The End of an Amazing Journey

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!)



Practicing for the Future!

The stress was on an all time high for the second half of week three! After getting our instructions for our group project the afternoon before presenting, our only focus was tackling the task at hand. The project truly required us to recall and analyze all of the many visits we had made during our time in Panama and to strategically implement what we learned into our new “hypothetical” business venture. After a late night and early morning, we set out to Manzanillo International Terminal where we would present our ideas. On the way to MIT, everyone appeared to be calm and collected while I left like my heart would escape my chest at any second! Luckily, I was able to get through without our presentation without fainting! It was great to have the opportunity to sit through our peer’s presentation and see the many ideas that they thought up given the same information (Shout-out to Dan, Kat, and Yuki for an awesome presentation!). And also receiving feedback from professionals allowed us to see things that we could have thought through harder and business aspects that could be helpful for the future.


(Cristal, Emma, and I, very happy to have completed our presentations!)

Once presentations were over, our concentration shifted to the final! We all came together to discuss what we had learned throughout the course of the 3 weeks. We compared notes and I was surprised at how much more we gained from this as opposed to simply looking one set of notes. After the final, you could sense an atmosphere of relieved and stress-free college students! We were all in high-spirits when on our ways to the Presidential Palace (which we had attempted to visit twice before). During our tour of the Palace, we were given a history of the Panamanian culture and through paintings we were told the long battle that Panamanian’s had fought to finally have ownership of their country. It was great to see that there weren’t only tributes to the republic’s leaders, but we also found many artifacts to honor the Indigenous community of Panama!IMG_1954

Outside of the beautiful Presidential Palace!

Our last week in Panama was full of stress and then finally relief. We spent hours recapping what we had learned during our time there, and even after we presented our final, we learned even more about the history of Panama! I believe that one is never truly done learning. Even when you are no longer being tested over what you see, it is important to keep open eyes and ears and most importantly, an open mind to our surroundings! This is the only way to truly become global citizens of the world!


Countrywide Team-Work


Our third week in Panama has kicked off, and even though it’s the last one, we have not lost our momentum of learning experiences. Our first stop was at the Panama Canal Railway Company (PCRC) where the CFO Tomas Morris welcomed us. The PCRC has a rich and interesting history of ownership, from the idea starting with an American Colonel, to being sold to France, back to the US, and finally was placed in the hands of the Panamanian government. I believe that just this history just serves as farther evidence that Panama’s geographical location has been a desirable hub for many countries for hundreds of years. But bringing it back to actuality, the PCRC serves bigger operations than it ever has since 1850. Even before the notion of the Panama Canal expansion, the railway company already planned for the expansion of ports and docks for more operating capacity. Despite these efforts, Morris tell us that their port capacity is lessening each year, and even further explained how the world economy is not in great shape for prosperous business. The future seems hopeful with the Panama Canal expansion bringing more business for PCRC. What I find intriguing about this, is that while the railway and the canal travel almost parallel paths, they do not represent competition in transportation business. Rather, they are compliments to one another, the Panama Canal Railway Company is more of a value added service to the canal. This is a clear example of how Panama had consistently strived to make the country an expert in intercontinental transportation and global hub for exports and imports. Their highways, railways, airports, and of course their canal are designed in a way to make easier transportation modes.

With the inauguration of the Panama Canal expansion coming on June 26th, it was a must to visit the International Maritime University’s Canal Stimulator. How lucky were we to attend the last tour offered! Pilot instructors, Fernando Gaaen and Jose Burgos, were gracious enough to discuss with us every aspect of the canal stimulator and the extensive education needed to become a canal pilot. Who knew that it was a 20+ year career to become such pilot?! Even more incredulous is the competitive job market, of 300 possible candidates, only 4 are elected for the position! One can really say that only the best make it to the top! It was fascinating how accurate they were with the scale models to replicate the most important features the canal to truly prepare their trainees. The technology brought in from France, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the US and mixed with Panama also demonstrates the global unity the country strives for. The job market also represents how disciplined and professional one must be when dealing with a 13,000 count container ship, an accident or careless mistake when conducting one of these can play a domino effect on an entire logistics system even if there were to be zero injuries. It would throw off the balance in every other touch point for not only that shipment but possibly others affected by any one accident. Considering the volume of containers cruising each day through the canal, having a well trained pilot is a must.

Today really put into perspective how Panama’s transportation services and modes are used together to optimized its geographical location. From airports to railways to canal, the modes become a team for global transportation.


Logistic State of Mind

The various presentations that we have attended since Wednesday have had a greater focus on logistics and supply chain management. Victor Sanchez gave us an in depth look at the UltraLogistiks program at Unilever, the way that they carry out the complex process of carrying their products throughout Latin America. We went into the Unilever offices wondering why they choose Panama for their regional control tower in Central America. They quickly addressed our question by explaining how Panama’s geographical location and their greatly advanced airport give them a strategic advantage over other places. Many companies that we have visited have given us the same reasoning for their business in Panamá, geographically speaking it is the place to be when conducting international and/or global business!

Rhina Alvarez from Proctor and Gamble also explained why out of 70 countries they chose Panamá to place their regional offices. Aside from the canal, she mentioned that it was the perfect midpoint between Mexico and Brazil, their largest sales markets. After Rhina’s presentation, I held higher esteem for Procter and Gamble’s mission and environmental efforts. They are an excellent role model for other companies in terms of manufacturing, 60% of their production is waste-free, and considering the tremendous amount of production, that’s an unbelievable number! Their movement of Children’s Safe Drinking Water has already helped save 40,000 lives with their very own P&G Water Purifier. While most people living in developed countries don’t think about this issue often, I find it incredible how they have taken such a leap with this charity. Even though the meeting was also filled of market segmentation, selling and market operations, distribution, and much more business aspects, I was most captivated by their philanthropy!


All About Business!


(Emma Fields, Andy Bingham, and me posing in one of Panamcham’s board rooms)

Oh man! The past two days have been filled with once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunities. On May 31, we visited The American Chamber of Commerce of Panama, also known as Panamcham. During our visit, Maurice Belenger, the executive director of the chamber, held a very interesting dialog with our group discussing what the chamber does for both Panama and the US. With around 200,000 businesses in the chamber, we can see why it is a primary advocate between Panama and the US. Mr. Belenger was an excellent speaker and really made us analyze the relationship between these two countries and the benefits that both gain from this alliance. Personally, it was very informative and eye-opening to said relationship and realizing just how much of the Panamanian market impacts us as US citizens everyday.

We later made our way to the US Embassy to see the various roles and business that they handle from abroad. We met with the economics department and heard how they study the Panamanian market to see if and where there are opportunities for American companies to enter. Alongside this, the Embassy is also in charge for granting visas to enter the US and many legal aspects that surround business activities. With all of this information, our group was really interested in seeing how the work schedule of the employees is based. We were all intrigued by the fact that individuals complete various assignments across the globe for 2-3 years at a time throughout the career. You can see the passion they have for their jobs and for simply serving their country, they are willing to start a new life each time they change assignments. It’s definitely worthy of admiration and respect what they do for our US businesses and something that not many people talk about.


(The Terry Twelve with Mario Martinelli (Super99 CEO) and his son Mario Martinelli JR. in one of their 7 warehouses)

On Wednesday, Mario Martinelli greeted us with open arms in his main offices of Super99. The U of A alumnus gave us a briefing on the history of the chain that now has 45 stores country-wide in Panama. The lecture greatly consisted on him explaining the importance of always working hard towards your goals and maintaining work ethic at every moment in time. He was very clear in the fact that taking opportunities when presented are also vital for any businessperson. Despite the speculation of many, he claims to have no worries about Wal-Mart becoming competition, but did not dismiss the possibility of selling to them if they were to offer the correct price. Mr. Martinelli carried a very casual conversation with the students, where I believe that we were most engaged in. As we have all heard before, there is no magic to success, only hard work, and Mr. Martinelli reinforced this idea. After touring his warehouse, I again had the sense of hope from a few days ago. A University of Arkansas graduate was capable of building his own empire after graduating. His success story of going to Arkansas without speaking much English and how he worked through all the tough times was unbelievable and inspiring.

Each day when meeting with heads of companies or departments, I become a little more hopeful for my future. I have learned things in 10 days that I may not have even learned in a whole semester. I am thankful for being able to be a part of this study abroad and being able to see the small yet buzzing business hub that is Panama.


Banking & Financial Systems!


Information overload on a Monday! Today came in full gear with the finance and banking system of Panama.


Our first stop was to the Chamber of Compensation of El Banco Nacional de Panama. This chamber is in charge of the exchange process of documents, checks, and stocks and bonds between 54 Panamanian banks. El Banco Nacional is not only a member of the chamber; it serves as the administrator to all 54 banks. Our focus during this visit was to learn how the exchange process operates and it’s role in keeping the banking system running. Each bank is linked into the ACH system that each night produces a balance sheet detailing daily transactions and finally posting the gain or loss of each bank for that day. It is amazing how this system works each day, pulling information from the numerous branches of the 54 banks in the country of Panama. In short, it could be said that this system keeps the money Panama circulating each and every day!


After visiting the Chamber of Compensation, we headed to El Banco Nacional’s location in Balboa. Here we had a great lecture by an ex general manager of Banco Nacional, Miguel Lee. Mr. Lee truly went above and beyond to help us understand Panama’s diverse history and geographical advantages that has given the country the highest GDP growth rate in the America’s over the last years. Even through the 2008 economic crisis, Panama prospered when businesses changed their logistics from air to ocean, hence making more frequent use of the Panama Canal! Even though it is in competition with the Swiss Canal, Panama has the advantage of being able to offer a more affordable option to their customers. Mr. Lee took his time to explain many complex ideas that surround the financial system in Panama. The country goes to large measures to prevent usage of laundered or counterfeited money by recording the transaction each time an individual uses a one hundred dollar bill. It’s hard to think of the time it would take and what the lines in the grocery stores would look like if the US implanted this practice!


Our last visit of the day was by Eduardo Castillo, a 2015 Walton graduate who now works in private banking with Credit Andorrá. As a Walton alumnus, Castillo offered so much insight on the international private banking sector, much broader than just the Panamanian private banking. Many of the topics he touched on were similar to the previous lecture with Mr. Lee, they discussed the scandal of the Panama Papers and how such has affected the Panamanian economy. Hearing from these two professionals was very much more beneficial than reading through headlines and biased news-stories. Before their presentations, I was under the impression that Panama Papers involved criminal or illegal activity, when in fact, everything reported has been done legally. Castillo did a great job in explaining that Panama is not a tax haven as many had thought, and that off shoring money is mostly done for security purposes from countries in which kidnapping can be of great concern. He also gave us insight of the work he does on a daily basis, such as keeping up with global news and analyzing worldwide markets in order to provide his clients with the most precise and safe investment options and advice. Personally, Eduardo gave me hope for my own future, seeing that he is a Walton graduate with a successful career at the young age of 23. It gives me hope that it is possible to achieve that level of success even when fresh out of college; however, he never mentioned that it would be easy.


At last, I would like to mention that today’s series of visits and lectures were of great learning value. Seeing how such a small country can have a sophisticated banking system that keeps track of each check that goes into circulation, finally understanding what the Panama Papers really are, and knowing the background work between general and international licensed banks. While our focus was on the Panamanian financial system, I am positive that I can use today’s information for many years to come in my own International Business Career.

The week is just starting, please stay tuned.


Chitre & Playa Venao!


So much as happened since my last blog!

It is amazing the things we can learn even when not in a classroom listening to a lecture. This weekend, we took a trip to the interior of Panamá that is away from the glamour of Panama City and the global hub surrounding the canal. When visiting any foreign country, it is important to keep open a critical eye to observe the customs and lifestyle of its people. When in Panama City, the skyscrapers and extravagant luxury vehicles are very eye-catching at every corner. However, when driving through the town of Chitre, I realized that not every Panamanian can keep up that lifestyle. Their cars are of more affordable models and the stores are often times simple with only one story and maybe even without an air conditioner unit. Throughout the drive, there would be complaints about the temperature within the van, and while I felt of the discomfort of the temperature, I would also look out my window and see Panamanians walking on the sidewalk, waiting for the bus, or even riding in their own vehicles with the windows down, always smiling, unbothered by the heat or humidity. It was at moments like these when I realized the great spirit of Panamanians, but also made me realized the many things that I take for granted on a daily basis. When in Arkansas, I take for granted the vehicle and it’s air conditioning that is available to me at all hours of the day. While I’m sure Panama is not the only country where this occurs, it has wasn’t until this trip that I came to the realization of the many blessings I take for granted.

Despite this and the other many things that Panamanians go without, it is amazing the high spirits and always willing to lend a hand and seem to lead a happy life. This trip has definitely taught me a great life lesson even outside of a classroom!

Week 2 is starting and there are many more lessons to be learned!


First Day of Classes


First day of class is in the books! Today we had class in the finance and economics department of the Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria Antigua (USMA) with professor Donaldo Fong. In two hours and a half we gained a deeper understanding of the Panamanian market and economy as well as the behaviors of the average Panamanian consumer. Despite the size of this country, Panama has the second largest economy in Central America! And while this is a great accomplishment within itself, Professor Fong continually demonstrated the country’s ambition to rise to the number 1 spot. With the opening of the expansion of the canal and after learning the insane number of dollars that the country profits from with just one vessel, there is no doubt that the country will be on top with in a few years. One fact that shocked me was the saving abilities of Panamanians. 75% of car owners purchased these through a cash basis, leaving only ¼ to do so through credit. This speaks volumes of the country’s consumers and the value that they place on ownership and debt. Dr. Fong also touched on the important choice that the founding fathers of Panama made when gaining their independence, using the US dollar as their own currency; this decision has helped the country because they never have to worry about inflation in their own country! While this doesn’t mean that they never suffer the consequences, it simply means that they do not create it on their own. The lecture truly made me understand and respect the intelligence of both the Panamanian consumer and their government!


A new lecture is scheduled for today and I am excited to see what other surprises this small, yet rich, country holds!





Welcome back! These Razorbacks are back in action in Panama City! Shortly after arriving, we took a quick drive through the city. There were times when in the van when everyone was silent, just taking in this new country before our eyes. We later made a stop to take a look at the Panama Canal. I was astonished by the immense size of the cargo ship going through. It is mind-blowing to see that there are larger ships that still require more space than this. The expansion of the Canal is definitely a necessity for these larger ships. My question, will the expansion be ready within these 3 weeks so that we may witness it’s inauguration? In the meanwhile, today awaits a new adventure! Until next time


Welcome to my Panama Study Abroad Experience

Hola! Welcome to the blog of an International Business student from the University of Arkansas! All the way from Osceola, Arkansas, I am working towards my marketing career with a minor in Spanish at the U of A. I am setting out on this study abroad trip with the hopes to expand my knowledge of international and global supply chain and marketing for the future benefits it may bring to my career. That is also to say that it will provide a first-hand experience in this field and greater insight for future courses. This excursion will be led by Dr. Esper and will be ongoing for 3 weeks starting May 22, 2016.

The packing has begun and so has the chaos with only 29 hours until take off to Panama City this Sunday! Although we are still stateside, our Panamanian experience has already taken off with a week of classes. I have gained a new insight on “globalization” and what the commonly-used word actually means. Dr. Esper has had us weigh in the pros and cons of this concept, but the truth is that regardless of opinions, globalization is what is keeping our world turning. Products from across the globe are getting to consumers in even the most remote corners! It’s an amazing world we live in. I expect to learn more about this concept along with many others during the next 3 weeks in Panama!

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