SCALE Trek: Panama

Ranjani Rajan, SCM Class of 2016
Ranjani Rajan, SCM Class of 2016

Amy (Xiaojia) Chen, SCM Class of 2016
Amy (Xiaojia) Chen, SCM Class of 2016

Boston welcomed 2016 with pleasant weather this year, and we SCM folks expected a laid-back January, enjoying the sunshine and the first snowflakes kissing the ground. Little did we know IAP was going to be so intense and exhilarating (see Ludovic’s post)! Meeting hundreds of students across the world and participating in multiple team events was an incredible experience for all of us, and just as importantly, we also had a dangling carrot in front of us – the annual Panama trip, held at the end of IAP. Having heard from previous students that our trip to Panama would be the best experience of our entire SCM program, we could not wait for it to start!

Remember the best times of school? The field trips with classmates, the bus journeys, the games played during them and, ah, the food! Our trip to Panama took all of us back to that childhood, but instead of a bus, we took a plane to Central America, escaping the cold winter of Boston.

For Amy, the Panama trip was very nostalgic due to its striking resemblance to her hometown in Asia – the tropical weather, lush greenery, and congenial and hospitable locals. Not only did we see the expansion of one of the largest canals in the world, but we also visited various ports and learned about the impact of the canal’s expansion on businesses and infrastructures.

The week started with a trek to the rainforest, bird watching to enjoy the lush rich vegetation around us. (We were constantly warned about the insects and bugs, but thanks to the breathtaking surroundings, we cared less about the insects circling around us.)

Panama Rainforest Discovery Center.
Panama Rainforest Discovery Center. Photo credit: Nora Weisskopf
Fort San Lorenzo.
Fort San Lorenzo. Photo credit: Remya Pushpangatha Kurup

The next few days, we had a packed schedule. We visited the canal locks, the port, the free trade zone, warehouses, the airport, and many more things. Each visit was accompanied by classroom sessions (with Q&As) with an organization’s respective staff. It was exciting to see behind the scenes – suddenly we weren’t passengers anymore at the airport, but found ourselves on the runway inspecting a DHL cargo plane and getting a live demonstration of a fire truck!

The most fascinating part was the short movie on how the Gatun Locks (one set of locks in the canal) work and then seeing the gates in action. It was a wonderful experience to watch a giant ship pass through the locks at varying water levels. Through these visits, we learned how the expansion transformed Panama into a significant logistics hub, and the various opportunities and challenges faced.

Manzanillo International Terminal (MIT!) port
Manzanillo International Terminal (MIT!) port
Gatun Lock.
Gatun Lock. Photo credit: Nathan Stempel
Red Cross.
Red Cross. Photo credit: Nora Weisskopf

Besides all the impressive infrastructure and companies we met, let us not forgot to mention one memorable activity: riding the “beer train” across Panama (to the next SCM class – the cart ran out of beer before we even left the station, that’s a challenge to beat!) and rediscovering our enthusiasm for modern day charades a.k.a Headsup! This trip brought all of us closer as we travelled in small groups of 10 to most of the sites, measured the sweetness of pineapples, fished around the lakes, ate at fancy restaurants, and danced to Latino music. A few of our classmates also tried their luck at the casinos.

SCM student Karim Kamareddine at a pineapple plantation in Panama.
SCM student Karim Kamareddine at a pineapple plantation in Panama. Photo credit: Nora Weisskopf

To conclude our trip, we all had to give presentations on the final day to describe the impact of the canal expansion on different entities (ports in Panama and in other countries and companies). It was great to actually distill the knowledge we had learned over the last week and make our predictions on what would happen after the new locks opened. The end of Panama also marked the start of our trip to Colombia, which our fellow classmates organized – another adventure whose stories will probably not be suitable for public writing! 🙂

As someone rightly said, the best way to learn is through experience, and this trip definitely strengthened our passion towards logistics management. To us, the Panama Canal expansion is no longer some project we read about in articles, but it’s something we can relate to. Lastly, a special thanks to the wonderful SCM team – our director Dr. Bruce Arntzen, Ms Kirsten Greco, and Dr. Isabel Agudelo from Center for Latin-American Logistics Innovation, and everyone else – for making this an incredible and memorable experience.

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SCALE Trek: Panama

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