Alumni Spotlight: Lisa Graf


Lisa is a 19-year-old from Germany who recently finished high school, and has spend time living and working in Bocas del Toro, Panamá.

Why did you choose this program?

I want to study Spanish and languages in the future at university and I've also wanted to visit Central America. I chose a country where Spanish is the main language, so I could learn how to speak fluently.

Additionally, I always wanted to work with kids, so I was really interested in the school project that was offered and involved teaching little children.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

My program provider, an organization from Germany called "Multikultur", helped me with planning my trip. They also helped me learn more about "Habla Ya", the Spanish lessons offered there, and assisted me with finding my volunteer project and my host family.

I also learned a lot on my own by surfing the Internet, and the information on the Habla Ya website. When I arrived in Bocas, I was picked up and was brought to Habla Ya and my host family.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

When it comes to a long trip and traveling on your own to an unknown country, it is important to try to organize almost everything from your home country, because then you will feel safer and you can be sure someone will care about you and support you when you arrive.

The best thing you can do is being open to everything, because it might be completely different than expected, yet still an unforgettable experience.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

When I took Spanish lessons at Habla Ya, class started at 8 am. I had breakfast first thing in the morning at my host's house and then walked to school or took the bike. I had classes until noon, and afterwards Habla Ya offers a lot of activities to join, both during the week and also the weekends.

For example, we could take surf lessons, salsa courses, visit different beaches, and coffee plantations. There are a lot of different activities students can sign up for!

When my volunteer work started I had to take the watertaxi to the other island, and had the opportunity to spend time with the indigenous children from 8 am to 12pm.

After school, I always loved to spend time at Habla Ya. I felt very welcome there and made a lot of friends. In the evenings my host family, which I love a lot, prepared dinner and we talked about our days.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

One of my biggest fears was getting homesick, feeling lonely and that I might not like the life and the culture, because I knew before that it would be totally different for me.

I think those are fears anyone who is traveling for a long time deals with. But after one week in Bocas all my fears were gone, because I felt welcome from the first day. I lived with other students, so it was easy to keep in touch and make friends quickly.

It is important to believe in yourself, to enjoy each day and not to get caught up in your fears, then you will be open for anything and anyone, and then there is no way that you will suffer.

What did you learn during your time abroad?

I wouldn't change anything I did, because everything I experienced here was a new life lesson, and never a loss or a fault.

This trip changed my life and my whole view I had about the world, it made me a better person.

It taught me to appreciate every day, and being thankful for little things, like for a smile from a little school kid when you buy him an apple. The volunteer work showed me that you are special just the way you you are, and when you're kind you will also be accepted for the person you are, and you can make a little kid's life better just by showing them attention and respect.

I had the chance to meet so many different nationalities and it helped me to understand how people from other countries think and live, and that we are literally all the same and you can be the friend of anyone, independent from where they are from.

You learn how to solve problems by yourself, how to react to new situations and how to be independent, positive, and strong.