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After completing her first co-op here in Boston, CAMD School of Architecture student Isabella Whitehill decided to travel abroad for her next positions. She was able to have incredible experiences at Mallol Arquitectos and SUMA Architects in Panama City, Panama, where she spent six months honing her skills and collaborating with fellow architects. Now that Isabella has returned to campus, we were able to check in with her to learn more about her time abroad. Read our Q&A below!

Tell us about your experience at Mallol Arquitectos.

At Mallol, I was a team member on a project for a new campus for the Boston School, which is one of the best known private elementary schools in Panama. Day to day, I used Revit to work on drawings like plans, sections, elevations, and construction details, mainly making sure that everything was up to the same level of graphic quality. As we approached an important deadline, I was responsible for several packages of drawings, like signage, emergency and egress information, and finishes. Because this is an international school, they teach in English, so this project was done in English. Most of the people on my team spoke English but I did use Spanish to communicate with some of them, and most of the meetings were in Spanish. Thankfully I came to Panama already having a pretty solid understanding of the language.

My favorite part about working at Mallol was the office environment and culture. The office is brand new and beautiful, and there is a roof deck with a pool where you can eat your lunch and where they host office happy hours. Most of the people at this ~200 person firm are very young, and I met other interns from Panama, Chile, and Brazil. Everyone is very friendly and jumps at a chance to practice their English!

How about your experience at SUMA Architects?

At SUMA, I got to work on a variety of projects, including renovations to old buildings in the city’s historic Casco Viejo neighborhood, a new crafts market, and a community building for an Embera (indigenous) village. I also got to attend a community workshop concerning new building codes that SUMA helped develop that will allow for more sustainable city growth. Working at SUMA was very different from working at Mallol, because on any day there are less than 10 people in the office! This meant that I had a lot more responsibility.

By far, the best part about working at SUMA was being able to assist Northeastern grads Miguel Espino and Cesar Cheng with the creation of a project that is currently being shown at Time Space Existence, an exhibit in conjunction with the Venice Biennale in Venice, Italy. You can read more about that entire experience here!

Our project, titled Tropi / Co / Re / Housing, is a prototype for cohousing adapted to the climactic needs of the tropics, and a model for sustainable low-income urban growth. I put in a lot of late nights, but it was worth it to see the final result, and having my work shown in Venice might have been a once in a lifetime chance. I worked mostly on developing the plans, and assembling the model, which we had to pack very carefully for its long journey.

How did your classes help prepare you for these positions?

At SUMA, they primarily use AutoCAD and Rhino to create drawings, so my prior experience with using these programs for classes was very helpful.

I did not do as much design at Mallol, so I feel that the experience I gained from my previous co-op (at Bargmann Hendrie + Archetype, Inc.) was even more helpful than knowledge from my classes. At my previous co-op in Boston, I learned how to use Revit, and learned a lot of basics about drawing construction details and other design standards that helped at this co-op.

How was living in Panama City?

I was very lucky in that another architecture student, Ellen, decided to come work in Panama at the same time. We were roommates, but it’s also very easy to find roommates in Panama City; there’s an extensive expat network. I would recommend Panama City to anyone who’s not sure if a global co-op is for them. A lot of people speak English and the city is very “Americanized” due to the US presence in Panama until 1999 managing the canal. I found it to be a great blend of Latin culture and the comforts of home. Ellen and I took salsa lessons and met a lot of people that way, and there are tons of beautiful tropical locations to explore on the weekends! My favorite part about living in the city was the vibrant nightlife scene in Casco Viejo, the old colonial city, which is full of rooftop bars and string lights.

We love seeing the contributions CAMD students make to organizations across the globe, and we’re excited to see what Isabella does next! To learn more about experiential learning opportunities (both international and domestic) visit our website!