UA in Panama 2023

When I was an undergraduate as a first-generation student, I found it difficult navigating the college campus, trying to find my place socially and academically. I changed majors more than I could count, but thankfully, I found my footing while employed in a work study position in Career Services, allowing me access to learn and turn my interests into passions. I was grateful to experience studying abroad through a faculty-led program and quickly discovered a world greater than I could have ever imagined.

As I entered the workforce, I knew I wanted to be able to give those same experiences to students like my younger self – to those from underrepresented populations who may not have had the opportunity otherwise. Finances, fear of discrimination, or the belief that you will delay graduation should not be reasons to not study abroad. 

UA in Panama allows incoming, first-year Culverhouse students to gain firsthand knowledge of international business, explore interests, and understand and appreciate cultural differences. With the assistance from Culverhouse College of Business, donors, and campus partners, this program removes the financial burden of study abroad so the student can focus solely on learning and immersing themselves in the experience. I want to encourage students to get out of their comfort zone, ask the hard questions, and take a leap of faith knowing that there are resources and people on campus that want to be a part of their journey of self-discovery.

Samantha Young
Program Director and Education Abroad Advisor

Diana Gomez
Senior Instructor of International Business

My journey from Colombia, an underdeveloped country, to leading underrepresented freshmen students on an enlightening expedition to Panama has been a testament to the power of determination and the transformative potential of education. Growing up in a challenging environment, I witnessed firsthand the struggles and limited opportunities faced by individuals in underprivileged communities.

Taking these students to Panama is not just about exposing them to a new country; it is about empowering them to challenge stereotypes, break down barriers, and transcend the limitations that society may have imposed on them. It is about showing them that their backgrounds do not define their destinies and that they possess the strength, resilience, and brilliance to create a brighter future for themselves and their communities. I am very proud to be part of this adventure.

Panama Through Their Eyes

RaShaud Drake

First-Year student majoring in Economics;
Anniston, AL

I’ve always looked at Panama from a tourism point of view. You know, the coconuts, palm trees, nice weather and all. I’ve never thought about it from a business point of view. I believe it will be very interesting to see how the rest of the world interacts with a country that gives so many tax incentives and encourages trade within their jurisdiction.

I also am highly excited to get to know the people of Panama during my free time. From the little research I’ve conducted, I do know that they are cosmopolitan which means they have a lot of cultures blended together. I believe that participating in this program will benefit individuals who might be interested in conducting business abroad but don’t feel quite comfortable traveling. For many [students], I believe it will be their first flight.

Armani Sowell

First-Year student majoring in Management Information Systems and Finance; Montgomery, AL

The motivation to apply to this study abroad program came from the desire to step outside of my comfort zone. Growing up I’ve always loved reading and I would look at different countries throughout the world to visit. I didn’t take that first step into action until I arrived at the university and was presented with the opportunity to go abroad. After being introduced, I knew this would be the best opportunity for me to experience something I’ve always envisioned I would do later in life.

When thinking of businesses, people tend to think of profit or revenue. One important concept we learned on this trip was ethics and relationships. While visiting Everest Capital, they stressed the importance of trust and morals. Everest Capital is a boutique investment firm that meets client’s investment and financial goals. They have generations of clients whose money they manage, and this only comes with trust. Their business isn’t built off creating income but off their client’s trust, which only comes with time and results. At Pandora, we learned of the importance of marketing. From the size of the store to how the bracelets were organized around the store Pandora put tons of effort into making their products appeal the best to their customers.

My biggest takeaway from the program is to value every bit of time that you have. Throughout the program you begin to grow a love for the people you meet and the experiences you have. Everything moves quickly and before you know it you are on the flight back to your home. You never forget the memories, the relationships you made and the fun you had. In a way it teaches you that time is precious, and every moment won’t last forever so live in the moment and take everything you can from it. You’ll most likely never again be in that situation, but it will be a moment you will always smile back at, remembering.

As a first-generation college student, this program was life changing. I see the world though a different lens and once you experience traveling abroad, it’s something you will always want to do in the future. Everything in this program, from the business we met to the restaurants we ate at was a cultural experience that I learned and grew from. No day was like the other and I now know that there is a bigger world to explore and knowing that fuels my passion to do more exploring. I would recommend this program to anybody who wants an experience that is not only educational, but eye opening and fun.

Kylah Gooden

First-Year student majoring in Management; Brighton, AL

This trip changed the way I view life as a whole. It humbled me and reminded me that I should be thankful for the life that I have. I got the chance to eat foods I never ate, to zipline, to ride bikes on islands. I got to sit down with some amazing people who poured life into me. Leaving this trip I have found new interests, such as Spanish and international business.

Malaysia Church

First-Year student majoring in General Business; Tuscaloosa, AL

I am also learning Spanish now because it is such a beautiful language. I was a little culture shock when it finally hit me that no one really uses English that much. It was a challenge at first, but then I picked up on some phases and realized what was said, which made things easier. I was living on cloud nine for the entire time I was there and didn’t really experience homesickness because I was there for such a short period. I didn’t want to return, which made leaving way harder. When I returned, I still say “muchas gracias” out of habit and other small phases, which entertain some of the people around me, especially family members.

Caleb Giles

First-Year student majoring in Psychology (was General Business); Saraland, AL

Getting off the plane in a foreign country and being surrounded by people who don’t speak your native language will be shocking at first. Additionally, during your first full day in the country, you will stumble upon many cultural differences. For instance, during my week in Panama, there was only one meal where I knew 100% what I was eating (regardless the food was still amazing). The language barrier is another thing to consider as it can place barriers between things such as transportation, directions, and communication. While all of these present issues within the first couple days, as the trip goes on, they start to lessen as you assimilate into their culture. By the end of the week, I found myself loving the weather, enjoying the food, and being able to speak and comprehend most of what was being spoken to me by local Panamanians. However, culture shock doesn’t stop once you arrive home. This is because the differences that you’ve gotten used to in your host country are now foreign in your home country. Since arriving home, I’ve missed the hot weather, the food, and the overall scenery of Panama. The things that I had to work at and get used to will turn into valuable experiences and lessons, but first there is a feeling of reverse culture shock. Panama was an incredible adventure and I am so glad that I took the opportunity to go.

Halle Sullivan

First-Year student majoring in Marketing; Tuscaloosa, AL

Salome Montague

First-Year student double majoring in Public Relations and Spanish, Create Path to MBA; Birmingham, AL

“We look forward to welcoming you on board soon! Your flight to Atlanta, GA (ATL) departs from the international terminal at 8:05 AM.” – Delta Airlines

As I grabbed my suitcase and prepared to board the plane, I began to think of everything I experienced over the past week. By boarding the plane, I was leaving behind beautiful 80-degree weather, amazing food, and the friendliest of people. But also, by boarding the plane, I had gained an extraordinary experience: new friends and faculty connections, international business connections, the confidence to speak in Spanish, and the motivation to continue honing my skills so that I can be ready when the next international business opportunity arises.

During the week in Panama, we visited 11 different companies. Some were Panamanian companies, for example, Superintendency of Banks. Others were brands that are internationally recognized such as Nestle and Pandora. Out of all the companies we visited, the most unique was COPA Airlines. COPA Airlines is the leading airline provider in Panama, serving 33 countries and 80 destinations in the Americas. We had the opportunity to speak with one of their pilots and even visit their flight training center where we practiced some of the safety drills their flight attendants learn in trainings.

While we spent many hours in business meetings with numerous professionals, we also created time to explore and learn more about Panama. With Panama’s prime location between North and South America, millions of people choose to visit and do business in Panama every year. The Panama Canal is a significant economic impactor to the nation, and we visited the Panama Canal on our first full day in Panama. We even got to watch ships pass through the canal during our visit. 

Panama is the perfect example of a melting pot. There are so many nations represented in this one country. During our visit alone, I met Nicaraguans, Colombians, people from the United States, Argentines, Peruvians, and Ecuadorians. Many of our presenters spoke numerous languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, and some even French. Noticing linguistic variety while in Panama has shown me just how valuable it is to speak numerous languages and be kind to those who are still learning different languages. 

As a public relations major, we often talk about globalization and how important it is to be relevant to your audience. Globalization, fueled by increases in technology, has made it so easy for the world to be interconnected. While we all have different experiences, we can all do our part to increase cultural awareness. The Panama: Business ACCESS program increased my knowledge of Panama and the connectivity of international business.

I am thankful for those who made it possible for Panama to not just to be a place on a map, but a place I can now say I’ve been to and experienced. A place that I now cherish and that motivates me to continue to explore Latin America and pursue further international business opportunities.

Salome reflects on Panama in her own words.

Salome reflects on Panama in her own words.

Mattie Maini

First-Year student majoring in Management; Southside, AL

The best piece of advice I could give to a future study abroad student is to just push yourself beyond your limits, strive to learn, and be optimistic. It is such a beautiful thing that we are all diverse and have different values.

Shelby Keith

First-Year student majoring in Finance;
Birmingham, AL

This trip to Panama was a first of many. First time at an airport, on a plane, and first time abroad. The nerves were high, but the excitement outweighed all the other emotions. The whole ride there I couldn’t believe that I would be going abroad.  Once arriving at the airport, the reality of the trip started to hit. This is a once and lifetime opportunity and knew the memories I made on this trip would be life lasting. I kept telling myself I must make the most of the opportunity being given to me. About a week before the trip, I begin doing research on the companies I would soon be visiting, trying to develop questions that would expand my knowledge and make the most of the time during the meetings. While waiting to board the plane I tried to see if there is other information I needed to find before arriving in Panama. Once they called us to board the nerves were at an all-time high. Ky even offered to hold my hand when we took off. After taking off I saw there was no need to be nervous and there was nothing to it. The plane ride itself was quite peaceful despite being 35,000 feet in the air. After landing I was in awe at how beautiful the city was despite it being quite dark. It was something I’ve never seen before. There were beautiful lights and tall skyscrapers with beautiful glass. Really brought the trip full circle and even more excited for the week to come. 

Shelby explores trust in business relationships.

Shelby explores trust in business relationships.

First day of the program we had a jammed packed schedule of touring Panama City, Panama. We toured to the old city, Panama Veijo, that was burnt down by the people of Panama to protect the city’s treasures from pirates. We saw old structure remnants from the catastrophe. Following that, we went to the Panama Canal and watched a small documentary explaining the history and how the canal was built. I was also able to see a ship go through the canal. On Monday our business visits with Copa Airlines and Pandora started. Both companies gave me a whole new side of the business field and perspective into the business field. That afternoon we got to see the “new city” that was built after the old city burned down. The buildings have Spanish, Caribbean, French and Italian influence. The city was full of life and culture. Probably one of my favorite days we had. Tuesday and Wednesday we mostly saw financial institutions. With my major being finance I learned so much. I learned about new ideas, jobs, and how finance varies in different countries. Evan gave me a new prospective career. On Wednesday we also were accompanied by Ken Tidwell who is an Alabama alum. He gave a great deal of advice and new ideas to consider while finishing my degree. We also had dinner with him and overall was a great opportunity to see the outcome of the university and hear his experiences that led him to his career now. Thursday is when I realized that soon I would unfortunately have to leave. 

As Friday came, I knew the end was near. Friday, we planned an all-day excursion to the Gamboa rainforest. We were able to take a cable car up to a lookout with one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever witnessed. I was in complete awe of how peaceful it was. Following that I took a boat ride that put me in the canal. On the boat ride we would stop at small pieces of land that were home to many different animals including monkeys and sloths. Fun fact: Panama has over 1,000 bird species. On the ride we were also able to see huge ships coming in and out of the canal. As the day ended so did the trip. As sad as it was to go, I did start to miss home. 

Reflecting on this wonderful experience I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. I learned so much on this trip about culture, history, appreciation, business and just on life. I know have a much better understanding of those coming into the U.S. not speaking English and how hard it truly is I sympathize with them now. On the trip I saw how hard it was to get around and do normal tasks, not being able to speak the native language of the country. Overall, the biggest thing that stuck with me was a quote given by one of the business owners we visited, the quote said, “to get something you never had you have to do something you never did”. This has brought a new perspective to use not only now but when I strive to get my dream career. 

Haley Brown

First-Year student majoring in Economics;
Prattville, AL

When applying to the study abroad for Panama, I was extremely excited. I had just learned that some of my ancestry originated from South America, specifically Panama. This is also the first time I had ever been outside of the country, so this trip was a “double-positive” in my books. Once I got accepted, I started talking with my mom about preparation, and although I was a bit late in preparing, I think I over-packed. I made sure I had everything, even going as far as to bring extra blankets and sheets. (This made the journey through TA a bit more difficult). I also made sure to do more research on the place I’d be staying at, making sure I knew where the embassy was and possible ways to get there. I was super nervous originally and almost backed out because I had a lot going on mentally, but as the date got closer and closer, I stayed committed. One of my main goals for the trip was just to learn more about the environment and have fun. Which I thought I achieved.

Coming off the plane was so taxing, but it was fun. During the plane trip I sat next to an older man and ended up striking a conversation with him. This wasn’t the first time the man had been to Panama, so he was explaining to me all the places I should visit. He also told me about the aquatic life in Panama, describing how the fish were unlike anything in America. After 3 hours, we arrived in Panama and although it was dark, I could see how beautiful it was. The nightlife was brewing with so much activity and energy, I almost thought I was in Miami. However, as we got closer to our destinations, things got quieter and calmer, the roads were extremely rough. I can't fit into words how amazing Panama is, everything from the food to the culture was lively and exciting. The people of Panama were super nice and were willing to help you anytime, the business trips taught me so much and allowed me to truly see the power of the country. It was very hot, as in 85-degree weather or hotter, which was perfect for me because I love hot/humid climates. The language barrier was not too harsh, I managed to hold good conversation with the locals even with my poor Spanish. I will say, you must be willing to always learn to really experience the beauty of Panama.

After a week, I did miss my family and I was ready to come back home, but I wanted to bring Panama with me. The entire trip made me think about life outside of America and has even made me think more seriously about living in a different country. Being that this was my first time in another country, I wonder what it would be like to go to other countries like Columbia. Overall, when I returned to America, I was inspired to search for more opportunities that would put me outside of the country. It also solidified my choice in major, as economics allowed me to understand some of the operations going on in Panama. I would advise fellow students to not shy away from going out of America. As US citizens, we are so close-minded about the outside world, we never really consider the possibility of a functional life outside of the states.

Video courtesy of Kayla Roberson

David Mothersbaugh
Associate Dean for Undergraduate and International Programs

Study abroad is an incredibly high-impact experience for students. To put our program into perspective, less than 5 percent of college students nationwide study abroad in their first year, making our Culverhouse UA in Panama students part of a select few who get such an experience so early in their college careers.

We hope you find the student impact of this program compelling.  Our goal is to grow the program beyond its current size which would be possible with additional financial support.  If this is an area of passion for you and you would like to learn more, please reach out to Alecia Price in our development team.

You can also contribute online to this program through the Culverhouse Undergraduate and International Programs Support Fund.