The Director of Spanish Panama
World traveler hangs up his boots in Panama
By David Young
Take a pin, stick it in a map of the Americas, Europe or large sections of the Far East from China to India and you will probably hit on a country that Joseph Ennis has worked in, or passed through. At the least, it will be next to one where he has trodden the ground and like a man on a time machine witnessed first hand, major political changes.
Now, armed with a beautiful Panamanian wife and daughter, and a thriving Spanish language school, his major wandering days may be over. But who knows? He has used his teaching skills in 51 countries, and there are lots more available.
But his love of Panama shines through. Having traveled throughout Latin America he is convinced that “The Panamanians I have in my life are hard-working, responsible and, unlike most Latinos, surprisingly punctual.”
Born in Newfoundland, an island on the east coast Canada, he studied psychology and political science at Memorial University, before beginning his travels in Canada It is a country where travelers think big.
It is the world’s second biggest country (over 5,500 km wide) with the world’s longest coastline, over 244,000 km. He traveled the width, and after a year in the biggest city, Toronto, with a population almost double the size of the total population of the whole of Panama, he spent another five years in Vancouver, and Victoria on the Pacific Coast. It was there that his interest in Latin America was born.
He worked with refugees from countries like El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala who has suffered torture and abuse, before and developed a lasting empathy for their people, and a desire to see for himself.
He hitchhiked through central and South America, finally landing up in Ecuador, where he studied Spanish. As he criss-crossed the continent, he taught English to earn a living, and finance his occasional return visits to Newfoundland to visit his family.
His travels widened to encompass Europe, and witnessed some of the turmoil in Eastern Europe, including the downfall of the Romanian dictator, and watched miners attacking communist officials, and handing out brutal justice.
Back in South America, via Canada, he was present at demonstrations in Ecuador, felt the effects of tear gas, and watched as mobs beat up police in violence-torn Columbia.
His travel compass next led him to Egypt and the Middle East before landing in India where he experienced the cultural shock that hits most westerners when they first arrived, and discovered poverty even deeper than in Latin America. But it was in India that his life was reshaped as he followed the Spiritual Trail, and became exposed to new ways of viewing the world and inner spirituality.
He met the Dhalai Lama, and saw Mother Teresa at her center in Calcutta. He attended Buddhist retreats before moving on to Sri Lanka. The tour of the sub-continent permanently changed his life.
Moving on to Vietnam, he was exposed to the changes in the country after the disastrous War, and then arrived in Hong Kong in time to see the handover from British to Chinese rule.
His final stint of English teaching came in Beijing, under the umbrella of the government run Chinese Daily that operated an English language school.
Seven years ago, his travels came close to their end. After one year in Costa Rica, he arrived in Panama and set up his Spanish Language school and meeting centre for expats from all over the world.
His experiences with orthodox teaching methods, shaped the way the school developed, steering away from the traditional disciplinarian formats to a more informal creative learning environment, based on the individual learning preferences of the student.
From a pool of teachers, students are encouraged to acquire a teacher who provides the social chemistry best suited to their needs, and the school is without the heavy-handed disciplinarian approach of many educational establishments.
It seems to work. Almost 50 percent of the students who pass through the school not only become proficient in the language, but also acquire a love for the country, its people and its culture, and return to stay long term.