Renée Ramirez
Renée Ramirez
Panama, 2022-2023
My name is Renée and I’m spending a year in Panamá working with Fundación Calicanto. Calicanto is a Panamanian organization combatting gender-based violence through social and economic empowerment programs. I’m a Nashville girl and graduated from Belmont in 2021 with a double major in Entrepreneurship and Economics. This is such a privilege, thanks for following along! Read More About Renée →


Hi everyone! Breaking my normal blog structure to share some reflections on my time so far. May 18th just marked four months of being in Panama; it is wild to me how quickly life can change.

Every day I am filled with gratitude to be able to live my life here in Panama. I have a safe place to live, meaningful and inspiring work to do, growing friendships, activities and sports to participate in, a mature spiritual community, and margin to rest and learn. This experience has been such a gift to me and I am filled with anticipation for the next 8 months of my Lumos experience. Because some of my long-term goals involve working within Latin America, I have never viewed this move as just a trip, but rather as the start of a new season in my life.

Personally, I’ve been learning a lot too. Simply being in a new city has pushed me to be more engaged and outgoing. Rebuilding a community in a new place means I need to be actively engaged as I relate to people, be friendly, initiate conversations, and let go of my default mode of being quiet. I’ve noticed my reflex of saying less out of fear of talking too much has changed. I’m learning how to let other people get to know who I am and openly communicate what type of person I am without feeling bad about talking about myself. Speaking in Spanish and being the new person in almost every environment has helped with this a lot. I am stronger, more mature, and more confident which I think comes with the territory of moving to a new country.

I’m learning a lot about my surroundings as well. I gain new Spanish vocabulary every week which is fun and very useful. Recently I’ve learned about the production of Geisha coffee in Panama, the circular food industry, the history of protests and government participation, spatial injustice through the development of urban areas, international influences on the culture in Panama, and the history of Colón. I am grateful for this margin in my life to learn and further develop skills. Right now I am reading a historical account on the Panama Canal (which is fascinating) and finally tackling my 14-year rhythm struggle on the guitar.

I am learning how to work well, taking note of the times of day I am most productive, incorporating walks and breaks into my days, and letting go of what I’m guessing is American guilt that I am not being productive enough. And what can I say about my work except that it is such a privilege to be able to design processes and programs to serve women more effectively. I am honing design thinking skills, learning about the importance of psychological support in empowerment, the best ways to include beneficiaries in our work,  and understanding how professional relationships are conducted in Latin America.

The other day I remembered an article I read at 14 about nonprofits offering vocational training for women working as prostitutes in developing countries. I was so touched and inspired that I tore the pages out of the magazine, wrote on a sticky note, “God will you use me to change this?” and put it in a drawer to read and reread often. A lot of time and hard life experiences have passed since those days, but I have been reminded recently why I was so passionate about working in the nonprofit and community development world. It is becoming clear again that vocationally, I want my work to center on supporting women and young adults experiencing economic vulnerability in Latin America. That could look like a variety of things in the future, but taking my background and strengths into account will likely involve developing small business training resources, creating educational curriculums and programs, along with advocacy, economic research, and policy writing. Anything could happen!

In summary, I am seeing renewal in my life. Something I am so grateful for and something I have very much needed. Navigating my  20s is still hard, living with grief is still hard, and being far from some of my favorite people is hard. But my cup is very much overflowing. Thanks for following along and thanks for cheering me on.

I hope you’re doing well!


P.S. We just started implementing the follow-up process I designed for Calicanto and have gotten REALLY excellent feedback from the cohort! I’m writing a blog post for the foundation that I’ll link in my next Lumos post so you can understand what I’ve been working on recently.

P.P.S. Maybe the biggest highlight of my life thus far is that I scored a goal with a header playing soccer with friends last week. What a thrill!


Sweet, Normal Life Here in Panama

Hi everyone! The last couple of weeks have been pretty low-key. Have gotten into a steady rhythm of work, weekly sports meetups, and spending time with friends. Sharing a brief update here.
Highlights recently have been
  • Finding a yoga studio close to my home.
  • Watching friends participate in a surf competition.
  • New coffee shop opening at the end of my street.
  • Babysitting my Ps. daughters for a weekend.

Current Projects
My focus the last couple of weeks has been on the data side of Seguimientos. The goal is to create a process flow for all of the follow-up data we receive to give us the clearest understanding of the effectiveness of our programs. One of the tensions I am managing with this particular project is working to create a mostly-automated process (auto-populating data, conditional formatting, custom logic) without paying for automation platforms or 3rd party platforms. I did a lot of internal system development for my job before Lumos so have a good foundation to streamline this final part of the follow-up process. Though I can do it well, working with data can often feel like a big puzzle and is something I often find draining – I much prefer people-facing work. It is super important however and can save so much time, money, and mistakes that come with manual data entry. I have been spending more time in coffee shops the last couple of weeks to create a fun work environment. Finishing up this part of the project this week and then will move on to something brand new which is exciting!


Something New

A new coffee shop opened up at the end of my street and it has been such a fun addition to my weekly routine. I met the owner’s wife at their original location last month and was super excited when she mentioned they were opening a new spot – even more excited when I discovered it was on my street. The space reminds me a lot of Portland Brew back in Nashville (my favorite coffee shop) and the staff is so friendly. It is a perfect walking distance from my apartment too. Have been learning a bit about Panamanian coffee through my new barista friends and it is so interesting. Panama is in the ‘bean belt’ of Central America and has hundreds of microclimates meaning it has all of these different climate conditions (high elevation, volcanic soil, steady rainstorms, etc.) that create unique and complex flavor profiles. I spent a year in college developing a coffee business with a couple of friends and it’s been fun to learn more about what makes Panamanian coffee so special. Looking forward to learning more while I’m here.

I recently took on co-leadership for the church plant’s worship team and am excited to help structure, grow, and steward the small team that we have. Leading worship was a large part of my life growing up and something that has changed and matured as I have over the years. I really enjoy creating and leading small teams and am excited to lead this team from behind – facilitating a safe and grounded environment, supporting them with practical tools, and giving them space to lead themselves and others. Since moving, I have had more time to invest in non-work things and am getting to practice more which has been a really fun thing. Currently diving back into the world of theory and searching for a used keyboard!

Something I’m Grateful for

I am slowly getting connected to the food scene here in Panama which has been so fun. Have become friends with a couple of cooks + foodies and am attending a circular food pop-up tomorrow hosted by some local chefs. They are creating dishes with 0 waste – using every part of the ingredients. It should be really cool!

That’s all for now amigos,



April Update

Hola, hola, hola!
Highlights recently have been
  • Weekly volleyball (and now soccer) games.
  • A spear-fishing trip to Las Perlas.
  • My pastor from Nashville visiting for a day.
  • The first graduation of the year with Calicanto.
Current Projects

 I just presented my first project to the Calicanto team today! As mentioned previously it was an evaluation and structuring of the follow-up process (Seguimientos) for their main program. This was the first step in restructuring the Conexiones program and will serve as a backbone for the rest of the program’s development in the coming months.

Sharing an overview of what I actually did so you can understand my world a bit better:
  • Refined their key performance indicators, determining the content, structure, and method of the data we collect.
  • Designed presentations, program flows, operating documents, and engagement resources to support the implementation of their new program format for 4 follow-up intervals.
  • Wrote discussion questions, designed engagement activities, module outlines, and pre + post checklists across 4 follow-up intervals for both their female and male programs.
  • Organized everything on Google Drive (what a dream!)
  • Presented all resources to our team in Spanish.

I am finishing up final edits this week (incorporating moments to receive help on a case-by-case basis and access other foundation resources) and then I’ll be done with my first project! The last couple of months have been filled with a lot of foundational work to understand the team, program, and goals of this specific program and organization. That’s looked like a LOT of research, interviews, prototyping, reading, and meetings. There were many times when I felt lost in the weeds, but I have learned over the last few years working in development that in those moments it is important to continue to get input from outside resources and take small steps forward. It feels gratifying to see my project ‘to-do’ list whittled down and even more exciting to be providing a resource that will save the team time, provide guiding structure, and meet their needs.

*Just want to note that leading Collegiate DECA at Belmont prepared me enormously for this type of work. Being able to synthesize and communicate information in an attractive, concise, and timely manner through presentations is a skill that has been absolutely essential to my work post-grad. Vale la pena chicos!

On another work note, we celebrated the graduation of CAPTA 60 last week! Close to 30 graduates came to our in-person ceremony to be recognized for their hard work and receive their diplomas. It was truly such a joyful time!! I was touched seeing so many women come together to celebrate and encourage one another – what a delight to be able to serve and support them!

Scroll down for some photos of the graduation and check out our website to read more about the CAPTA program.

Something New

Had my first official surf lesson in Panama a couple of weekends ago and it was so fun! There is a beach about an hour away from the city that Tiff and I drove to with some friends. We ended up surfing during a mild rainstorm which was both thrilling and lovely! There was a beautiful moment when the sun broke through the clouds right as a wave was breaking and a flock of birds flew by and I think that will be burned in my memory for the next ten years – what beauty. Here’s to putting on tons of sunscreen and wiping out!

Something I’ve Learned

I have been learning recently that people only know what I tell them about both me and my work. If I don’t explain clearly, people will fill in the gaps with peripheral information and assumptions that may or may not be correct. If I want others to have a clear understanding of who I am, my experience, capabilities, and goals I need to take the space to communicate that without being sheepish. Similarly, if I want my team to understand the scope and breadth of the work that I am doing, I need to create a structure to intentionally communicate those key things. Working in Spanish has helped me see the need to communicate more than I might feel comfortable with. When I speak in Spanish, I often need to express concepts in multiple ways to ensure I am being understood in the way I intend. My personal default is to say less in most situations but because clarity and alignment are so integral to the successful adoption and implementation of these projects, I am stretching out past my comfort zone these days.

Structures I use to intentionally communicate about my work (both internally and externally)

  • Document outlines with a dedicated section for key points,
  • Communicating primary points at the beginning and end of a meeting.
  • Writing blurbs that explain my professional experience before entering an introductory meeting.
  • Strong LinkedIn, resume, + CV.
Something I’m Grateful for

I am grateful for Facetime and Whatsapp calls! I’ve just started missing my family and friends (took 4 months!!) and am grateful to be able to see and talk with them regularly. I am basically rebuilding my life in another country which is a hard but good thing. I feel grateful to have core friendships and wonderful family back home to keep in touch with.

Leaving you with a quote that’s been filling me recently by Scott Erickson

“I can help, I can be helped,
I can carry, I can be carried
I can move, I can be moved
I can repair, I can be repaired”

That’s all for now amigos,



April Showers

Hola a todos! Happy April! Slowly getting adjusted to the rainy season here in Panama. It’s so much more humid (haha yes that’s possible) and there’s occasional flooding on our street. I got caught in a DOWNPOUR yesterday at the university which was fun but you know, a downpour. Thankfully there are still sunny and dry days.

Highlights recently have been
– The best visit with my sister in Germany <3
“Grocery Store Country 1997-1990” playlist – has been stunning my brain out of funks the last couple of days.
– Facetimes with my core friends + family

– Surfing trip planned this weekend!

Current Projects
April is entrepreneurship month and our Calicanto team is hosting multiple workshops and events for our program alumni. The Conexiones team hosted an online seminar on leadership in business yesterday, and we have a baking workshop, logo design, marketing, and multiple other workshops throughout the rest of the month to support women with their formal and informal businesses.
I am continuing the development of the Seguimientos follow-up process and have this week and next of final review before we start implementation. Semana Santa is my deadline!
April 6th is the graduation ceremony of our 60th cohort from CAPTA (Calicanto’s primary program that builds emotional resilience and capacity for work). It is going to be in-person at the office and I am so excited to cheer on the graduates and see a larger picture of our impact!


Something New

I am starting Spanish lessons 2x a week at the University of Panama. This will help me be more effective and operate at a higher professional level with Calicanto. Excited to get into the nitty-gritty details of grammar again. I’ve already seen such improvement in my language skills over the last couple of months and feel a renewed determination to nail it down and speak really well.  One practical example of this is that I am no longer hesitant and stressed asking for help or talking on the phone with businesses/offices. Previously, I preferred emailing or texting where I could think through my responses beforehand (much to the annoyance of my friends who needed a translator).
I’ve also noticed that when I run responses through a Spanish Dict translator to double-check accuracy, what I was going to say in Spanish is almost always word-for-word correct. Small but exciting growth that’s encouraging me these days!

Something I’ve Learned

I have been seeing such a practical need for the work Calicanto does in promoting gender equality. Sneaky cultural influences here in Panama (and more subtle but just as pervasive in the U.S.) have caught my attention yet again. Generally speaking, Latinx culture has deeply ingrained patriarchal values. This often manifests itself in women’s perspectives being discounted, the objectification + over-sexualization of our bodies, the wage gap ($0.67 to every $1 in Panama in 2021 and $0.82 to every $1 in the U.S. in 2022), social expectations to bear the full burden of childcare, dramatically less access to all forms of capital (formal loans, venture capital), etc, etc, etc. It is frustrating not to know what type of interaction I am going to have with someone.  At times I have felt like the only options given are to play small or to be a high achieving + aggressive. I’ve done both and neither reflects the depth, capacity, and multifaceted potential I and other women hold. I am still practicing relating to people from a place of self-respect, humility, clarity, and boldness. For me, this looks like prioritizing speaking up, advocating for myself, and relating to others from a place of intentionality rather than accomodating by default.

I am grateful to be in a role where I am able to support and facilitate women’s emotional health and financial independence. Especially women with children who haven’t had the same privileges, support, and opportunity that I have experienced. If it is hard for me, a college-educated, half-white, middle-class woman who has had wonderful mentorship and support from my parents and leaders, how much more difficult is it for women with much less. My work, directly and indirectly, supports the cultural shift toward a society that treats women equally and that is such a privilege.


Something I’m Grateful for

I am grateful for my home – to have a safe and peaceful landing space at the end of full and challenging days. I am focusing on setting up and decorating my office space to facilitate a  more productive work environment this month.

That’s all for now amigos!


Celebrating Two Months!

Tomorrow marks 2 months of living in Panama! It feels like it’s been much longer in the best possible way.

Highlights recently have been:
– Weekend beach trip to Punto Barcos
– Volleyball clinics
– Dinner with a local Filipino family
– Church service in Parque Omar

Current Projects:
I just hosted my first focus group with program alumni on Monday and have spent the week reviewing the feedback, making adjustments, and creating some internal structures (ppts, program flows, etc.) for the team to implement in the future.

I’ve had some really helpful clarifying conversations with my boss and a couple of mentors which has given me renewed focus on my next couple of projects. Some of the tensions I’m managing with this current project are creating an impact-tracking format that gathers all the information we need while still being engaging and attractive for our alumni. From an organizational stand-point, follow-up is a vital part of the nonprofit process, but from an alumni’s perspective it can often be tedious, unnecessary, and an imposition on their time.
My current mindset is that of simplifying. Now that I have a basic format, I am reviewing, analyzing, and trimming our process to keep it as lean, short, and attractive as possible. Also exploring offering incentives for participation and trimming our follow-up pool to a specific number of people instead of an entire cohort to get higher-quality feedback.
I just mapped out the next steps for these next few projects on To-Doist and have an overview of the rest of the year which is helping me feel super organized.

Something New:
I’ve been reading the book Culture Map by Erin Meyer which explains the impact of culture within international business and teams.
Meyer explores the impact of culture in communication + feedback, views on authority, the impact of logical frameworks in persuasion, perception of time, etc. One commonly used example is low context and high context communication. High context cultures are fairly homogenous with a high level of shared cultural background and experiences. As a result, their communication is typically indirect with a lot of implied meaning.  On the other side of the spectrum is the United States, a country with the lowest amount of shared cultural context due to it being a relatively young nation of primarily immigrants. As a result, American culture is low context, meaning we often value direct and explicit communication.

My teams are made up of Filipinos and Latinos which are both cultures with high context communication styles (though to varying degrees). While there are many aspects of Latino culture that are simply a part of how I was raised, I am very American in my work style communication (meaning direct, executing, and efficiency-focused). It has been helpful to have a basic framework to use as I approach my international teams. I feel more aware and can better understand our dynamics now. Practicing communicating why I am doing something a certain way, as well as communicating in a high-context way here and there.

Something Difficult:
I’ve struggled the last month or so to focus on and get traction in my work. My team is all Panamanian but has been working remotely since the beginning of the pandemic. We have occasional in-person meetings and events but it has been difficult to stay motivated and get clarity working by myself at home. Sometimes it feels silly how much I need to be around people (esp as an introvert)! I’ve been redesigning my work schedule by breaking the day into blocks, planning coffee shop + WFH days with friends, and building in rest/rewards/and fun throughout my weeks.

I’m learning how to live and work at a slower pace which means unlearning a lot of striving + dealing with some burnout from the last few years I didn’t acknowledge. I’ve realized recently that I used my work as a coping mechanism during some really difficult seasons of my life and as result developed a habit of working at an unsustainable pace. I’m slowly learning what a healthy and responsible pace is work-wise and am grateful for my therapist and a couple of mentors who helped me navigate this weird and difficult brain fog/burnout over the last month.

My dad would always call me patacaliente (a Spanish idiom for someone who goes out all the time and is never home). I’ve grown a lot in this area over the years but am learning what it means to slow down in this season of my life.

Something I’m Grateful for
These days I am really grateful for a healthy body that allows me to have an active lifestyle. Having the physical health to do yoga daily, play volleyball, go for walks, run, play, and move is something that isn’t lost on me. I’m grateful to be healthy!

I am flying to Madrid tonight to visit my sister!! Will be in Europe for the next two weeks and can’t wait to give her a big hug.

Off to pack!




Learning Learning Learning!

Happy March everyone! Capping off February with one last blog post. The rainy season will be starting soon here in Panamá so I am soaking up the dry days and sunshine while it’s still here.

Highlights recently have been:

  • Celebrating my birthday in Panamá
  • Filipino Boodle Fight
  • Weekly volleyball clinics
  • Exploring my neighborhood in El Cangrejo

Current Projects
My first project with Calicanto is restructuring their follow-up process for program graduates. The alumni program as a whole has gone through a lot of changes over the last couple of years and is currently a hybrid of a lot of different things to meet a lot of different needs. The goal is to help clarify what information is most useful to collect in measuring program impact along with reducing the time team members spend on the follow-up interview process. I’ve spent the last month gathering context on the program through interviews, internal reports, and data sets and am now starting the process of organizing focus groups and getting feedback from my first draft of recommendations. My main objective is to determine a follow-up format that serves both the Conexiones team and the Calicanto alumni; balancing their needs for relevant programming and a streamlined workflow. This is Carnival week in Panamá which means that I’m off until Thursday and will resume scheduling zoom calls and interviews later in the week.

Something New
I just started an online ‘Project Management for Development’ course hosted by the International Development Bank. While I already have varied experiences in program, business, and organizational development, I am looking forward to learning more about managing initiatives well to ensure the best outcomes. I’ve also been reading + listening to one new podcast, research paper, report, or interview during my work week to get fresh input and context about the field I’m in.
So far I’ve explored:
– Esther Duflo’s work on Gender Inequality and Economic Development (obsessed with her).
– Outcome Management for Nonprofit Institutions by the Urban Institute
– Toward Realizing the Potential of Latin America’s Women Entrepreneurs: An Analysis of Barriers and Challenges by the Latin America Research Review

Context and input are important to me as they help me feel equipped to make decisions that are strategic and grounded in reality. By continuing to learn, I am investing in the quality of my work for Calicanto and my personal professional capacity. One of my favorite professors in college (I love you Dr. C!) often told me that I was a hard-core nerd haha – someone has to like reading this stuff! All that to say, I love learning and have enjoyed creating a more structured environment to do that in.

Something Difficult
Working in Spanish has been hard for me! I can’t communicate as well or professionally as I could in English so have to take a lot of time to write out what I am going to share in meetings, check my grammar often, and continue to study to improve. I am meeting weekly with a friend to practice speaking, reading the newspaper, books, doing word puzzles in Spanish, and pushing myself to continue to speak. I often feel silly making mistakes; it is humbling and hard but something I am committed to. I’ve been studying Spanish very intentionally for the last 10 years and really want to nail this down so I can continue to connect with my family, my heritage, and use Spanish in a professional work setting. On a positive note, I am finally understanding how to use the indirect object (don’t ask me how I literally couldn’t explain it to you, it just feels right now). Merecerá la pena!

Something I’ve Learned
My team did a Strengths Finders workshop last week and it has been so helpful to understand more about each person I’m working with. We’ve had some really honest and healthy conversations the last couple of days which I am grateful for. One thing I learned from this experience is that 7 out of my top 10 themes are in the strategic thinking category. Just being aware of this has helped me understand my own thought process + actions better. At times I can feel overwhelmed by the amount of information I need to collect before taking the first step, come off cynical + skeptical as I analyze ideas/situations/problems, and just get plain lost in the weeds of my brain! It has taken a lot of growth, discipline, and therapy to get to a healthy place with my analytical brain. Being aware that this is how I am wired has definitely helped me give myself more grace and understand the unique ways I can contribute and also be a hindrance in teams and relationships.

Something I’m Looking forward to
I get to visit my sister in Germany in 3 weeks and I can’t wait!!! Haven’t seen her in person since October when she moved there for grad school. We’re meeting in Madrid, Spain to visit some friends and family and then capping off the trip seeing some of her closest friends on tour in Berlin. So excited to give her a hug and spend time together.

That’s all for now chicos, let’s talk more soon.



Getting Settled

Hola chicos! Quickly approaching one month in Panamá and feeling at home! For my sanity and yours, I’ll be updating this blog by answering the same couple of questions every few weeks. See below 🙂

Highlights recently have been:
– A beach trip to Mamey Island!
– Hosting Tiff’s birthday party
– Working alongside the Calicanto team
– Nightly volleyball at Cinta Costera
– Team dinners/lunches/hangs

Current Projects 
Work-wise, I am focusing on gaining more context and scope of the program I’ll be restructuring. My days have looked like informational interviews with team members, sorting and reading through data they have collected from alumni, sitting in on workshops for participants, and defining my objectives + timeline for the next couple of months. One word that keeps coming to mind and summarizes my work with Calicanto well is “cultivating”. There is so much potential within the program and need within the community they serve. Right now I feel as if I am working in a garden; pulling weeds, removing overgrown branches, clearing brush, tilling the soil, all to get to the point when it is time to sow seeds of a new program structure! Development is hard. It is very much a process of unfolding and working with ‘unformed’ potential for months can be tiring. I’ve learned over the last couple of years that there is a discipline of assessing needs, asking questions, doing research, and consistently prototyping until the best format for the program/business/whathaveyou becomes clear. Though it is challenging, I really enjoy this type of discovery process and I am so grateful for the trust the Calicanto team has shown me!

Something New
I listened to an interview with two of my favorite economists, Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, the other day, and a quote from their book “Good Economics for Hard Times” struck a chord in me. It reads,
“What is common among a drought-affected farmer in India, a youth on the Southside of Chicago, and a 50-something white man who was just laid off – what is common is that while they have problems, they are not the problem. They are entitled to be seen for who they are and not to be defined by the difficulties besieging them. Time again, we have seen in our travels in developing countries that hope is the fuel that makes people go. Defining people by their problems is turning circumstances into essence; it denies hope. A natural response is then to wrap oneself into this identity with treacherous consequences for society at large.”
So good, right? Listening to the above helped me to understand and connect deeper with Calicanto’s work. One thing I deeply admire about this foundation is that their work is first and foremost one of inspiring hope. Their main objective is to equip women with psychological tools and support to inspire hope and empower them to seek out the best opportunities for themselves and their families. Entrepreneurship workshops, community advocacy tools, and all other resources they share are done second to teaching emotional health and self-respect/love.

Something Difficult
Grocery shopping has been overwhelming for me. Even back in the States, I’d tend to get stressed grocery shopping and shopping in Panama has been even harder. Produce and prices are surprisingly comparable to Nashville so I often find myself comparing prices not only to other products in the store but also prices at home all in Spanish. I then bag the food in reusable bags while speaking with the clerk in Spanish, make sure I have the cash to tip, call and wait for an Uber in the heat, and then load and unload the car up to the 18th floor of my apartment. I did a big shopping trip last week and ended the day stress-eating Cheetos and taking a nap at 6 pm haha. Hoping it becomes easier with practice!

Something I’ve Learned
I’ve learned that when communicating impact there is a need for both quantitative data AND personal stories. A frequent conversation my boss, Gabriela, and I have is how success stories without data and data without real stories are at best an incomplete depiction and at worst completely ineffective in communicating impact. Filing this away and planning to develop this thought into some key practices to make sure we prioritize both in future program initiatives.

Something I’m Grateful for
I am grateful for the church team here literally every day – they feel like family! We all live within a 10-minute walk of each other so cycle through different apartments for dinners, meetings, movie nights, lunches, etc. We’re actually living our lives together and I am so grateful to be surrounded by such fun, mature, and kind people. This community has been such a clear display of God’s kindness to me. Whether it is a quick meeting with nothing to eat but ginger snap cookies or a day spent on an island in the Caribbean it has been so filling and fun to spend time with them!

In summary! I am feeling a little more settled, getting a little tanner, and speaking Spanish a little better every day. Until next time, friends.



My First Week in Panamá

I’ve been in Panamá for 72 hours! It feels like home! It’s warm! I can speak in Spanish all the time! The mangoes are huge!

One of my best friends from Nashville, Tiff, also moved to Panamá to participate in a church plant with the global movement, Every Nation. There’s a team of 20 that has already been in Panamá for a couple of months so we’ve had built-in community and support as we get adjusted. I feel immeasurably grateful for them and to have one of my closest friends here!

The team picked Tiff and me up from the airport on Tuesday with flowers and helped us settle into our place. We later met up with everyone at a rooftop restaurant overlooking Casco Viejo to celebrate one of our team member’s birthdays. The city is so interesting, there are mountains to the west, oceans, high rises, and barrios all visible in one 360 view. The temp averages between 85 and 90 degrees with a breeze because of the close proximity to the ocean. I love the weather! Panama City is super international. Because of the trade opportunities the canal provides, there is a lot of foreign direct investment, western influence, and infrastructure. It is one of the most developed cities in Central America. Geographically, it connects Central and South America so there are a lot of immigrants from neighboring countries along with international ex-pats who have moved and settled here. For example, my first two local friends are Venezuelan, not Panamanian!

Unfortunately, our apartment fell through the day before we left Nashville, so we rented an Airbnb for a week in the center of the city while we search for a new one. We spent Wednesday with a couple of realtors looking at available apartments and found a perfect one! It’s super close to coffee shops, parks, and markets and has plenty of space to host new friends. It’s also safe but approachable which was an important combo for me.

As I’ve gotten settled, I have been very aware of the importance of maintaining my routines and practices. I love people and new things but can struggle to get started and stay engaged with myself and what’s going on around me. I’ve recognized that taking time in the morning to myself is a great way to ground, fuel, and engage myself before zipping off to do things. One of my intentions this year is to practice being before doing and keeping morning and evening routines have been a great way to practice that along with keeping a sense of normalcy in such a new environment.

A poem I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is:

“I have a need
of such clearance
as the Savior affected in the temple of Jerusalem
a riddance of clutter
of what is secondary
that blocks the way
to the all-important central emptiness
which is filled with the presence of God alone.”
-Jean Danielou

As I’ve moved away from Nashville the clutter, baggage, and secondary things that need to be temporarily set aside, reprioritized, and let go of have become more apparent. It feels really good to have distance but also support from people I love, and space to experience new things and grow! Additionally, it’s becoming clear that some of the less healthy habits I’ve been leaning on won’t cut it here. I could get by being on Instagram all the time (one example of many) and recover faster from the resulting negative effects on my mental health because I had such a strong support system in Nashville. If I am to care for myself and others with maturity and love in this new environment, I need depth in my habits and practices. Depth for me looks like acknowledging and respecting my physical and emotional limits, setting boundaries with myself and others, learning more about my faith, prioritizing time to be quiet and still, and taking steps to pursue my personal learning and growth goals.

I haven’t even been in Panamá a full week and could share so much more. Planning a rest day tomorrow to recharge before I officially start work on Monday!

Hablaremos más pronto!

Preparing for the Big Move

Hi all — Sharing my first blog post as I prepare for my Lumos move in T-11 days!

Professionally, preparation these days looks like wrapping up my work. I’ve been doing a lot of interviewing, onboarding, and communication to pass off my projects/responsibilities to our new and current team members. This season has been a pretty consistent reminder that I am not indispensable and that is a really good thing. Feeling so grateful for the 2 1/2 years working with Placemat + Feeding Nashville and really hopeful for the growth and future of our team. I am sad to miss it; it’s hard to leave a good thing.

Personally, preparation looks like listening to grammar and story podcasts to refine my Spanish (my favorite currently is El Hilo), getting rid of things, spending time with my family and core friends, and a lot of personal admin things like immunizations appointments and selling my car. I just got back from a solo ski trip to North Carolina which was so refreshing and fun. It was helpful to have time to be quiet, explore, collect myself, rest, and plan for this big move. I took some time to map out my goals, budget, priorities, etc., and am feeling much more pulled together and prepared than I was previously. This upcoming week is going to be full of lots of goodbye parties (Omicron might say otherwise) and knocking things off my long to-do list! We’re getting so close, this is crazy!

The three most frequent questions I’ve been getting recently are:
“Are you ready?”
“Are you scared?”
“How are you feeling?”

I’m guessing you might be curious about those things if you’re reading this, so am writing out my responses here:
1. Truthfully, I’m ready.
2. I’m not scared about this move/project/experience at all. BUT it is easy to feel scared about what my future might look like post-Lumos. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last couple of years is that things can change in my life and in the world so quickly. I’m anxious to see who I’ll be and what I want when this is over.
3. I feel sad to leave my family + community here in Nashville. I have such wonderful friends, pastors, and support here and really love them. At the same time, I’m so excited to explore, grow, and experience living and working in Panama. Every time I think about the fact that I am getting to move to Latin America and help people practically, tears of joy well up in my eyes. This opportunity touches a deep dream in my heart and I really am so grateful for this next step.

I’ve been thinking recently about what it’s going to be like when I land in Panama on the 18th. I am so looking forward to the flood of “This is really happening! I’m living here! I’m speaking in Spanish every day! People look like me!”. It’s happening so soon. Until then, I’m going to enjoy this time with my favorite people, wear my mask and get some things done.

That’s all I’ve got right now, chicos. Cuidense!

– Renée

See some photos from my trip to Banner Elk, NC below.


A Couple of Notes:
I have Spanish-speaking family who will be reading this so will be posting in both Spanish + English as time allows!

Writing a blog is going to be a great way to process this experience but is also kind of nerve-wracking because I’m scared of becoming a babbler. This is not going to be the type of blog where you read through someone’s entire life story just to see the cookie recipe they posted 🙂 With this in mind, I’m setting some boundaries below for both of our sakes!

My general format is going to follow:
– Current projects + work check-in
– Something new
– Something difficult
– Something I’ve learned
– Something I’m grateful for