Who are you?
My name is Olivia Ohlen also known as “The Positive Expat”.
I have always been an expat and a nomad, having studied, set up “homes”, raised children, and developed a career in several countries since age 14. Originally from New Caledonia (French), my family moved to Australia and from there my need for a nomadic lifestyle has taken me to the U.S.A, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, France, Madagascar, Canada and today Panama.
My husband and I are involved in the Mining Industry and we work on projects throughout the world. The construction of a copper mine in the centre of the Isthmus has brought us to Panama for a period of at least 4 years.
My vocation is counselling and coaching individuals from all walks of life, countries, age groups, religions and cultures. I LOVE working with local communities and expatriates who come together for a common purposeMoving countries is always challenging on so many different levels. There is a process that is unavoidable every time no matter how experienced you are.
My most difficult challenge is being patient with myself and accepting that making a “home” in a new country takes time. We arrived in Panama with two suitcases full of winter clothes as we had just spent 3 months in Canada prior to our Mobilising.
We had to find an apartment, a car, furniture, clothes, dishes, everything!… and we brought our dog with us!
How did you find somewhere to live?
I did some extensive research online to get an idea of prices and neighbourhoods. We wanted to be close to the office as we realized quickly that traffic in Panama City is a real problem. We also hired a relocation agent to help us make appointments with real estate agents and settle leases etc…
Noise and traffic are big issues in Panama City caused by the building boom so the choices were narrowed down to just a couple of neighbourhoods. The leasing process went very smoothly with the realtor and landlord and we were able to sign a 4 year lease.
Are there many expats in your area?
There are many expats living in Panama City today and as a French and English speaker, I can find associations, activities and expat groups of all kinds. It is refreshing to find French expats here who have really made Panama their home and feel very integrated into the culture. I have met quite a few already and also have friends who have come for the mining project as well and we are able to help each other whenever we can. We are a small bunch of nomads from every nationality travelling together. This makes the adaptation quite a lot more pleasurable.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
I find Panamanians to be extremely friendly and polite. I never feel that my basic Spanish is a burden and there is a genuine effort to help.
Because I volunteer, I very quickly develop relationships with locals and I make a point of exploring their customs and idiosyncrasies. I never let language be a barrier in my interactions.
As a culture, the people of Panama are welcoming, accepting of different races, values, languages as they themselves are mix of cultures and races.
What do I like about my life in Panama?
I like the freedom of expression and movement that I feel here. Having lived in some cultures where freedoms are limited, I truly appreciate the fact that I can be and do what I please.
I have many hobbies and I can find materials and classes and like minded people to enjoy those with.
There are many volunteering opportunities as well which suit me and where I feel I can be of assistance.
I can practice my profession, learn a new language, shop in top class boutiques, get top medical care, eat fantastic food, have sunshine every day and make friends from every nationality. There are amazing travel destinations nearby for a reasonable price which can keep us busy for quite a while.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
It’s a double edge sword. The adventure, travel, constant change, meeting new friends and discovering new cultures are wonderful and could not give them up. The other side is, I miss my family, the wonderful friends I leave behind, the time of adaptation, the homesickness, the desire to belong fully somewhere.
What do you think of the food in your new country? Likes and dislikes?
Panama City has some amazing restaurants by world standards. Every cuisine is represented here. This is a culture of dining out, wine bars, tapas and general enjoyment and degustation.
My personal favourite in local food is the ceviche (raw fish marinated in lemon). The fruit also is to die for; mango and pineapple are divine!
My least favourite are the heavy deep fried corn based foods which are hard to digest.
What advice would you give anyone following in your footsteps?
Come and visit first.
Research your neighbourhoods carefully as commuting to work can be a real nightmare.
Learn the language
Don’t compare to “back home”
Bring your furniture if you can.
What are your plans for the future?
For the next four years we plan to make Panama our “home”, open my coaching and counselling practice, volunteer in NGO’s, travel through South America, become fluent in Spanish.
After that, que sera sera?
Olivia Ohlen is a Psychologist and Executive Lifecoach by profession working with local communities in mining and expat counselling.
You may contact Olivia through the following channels: