Expat Life in Thailand star writer Kathleen Pokrud sat down with the Panamanian Ambassador to Thailand H.E. Ambassador Ms. Itzel Karina Chen Chan and asked her to share her story and path to Thailand.
How long have you been the Ambassador to Thailand?
I have been in Thailand since September 2020.
Did you arrive to Thailand direct from home, or were you posted somewhere else before?
I arrived in Thailand directly from Panama. Previously, I was assigned as Director of the Economic and Commercial Office in Hong Kong from 2014 to 2017, and the diplomatic relations between Panama and People’s Republic of China (PRC) was established, thus I was promoted to Consul General in Hong Kong.
May I ask where were you born and brought up?
I was born and grew up in Panama in a Chinese family that migrated from mainland China.
At which age did you decide you wanted to become a diplomat?
I am not career diplomat, having a Bachelor Degree of Political Science and Law as well as a Master’s Degree in Commercial Law.
With the intensive experiences in legal issues, in both private sector and, at the age of 36, I was assigned as the Director of the Economic and Commercial Office, and then, as the Consul General in the Consulate General of Hong Kong. Moreover, it is my great honour that, now, I have been assigned as new Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Panama to the Kingdom of Thailand.
May I ask do you have more diplomats in your family?
No, I am only diplomat in my family.
How do you view Thailand today, have you encountered any obstacles since you arrived?
Due to the current world situation affected by the outbreak of the Covid-19, not only Thailand, but also all the countries that have imposed strict measures to protect their citizens, such as obligatory quarantine. Thus, it is normal that there are some difficulties for travelling to Thailand during this hard time.
Do you see any similarities between your country and Thailand?
In addition to the similar climates and temperature, Panama and Thailand are recognised for their widely known tourist attraction, such as historical sites and beaches, where many travellers come to visit there each year. On the other hand, the cultures and tradition are quite different. Despite this, like Thailand, Panama is open to learn the differences and is ready to share its uniqueness to the world to make people know more about the country.
Do you have children?
No, I do not have any children.
How do you look upon your work here? What does an average day look like?
Working here is quite a new challenge for me as the work culture is so very different from Panama as well as Hong Kong, where I previously lived and served.
As with every Ambassador, I assume you have some goals you really would like to fulfil before you leave Thailand?
Since Panama is a small country located in Central America, which is almost unknown to the Thais, as Ambassador, I feel that it is my duty to make the people here learn more about Panama through diplomatic functions as well as cultural activities that the Embassy will be organising in the near future.
Besides, since Panama aims to develop itself in different dimensions, learning from others is a way to achieve this goal, thus it is also my mission to bring new cooperation and knowledge via diplomacy, such as establishing relevant agreements and collaboration to elevate the bilateral exchanges of best practices and experience in various sectors, such as in agricultural, industrial and technological sectors, as well as to promote bilateral trade and investment, reviving the economy affected by this pandemic.
Have you been travelling around in Thailand?
Recently, I have been in Chonburi and Chumphon, where I learned various kinds of traditional ways of life and local cultures. Moreover, I have had a good opportunity to visit the Royal Projects in Chumphon, which are interesting and valuable initiatives that Panama can learn and consider them as exemplary models.
Have you discovered a favourite destination in Thailand yet?
Due to the fact that I just arrived here a few months ago, I have not visited so many places that I can decide which my favourite one is.
If you do get a day off, what do you like to do? Do you have any special hobbies?
In my leisure time, I usually read a book, ride a bicycle, and have social interactions with colleagues and friends.
How many of your countryfolk are living in Thailand? When and why did Thailand become a desirable destination for your people?
Nowadays, there are not many Panamanian living here; however, in the perception of the Panamanian, Thailand is a safe and warm country to live in with moderate cost of living and an impressive quality of life, as well as spectacular beaches that are different from Panama. Despite the significant distance between the two countries, Panamanians are eager to explore Thai cultures and interesting places.
Does your country and Thailand have an exchange programme for students today?
Each year, there are Thai students going to Panama under an AFS exchange programme, where not only they will have opportunity to learn Spanish but also, they will enjoy our traditional way of life, bringing back home unforgettable and memorable experiences.
Where are you planning to visit in Thailand?
As informed by colleagues and my staff that the Northern and Southern parts of Thailand are worth visiting because of lots of impressive and picturesque historical and natural sites. I plan to start from spending time in beaches in Phuket and then work my way up to Chiang Mai, where several elaborate Buddhist temples with unique styles are known worldwide.
Do you regularly meet up with the Panamanian community?
As there are not many Panamanian living here and some living in other provinces, I have not yet met with the Panamanian community here. However, in the future, I hope to be able to have interactions and share times with them via future activities.
Which is the most important task you want to achieve before you end your posting in Thailand?
I hope that the diplomatic relations between Panama and Thailand will be elevated and promoted to higher levels through potential cooperation and exchanges, which will allow both countries to learn from each other and move forward together.