This amazing journey has come to an end! In retrospect, I can honestly say that what I have learned in 3 weeks in Panama could never be learned in a classroom. I was truly blessed with the opportunity to study abroad and even more so to do it along with 10 awesome Walton students.
(The best study abroad group! #EsperEleven)
We were immersed in the Panamanian culture from the first day to the very last. We were able to see how Panamanians live, both the working class and the upper class, just by driving to and from our daily meetings. We witnessed their shopping habits when going to the shopping center, and each day we could see their eating preferences when going out for meals. A common behavior among all countries was very unique for Panama: driving. We were all amazed by agility of drivers in Panama; they made maneuvers that we could have sworn would cause an accident. To our surprise, there weren’t any. We also learned from our driver, Alex, that Panamanians don’t have road rage! In the super markets we could see the groceries that are common for home-cooked meals. Even Panamanians place a high value on American brands, which can sometimes cost double of the local brands. In clothing and apparel items it is common to spot a large logo or name of a high-end brand. In the course of three weeks, it was amazing how much we were able to observe and learn from the unique shopping habits, patterns that we may not even be aware of in our own country.
Aside from the consumer side, we also caught onto the customer service provided in Panama. While everything else in the country was excellent, it truly came in short in this area. This was a great surprise after learning that 2/3 of the Panamanian economy was service based. Waiting times for any meal were often upwards of 40 minutes regardless of the place. And while there were some exceptions, we found that we were not always received in the most positive manner. As with any large group, ordering would often take long, and the waitresses would rapidly grow frustrated with us. The advantage of this situation is that we learned to appreciate the customer service we receive at home. At a professional level, we can take this as a learning experience, and in any company that we may work for, we can make sure that customer service is up to the expectations of clients. After all, this is what truly keeps customers happy and in return we keep their business.
(Boat Ride to an Island in Colón)
Further into the business lessons, Panama is the best-kept secret of the world as I heard more than once on this trip. Aside from the Panama Canal, it offers so many options and services for the logistics and supply chain departments of any company. The size of the country allows operations to be more centralized and has easy access from coast to coast. The airport, railway, highway, and of course canal, compliment each other in the connectivity of the country. Given its geographical location, companies have already taken the initiative to make Panama the place for operations of Latin America. I believe this will continue even farther with the expansion of the canal. The use of the US dollar makes this country even more attractive for American companies. And for other countries, the growing economy is a very attractive feature. The canal gives an incredible access across the globe that few routes offer. Even though negatives are already in the air because of the delayed inauguration of the canal, I believe that it will still be a game changer in global logistics. The inauguration of the expansion will take place on June 26th, and while we were so close to witness it in person, we will have to keep track of it through television.
(Cristal and me at the Panamá Canal)
I am now back in my apartment in Fayetteville and it feels so strange to not be able to walk a few feet to find 10 other individuals with who I can talk about anything and everything! The students on this trip truly marked the difference in this experience for me. This journey has marked my life both professionally and emotionally. I will never put into words how grateful I am to have been part of the Panama 2016 Study Abroad program!
(The #FayettevilleFive, when everyone else went their separate ways, we made it back to Fayetteville together!)