When you’re considering a move to Panama (or anywhere else you might move overseas), having the chance to hear other expats’ stories and experiences is incredibly helpful. What they have learned might be useful as you look at different areas of Panama, and consider whether Panama is right for you (or not).
Meet Chad W. Darroch from El Valle
Today, it’s a pleasure to publish an interview from Chad W. Darroch, a Canadian chap, who’s originally from the Toronto, Ontario area of North America.
Chad and I had the pleasure of meeting on Google+ with the obvious connection being that we both live in Panama as expats. Chad says he’s “more of a writer than a talker” and preferred to answer my interview questions in writing rather than to speak in person, so some of the responses you’ll read by Chad here may be summarized for brevity. (And, I do allow my Panama expat interviewees to review the final written interview copy before it’s posted here to ensure that they are okay with it.)
What’s Expat Life in Panama really like?
Having lived in Panama “more on than off” since 2003, I think it’s safe to say that Chad has a pretty good feel for Panama. His more than 10 years bests my own almost-seven on the Isthmus, anyway. And, because our questions and answers turned into more than 1500 words from stem to stern, I’ll be publishing this over the next few days as a number of separate blog posts, so that they don’t get too long. (We all know that shorter blog posts are an easier read…)
And, here’s the expat interview….
Elizabeth Vance: Chad, it’s so nice to connect one-on-one after all the +s and shares on Google+ for almost two years. Thanks again for agreeing to share your Panama life story with the Panama Gringo Guide readership.
Chad W. Darroch: Thanks for the opportunity, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth: Chad, you said that you’re from a little town outside Toronto. Were you a farm kid growing up in Canada?
Chad: My family didn’t farm, but our little town (Fergus & Elora) sure did – it was very rural; for half of my childhood most of my neighbors were cornfields. In recent decades, though, it’s become something of a commoditized tourist hotspot and popular fly-fishing destination for its ‘quaint little village’ feel and the nearby Elora Gorge park.
Elizabeth: I’ve never personally been to Toronto, Chad, but for our North American gringo readers, how might you distinguish Canada from the U.S., in your opinion?
Chad: These days I see a lot more similarities than differences, since the two nations are in similar boats with similar struggles and share identical modern culture (certain social issues aside). The strong and nuanced culture I remember is long gone; supplanted by a Wal-Mart and a pair of same-old strip malls. But maybe that’s just nostalgia talking.
Elizabeth: Where do you live in Panama?
Chad: Right now and for the foreseeable future, I live in El Valle de Antón. Previously, my wife – who is Panamanian – and I have lived in Penonomé (Coclé, in the interior) and Bocas del Toro (on the Caribbean side of Panama).
Elizabeth: Is Panama your first expat experience, or have you lived in other countries beside Canada in the past?
Chad: Panama is the only place I’ve ever lived outside of Canada.
Elizabeth: What was it that brought you to Panama originally?
Chad: Well… romantically speaking, I abhor consumerism. In practice, I’m simply not into chasing the Ever More Stuff lifestyle, or the monotonous corporate grind that seems to come with it.
Elizabeth: Does that mean you came to Panama in search of a simpler lifestyle?
Chad: Indirectly, yes. I value experience over the material, and I feel like I can live a life that more closely reflects my vision here. I never truly connected with my birth-culture because its values do not align with mine, and I felt limited in life by its incessant machinations.
Coming to Panama in the first place was a totally random convergence: in my final year of college, I saw an ad on a bulletin board (“Panama-Dolphins-Something-Something”) and I went for it. So my first visit was just a students’ tour: one week traveling the mainland and another in the islands of Bocas del Toro.
Elizabeth: Did something happen to you on this trip that made you decide to move to Panama?
Chad: Yep: the first of three thoughts. As the days wound down, I found myself standing on the upper balcony of a hotel in Bocas, watching the sun rise over the Caribbean Sea. I’ll always remember the moment I thought “how long will it be until I see something like this again; until I feel so alive and free? How many years? …ever?”
Elizabeth: Panama made quite an impression on you, then, it sounds like! Especially Bocas.
Chad: It sure did. The color, the variety, the intensity of it all… I was totally starstruck. And that made returning to Canada (in the middle of February, no less) even more drab and depressing than normal. A few months later, post-graduation, I’d discovered that the ‘grind’ was exactly like I imagined it (a far cry from how I pictured life in Panama – and nothing like it turned out to be).
Elizabeth: Can you share more on that – these things you feel like your Panama lifestyle has brought you?
Chad: Full disclosure: at first it was all about the beach and carefree island living. Woohoo! Simple and shallow. But I discovered something way cooler; way more important than that, although to be honest it took me a few years (and a couple of extended trips back to Canada) to figure it out.
Living in Panama provides a feeling of personal freedom I hadn’t even identified as ‘missing’. I feel more empowered; healthier; much happier. We’re able to independently enjoy a clean, pristine environment and live a natural, active life with comparatively little effort. These are choices I didn’t even have access to before – not without a lifetime’s worth of money (or debt).
And, when I say ‘clean’, I really meant literal cleanliness – Ontario is very polluted. I spent my childhood swimming in the river, jumping off the waterfall. Can’t do that now; toxic runoff. Can only eat certain amounts of the fish… When I was a kid you could see Toronto, over 100km away, from the top of a high hill. Now they have “Smog alert days” where the kids don’t go to school… etc. I can really feel the “clean” when I return from a visit there.
Elizabeth: And, it was this desire for a more natural, clean lifestyle – a freer life less dependent on ‘stuff’ – that originally inspired your move to Panama?
Chad: You got it! Of course in the beginning I really only had eyes for tropical weather and the clear blue sea – plenty for a 20-something; I’d worry about the rest later. And though it was pretty freaky to just pack up and take off, it ended up being the best decision I’ve ever made…
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Because this interview turned out to be longer than planned, I’m breaking it into two blog posts. Look for that second one in the next few days, and I’ll also link it here, once it’s live.
And, special thanks to Chad for sharing his personal photos of Panama for this piece!
You have probably noticed from the writing above that Chad – in his answers – is both a unique and gifted writer. You can connect with him on Google+ here, or see his profile on O Desk, if you’re interested in contacting him about working for you.
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Meanwhile, you might wish to check out the other Panama expat interviews and Panama expat lifestyle pieces we’ve featured in the past year or so:
- Retiree Bella Williams – formerly of Boquete
- Semi-retirees Suzanne Perkins & her husband who came to Panama for affordability (& just recently returned to the US)
- A 30-something young couple who moved to Panama for a simpler family life
- The young professional Skylar Ralston who started YEP! Panama (Young Expats in Panama), and
- Jackie Smith who came to Panama with her husband two years ago.
Finally, if you did not have time yet to catch the Live Hangout last week about the Panama Expat Lifestyle, click here to hear it on YouTube. I took listener’s questions and responded to them, as part of the program.