el profesor Gilberto Boutin ocupa el cargo, jamás imagine que quien siempre compartió con sus estudiantes las maravillas de las universidades francesas y el amor por la Universidad de Panamá, descuidara de esa forma la facultad.

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Orgullo pues he sido admitida para cursar estudios de Maestría en varias universidades en Estados Unidos. Mi recorrido por la Facultad de Derecho, fue justo después de un viaje corto donde visité dichas instituciones. Cuando regresé a la facultad pensé… si con tan poco podemos alcanzar tanto y competir en los más altos niveles académicos, que podríamos hacer los panameños con una Universidad acorde con las exigencias globales?

Y es esta mi reflexión, muchas veces no analizamos el rol de la Universidad de Panamá y de la educación en general.  Muchos países que han logrado impulsar su economía, lo han conseguido entre otros factores mediante importantes inversiones en educación.

Las universidades capacitan la mano de obra de un país, el resultado de una educación deficiente es una mano de obra igual deficiente. Muchos no quieren ver la realidad en la que vivimos y se mantienen en una negación, pensando que la globalización es solo poder tener productos que digan made in U.S.A. o China. Señores, la globalización significa movilidad laboral. Ese fenómeno del que tanto nos quejamos aquí en Panamá es parte de la economía actual y NO va a cambiar.

Veo como en la Ciudad del Saber se ofrecen maestrías y carreras en asociación con instituciones extranjeras, otorgan doble titulación y demás, lo cual favorece a muchas personas. Sin embargo, me pregunto si esto no es algo que debería liderar la Universidad de Panamá? Seguimos con planes viejos, infraestructuras que dejan mucho que desear y debemos recordar que es allí donde acude la mayor parte de la población panameña. Entonces mientras algunos pueden ir a la Ciudad del Saber y otros buscan los medios (incluso mediante préstamos) para estudiar en el extranjero, la mayoría sigue invirtiendo años en una carrera que probablemente ya está desfasada, eso como consecuencia trae una disparidad social aún mayor.

En el caso particular de los abogados, cuando converso con colegas me comentan lo difícil que es conseguir asistentes legales, como reciben hojas de vida de abogados aplicando a puestos de pasantes, aun así no creo que exista una universidad en Panamá que no ofrezca la carrera de Derecho.  Podemos seguir pensando como decíamos antes, que el que es bueno se prueba en la calle y demás, pero la realidad es que cuando hay mucha oferta de un producto los precios bajan pues es un mercado saturado, la mala práctica de algunos profesionales afecta al gremio en general. Si la Universidad de Panamá no se toma el trabajo de regular las carreras en base a las demandas del mercado y ejercer su función fiscalizadora, pienso que el Colegio Nacional de Abogados debería proponer examen de barra o algún tipo de control, tal cual existe en otros países.

La Prensa publico la noticia del proyecto de Ley presentado por la diputada Ana Matilde Gómez ante el pleno de la Asamblea Nacional, indica la nota que el mismo busca impedir la reelección de las autoridades de la Universidad de Panamá.  Considero este es un primer paso, la Universidad de Panamá necesita una revisión integral, autoridades, planes, se necesita sangre nueva con deseos de innovación y con una visión clara de lo que necesita el país. Personas comprometidas a mejorar la mano de obra nacional.

En general, debemos ser críticos, aceptar nuestras debilidades y mejorar.  Si una empresa necesita un gerente que hable inglés y en Panamá no lo consigue, pues lo van a traer de afuera; no podemos quejarnos y decir que me quitaron la plaza de trabajo cuando yo no califico para la misma. Este comentario es sin ánimo de discutir el tema migratorio que levanta tantas pasiones.

Algunos me dicen que no puedo comparar la Universidad de Panamá con universidades de otros países por el costo. Considero que tienen cierto grado de razón, pero OJO, esto es parte de ser autosuficientes y realmente autónomos. Autoridades con mentes innovadoras y emprendedoras pueden diseñar mecanismos para que la Universidad reciba ingresos generados por sus profesores, estudiantes mediante investigación y demás, de manera que puedan impartir educación de calidad.

Los estudiantes de la Universidad de Panamá deben recibir una educación de calidad ese es su derecho. Como país debemos exigir un sistema educativo integral que nos prepare para un mercado global.

Education vs. Stereotypes

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Photo credit: DFATD | MAECD / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

It is true, time has changed. If we compare those years when women did not have the right to vote or access to education to our current situation, we can say mission accomplished, we are done! But the reality is different and there’s still a lot to be done.

First, a question for women living in a society with equal rights and no gender discrimination; how many times has someone called you selfish because you want to study and grow professionally? Well, I will have to raise my hand.

Since high school, I always wanted to study abroad. I also suffer from what some people call wanderlust.  So when I was offered a job in British Virgin Islands, I took it without hesitation.   It was the perfect treatment for my wanderlust and an excellent opportunity for my career.

I did not receive many negative comments regarding my decision. I few people asked why do I have to move? Are you ready to live alone? Honestly nothing too dramatic.

I was twenty something at the time, things changed a little bit when I turned 30, the questions were more family related, are you planning to have a family, what about a husband? which I found absolutely ridiculous.

After years living abroad, I decided it was time to follow that dream from high school. About two years ago I started the process, it is a long period just for planning, but I needed time to find the right school, scholarships and most importantly, to be emotionally prepared to get out of my comfort zone.

One day, during a casual conversation with a friend, I shared what for me was amazing news, I was admitted to a Master program, I was finally moving to the United States to study.

His reaction was shocking! The first question, another degree why? What for? I couldn’t believe that someone was actually questioning my decision of pursuing a Master’s Degree. In this competitive world you can’t stop, that does not mean you need 10 Masters and 5 PhD, but you have to study, go to seminars, get some certifications; whatever applies to your career.

I thought, well maybe he is surprised because we work in different fields, I don’t know. I was trying to understand and then he said “well I guess you do not want a family”, “your partner and your relationship are not your priority”. Oh boy!!!! That was it! Yes, some women do not want a family just as some men do not want to get married but this has nothing to do with having a career, these are choices in life.

I was so mad, it is not the first time I hear the dilemma between family and career, which by the way, does not make any sense. I am so sick and tired of the stereotype that a professional woman equals lonely woman who does not want or does not deserve to have a family.

I will never say such a strong statement to anybody, woman or man, who wants to improve her or his career.

Everybody is free to live their lives in the way they want without affecting third parties, why a woman who wants to grow professionally, who wants to study has to be seen as selfish? I said to myself, maybe he is living in the Mad Men era, who knows.

I am of the opinion that getting educated is a great proof of love to your family, to your partner and to yourself.

For those who are married, usually a better job means an increase of income, which will benefit the entire family, Am I correct? Education is one of the requirements to obtain a good job.

Also, we are individuals outside our relationships, a person with dreams, interests, and hobbies. It is not about which one goes first, I don’t believe that is a healthy approach. The idea is to have a balanced life, if you have to crush your dreams and aspirations what kind of life are you living?

Let’s open our minds, the stereotype that a professional or educated woman equals to a selfish person  who does not want or deserve a family, is far from reality. Stop asking those questions about family, which one is more important, marriage or career? Start supporting your partner, your daughter, your mom or your sister. Keep in mind,  society needs  women’s involvement  in so many aspects.

For those women who do not care about stereotypes, let’s continue our journey. There are little girls around the world fighting to get education, we must appreciate the opportunity we have and keep showing by example all the wonderful things women can do!

Have you ever experienced something similar? Leave your comments and thoughts.

P.S.  Below some links with information about girls and education, also I would like to recommend a documentary called Girl Rising  (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2444946/)  

http://www.ungei.org/whatisungei/index_211.html

http://plan-international.org/girls/reports-and-publications/the-state-of-the-worlds-girls-2014.php?lang=es

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/09/opinion/global/girls-who-risk-their-lives-for-education.html?_r=0

http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/ED/GMR/images/2011/girls-factsheet-en.pdf

http://girlrising.pearsonfoundation.org/downloads/GR_Curriculum_Resources_STATISTICS.pdf?pdf=GR_Curriculum_Resources_STATISTICS

The Cleavage Advice

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Women-in-Office


Something happened a few weeks ago that first surprised me and then made think how we might be playing with double standards.

Everything started with a short notice to attend a meeting with a potential client. I did not have enough time to prepare for it, about 30 minutes before the meeting I googled him. Turned out, he is a well-recognized lawyer, public speaker, the full package. I thought OMG why did I google him?  Perhaps ignorance will prevent a panic attack.

I shared my hysterical moment with some friends, their advice was  “smile to everything he says and wear a dress with nice cleavage”. This came from both male and female.

I couldn’t stop thinking, how today when we are fighting for equality, trying to demonstrate that women are as capable as men, we still have this mentality. Even as a joke, we must be careful with the message we are sending.

Am I overreacting… maybe, but what would  your reaction be if a male colleague, who is in excellent shape, goes to a meeting with an open shirt so we can see his chest and abs?

Although the situation is not exactly the same, the intention behind the action is the same. The attention received is based on your look, rather than your knowledge on a particular matter.

I am not saying that we have to wear long dresses, neither that someone covered head to toes with clothes is more capable than a woman with a big cleavage nor that women have to dress like men to cover her femininity.

In my opinion, if we do not want to be treated as objects, we should not use our look to get attention in a professional environment. Otherwise, we are playing with double standards.  In one side, we want to be respected based on our qualifications and at the same time we are flirting.

It could be tempting, it seems easy, everybody will be distracted and you will get some attention. Even though it might work with some people, this attitude can backfire badly.

We should ask ourselves, how would I like to be remembered? As the woman with a big cleavage or nice legs, who might be a good date, or as this smart, capable woman who is perfect for the job and is an asset for any organization.

In the same way how we raise our voices asking for equal treatment, we have to accept the responsibility that comes with it, understand that our words must be supported by our actions.

Some people may argue that men have to control themselves and we can wear whatever we want, I agree with that until certain extend, but everything has a place and a moment.

The sexual attraction will always exist; you can meet the love of your life in a business meeting, why not. Regardless, if we want to be taken seriously, we must forget the smile and cleavage advice and keep those sexy outfits outside the office, women do not need that to succeed.

Should I wear a ring…?

This idea of wearing a ring came to my mind with a couple of questions, why should I do that? and how many women have experienced sexual harassment?

As part of my job I have to attend conferences and networking events. I went to a regional conference in the Caribbean; my goal was to make some good connections, nothing new right?

The first day I accepted a dinner invitation from a banker to discuss products and business opportunities; which is pretty common in this type of events.  However, he started to act different, following me everywhere; I was not able to interact with other people because of him. Therefore, I decided to cancel the dinner/meeting.

I ended having a quick bite with a colleague, I told him what happened, how bad I felt, maybe I made a wrong business decision because of my defensive mood. His advice…you should wear an engagement ring. My answer, but I am not engaged, why should I do that? He told me that a couple of female friends were doing that to prevent, as much as possible, these situations. I just laughed and said to myself I am not doing that. 

The next day, I met a lawyer in his late 50s; we shared a table with some other professionals. Later that day, we were all invited to dinner.

What happened next was an unpleasant surprise. During dinner, he started to ask me questions, first work related and after personal questions; if I was married, why I was not married. I handled the situation with a strong attitude, which I thought was clear enough to make my point  …”I was not interested”. 

Back at the hotel, he insisted in having a “last drink” I said NO, the situation was so uncomfortable, here I was telling NO in all possible ways and this guy decided to ignore it. I jumped from the elevator and ran to my room.

Later, I checked my e-mails and…voila… a message from this “colleague” telling me how impressed he was with me and that he truly regrets that we did not have a “last drink”.

Next day I was desperate to go home, I left early to the airport as I did not want to see this guy anymore.

During the flight, I was thinking… the first thing I will do once I get back is buying a ring. I thought about this experience, I was disgusted and frustrated.

The truth is we do not have to buy a ring; why women have to pretend something, because for some men it is too difficult to understand that we are professionals and they have no other choice but to respect that.

This happens all the time, what can we do about it? We can talk, but not just with other women, we need to include men. Thankfully not all men are like this one, those are the ones we must reach to create conscience and change their mentality.

How I see things, you can’t let this behavior stop you from achieving your goals, we have to teach them and move forward. 

When I shared this with a friend, she said…well that is why we are getting better positions little by little; they are thinking in an “affair” we are thinking in business.

For me is not a competition between men and women, it is about respect, plain and simple.

So, NO, I will not wear a ring, I am moving forward.