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January 10, 2019

Maggie Schlecht - Panama Global Immersion Blog

Maggie Schlecht - Panama Global Immersion Blog
Maggie Schlecht embarks on a ten-day trip to Panama in December.
Maggie Schlecht, a junior international business major from Elmhurst, Illinois, will join some of her fellow members of the Allan Noddle International Business Distinguished Scholars Program on a ten-day trip abroad to Panama this December. She and a multi-disciplinary team of students are designing a luxury sailboat marina in Panama before the trip. She said, “I am excited to create a business plan for a country I’ve never visited, as well as get to know the other students, faculty and locals.” After her time in Panama, Maggie will study abroad for a semester in Aix-en-Provence, France.

Adios, Panama! – January 7, 2019

Luiza Benvenuti and Maggie walk onto one of the more than 300 San Blas Islands.
Luiza Benvenuti and Maggie walk onto one of the more than 300 San Blas Islands.
In the last days of our trip, we visited a village on the Chagres River, a sailboat and yacht marina in Colon, Fort San Lorenzo and Monkey Island. We also presented the business ideas we’ve worked on all semester to the former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Panama and the director of Ciudad del Saber, the innovation center where we stayed. At our farewell meeting, we reminisced on the highlights and challenges of our trip. Nobody wanted to leave each other or Panama.
One of the biggest surprises of the week was how, in such a short amount of time, this group of students formed such a close bond. I'm so lucky to have met such nice, friendly people. Being in a study abroad environment forces you to get to know each other quickly. It’s something I would recommend to every student. With so many scholarships available and the trip taking place over winter break, this program is highly accessible. If you’re considering studying abroad, go for it! It’s been the greatest experience of my time at Nebraska, which is saying a lot for such a wonderful university.
Finally, if you are thinking of going abroad, try somewhere you might not have thought to visit before. Prior to this trip, I didn’t know much at all about Panama or what the country has to offer. Little did I know, we were able to see the Pacific Ocean, Caribbean Sea, rivers, waterfalls, mountains, cities, historic sites and different neighborhoods all within 10 days. Put yourself out there, and you won’t be disappointed!

New Year’s Eve in Panama - December 31, 2018 

The Huskers gather to ring in the new year.
The Huskers gather to ring in the new year.
On the last day of 2018, we got an early start by meeting in the conference room to brief us on the Husker Race of Panama. Based on the TV show “The Amazing Race,” we were paired up in teams and tasked with asking directions in Spanish, taking pictures in front of monuments and ordering ceviche from the fish market. The local Panamanians were friendly and incredibly helpful. One group reported that they got a police escort to their next destination! The race was exhausting, but we saw so much of the city in just a few hours. By noon we had walked five miles.
That evening, we worked to plan our free New Year’s Day. Most of the group chose to take a trip to the Caribbean side of Panama and see the gorgeous San Blas Islands. Organizing this trip was not easy, especially when contacting the company that ran it. But after our plans were finalized, we got dressed up for our New Year’s Eve dinner. 
Our group dinner was outside in a beautiful square in Casco Viejo. The tables were decorated, and when we arrived, people were already out on the dance floor. Between setting off fireworks after the countdown, dancing and setting off lanterns, time flew by and dinner was served - at 1:45 a.m.! By that time, we had worked up an appetite for the delicious lobster and steak. After eating, it was back to the dance floor until 3:30 a.m.! We could’ve stayed longer, but our bus would leave for San Blas Islands at 5 a.m.. This was one of the most exhausting and fun days of my life!

Presentations Practice on Day 3 – December 30, 2018

Nebraska students explore Isla Flamenco.
Nebraska students explore Isla Flamenco.

The heat in this country was expected, but still a shock to the system. Even early in the morning, my friend Leigh Hanson and I walked to grab coffee and were sweating within a couple minutes. She helped me order in Spanish and we split a croissant while walking back to our building. This morning, we presented our business ideas to Dr. Osiri and Jaime at Ciudad del Saber. It was fun to see what the other groups had been working on all semester. After each group completed their 10-minute presentation, Jaime and Dr. Osiri gave feedback and suggestions for improvement. We’re preparing for our formal presentations to Panamanian business leaders at the end of the trip. 


The afternoon was free, so we visited Isla Flamenco and ordered fried yuca and shrimp-filled plantain cups. The view of Panama City’s skyline was gorgeous, and our photo shoot on the water caused us to miss the last bus back. It worked out well though, because we walked along the road that connects this island to the mainland and got to enjoy the views and each other’s company. We piled into an Uber ride back to Ciudad del Saber where we worked on our Spanish-speaking skills before getting ready to go out that evening. We spotted a square lit up with Christmas decorations and full of people, so of course we got out and walked around. There was a basketball court and Dr. Osiri started a shooting competition that turned into some pickup games. After warming up on the court, Abraham, a local Panamanian, took us dancing in Casco Viejo. Each day leaves us exhausted and happy to be here. 

We have arrived! – December 29, 2018

Maggie Schlecht, Dr. Kalu Osiri and Leigh Hanson stand on the Miraflores Lock of the Panama Canal.
Maggie Schlecht, Dr. Kalu Osiri and Leigh Hanson stand on the Miraflores Lock of the Panama Canal.

It’s only been a day, but I feel like we’ve been here for a week with all that we’ve done already. Once everyone arrived at the Ciudad del Saber (City of Knowledge) dorms, we piled into one dorm room to meet each other and hang out. Then, we were up early yesterday for our meeting with Jaime Figueroa, a Nebraska alumnus who lives and works in Panama. He introduced us to the country and told us about what makes Panama so special. He explained Panamanian chocolate was just crowned the best in the world and that Panama’s coffee snagged the No. 2 ranking. We learned about Panama’s history and discussed the country’s future. 


After our meeting, we hopped on a double-decker bus and drove five minutes to the Panama Canal. Once there, we Huskers took a group photo on the Miraflores Lock. To put into perspective the significance of this picture: Usually only government officials and other high-ranking individuals have this privilege. The hundreds of other visitors to the canal that morning watched us and waved. Those of us wearing open-toed shoes had to borrow shoes from one another to walk out onto the lock, but we joked that it brought us even closer together! After walking through the four floors of the canal museum and watching a cargo ship pass through, we jumped back on the bus and took a tour through Panama City. 


Our next stop was Casco Viejo, Old Town. It looks like a French village and has adorable cafés and boutiques. Jaime took us to a chocolate shop, where we learned about how Panama’s chocolate is made and tasted the milk, 65%, and 90% varieties. The shop was decorated to look like the forests where the cacao beans are grown, with sloths and thick palm trees all over. 


After a few more hours walking around Casco Viejo and stopping at a grocery store to pick up some food and sunscreen, we headed back to Ciudad del Saber. One of the cultural differences we’re starting to notice is that Panamanians are very open and friendly, waving and honking and shouting out as we pass. Jaime told us about the laid-back, relaxed nature of Central American countries. We’re excited for the next eight days of extreme heat and exploring more of what Panama has to offer!

Airport Delay But A New Connection - December 27, 2018

I'm supposed to be two hours into my flight to Panama City, but instead, I'm sitting in Chicago O'Hare Airport's Terminal 5 food court, sipping an iced latte and eating a croissant. I live just 15 minutes from O'Hare and arrived at 5:30 a.m., but I won't depart until 1 p.m. The gate personnel made several announcements pleading for a volunteer to catch a later flight, and once I checked with Chandra Schwab, one of our trip leaders, I went for it. A $700 voucher and some meal tickets later, I'm checking out all of Copa Airlines' destinations in Central and South America. I haven't even left for this trip yet and I'm planning my next international foray! The other tabs open on my laptop follow a similar vein: “Airbnb Top 19 Destinations for 2019,”“11 Hard-to-Reach Destinations Worth Visiting,”and “Underrated Travel Destinations.”Somehow I've spent 15 minutes comparing the different routes to reach Antarctica. I might be getting ahead of myself, but I do have a few hours to kill. 
About an hour ago, a woman approached me asking about my Nebraska Water Polo Club crewneck. It turns out, she was one of the founders of the club team! She went to a rival high school a few years before me, and we figured out that she graduated with my high school swim and water polo coach. Now, en route to a new country, I can't decide if it's a small world after all.

Panama, T-minus Two Months! - November 29, 2018

It’s November 29, which means in one month, I’ll be sitting in the Chicago O’Hare airport waiting to board my Copa Airlines flight to Panama City! 
Maggie Schlecht and her team pose with the judges after their Nebraska Hult Prize Challenge pitch.
Maggie Schlecht and her team pose with the judges after their Nebraska Hult Prize Challenge pitch.
Pitching Our Plan: Since my first blog post, I’ve worked with my small group to create a business plan for a luxury sailboat and yacht club in Panama City. Our target market includes a growing population of more than 225,000 individuals who each own more than $30 million in assets. Panama is an ideal location that doesn’t get hit by hurricanes and is close enough for Silicon Valley tech billionaires to reach for a weekend getaway.
Meeting with my group to plan and practice our pitch has been fun, even if working around four people’s schedules isn’t easy! Everyone in our group has creative ideas and challenges the others to think about what is best for the project. We presented our ideas to a panel of three judges at the Nebraska Hult Prize Challenge. Normally, I’m not a fan of public speaking, but since I was with great group members and we’re passionate about our pitch, it turned out to be a great time! The event was good practice for when we pitch our idea to business leaders in Panama.
Prep Time: It’s time to start preparing for departure! Ticking items off my list just makes me more eager to get to Panama City. During my visit with the university’s travel nurse, I was pretty proud of myself for braving not one, but two immunizations. And for finally getting the flu shot after months of being reminded by my mom. Flights are booked and study abroad forms are filled out. This is really happening! I’m most looking forward to visiting the indigenous Embera Drua Village, trying new foods, and taking part in the Husker Race of Panama (running around Panama City in our version of “The Amazing Race”) on New Year’s Eve. Oh, and temperatures in the upper 80s! 
The next few weeks will fly by and before we know it, we’ll finally be in Panama! I’m so lucky to be traveling and learning with such a friendly and enjoyable group.

Panama, T-minus Two Months! - October 30, 2018
A group of students researches the luxury boating industry at a group meeting.
A group of students research the luxury boating industry at a group meeting.
I can't believe I'm already writing my first Panama blog post! With just two months until departure, this trip is right around the corner. We still have a lot of work to do before then, but if the past few weeks have been any indication, it will be fascinating and rewarding!
Initial Thoughts: I'm not going to lie, I was nervous before our first class meeting. Although I love getting to know new people, I didn't know anyone who was going and hoped some people were in the same boat as me. Once we started searching for flights, though, I was right at home. I love finding cheap flights and planning trips on a budget. We split into small groups and made plans to complete our first assignment: creating a new business idea.
The Projects: So far, this class has challenged our groups to be creative and take ownership of our work. We're finally settling into our small groups, as some people switched around because we had the option to pick which business idea to pursue. I love that we can contribute to the project we're passionate about! The two projects are designing a luxury sailboat marina in Panama or creating a plan to use the Panama Canal to export Nebraska grain. My group is working on the marina, so we've been reaching out to industry experts, yacht owners and anyone else connected to the boating industry through LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and digging through Google searches. Today, five minutes after I sent our group's survey to a sailboat tour guide, he messaged back saying he was happy to help and invited us to visit the company in Panama City! 
I get more excited about our trip each time I meet with my classmates. Already, we have great camaraderie, and I've found it easy to joke around and get to know each other. My classes usually consist of students of the same year in school, major and interests. It's refreshing to work with a diverse group of students because we all have different experiences and ideas to bring to the table. I can't wait to see what innovative business designs our class comes up with!