Dayna Dyjak left her hometown of Solana Beach for Panama this summer. It was the Canyon Crest Academy junior’s first time traveling outside the country.
“You really have to go to Latin America to see what it’s like,” Dayna said. “It’s not what people make it out to be.”
The seven-week summer program was hosted by Amigos de las Américas, a nonprofit organization that offers service and leadership programs in Latin America for high school and college students. Dayna decided to apply after hearing about her neighbor’s positive experience with Amigos.
“She inspired me by saying a lot of great things about it,” she said.
The Panama summer program, which took place June 24 through Aug. 13, focused on public and environmental health. Participants carried out public health activities and supported environmental projects, including constructing wheelchair ramps at a local church, clearing trash and planting trees throughout the community.
“I chose Panama and it was my first choice because it was about environmental sustainability,” Dayna said. “Being able to sustain the Earth and keep it healthy is a key thing in everyday life.”
Having never traveled overseas, Dayna said she experienced culture shock at the start, but quickly adapted to her new surroundings.
Despite studying Spanish in school, she was surprised to discover how different the language sounded when immersed in the culture of Panama. She was also pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming warmness of the Panama people.
“It was easy to adapt to,” said Dayna, who stayed with a host family in Panama. “It was kind of like Solana Beach, not the houses but how the area looked.”
Since 1965, Amigos has provided international youth leadership programs for high school and college students. More than 27,000 students have participated in programs in 17 countries throughout Latin America during the last 50 years.
“I want to go back to Panama,” Dayna said. “The program gave me a second home. That was my favorite part — now I know I have a second home.”
For more about Amigos, visit amigosinternational.org.