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#MyWheaton Blog

Posted July 1, 2015 by
Tags: The Liberal Arts My Wheaton Global and Experiential Learning

Three Impactful Experiences: Iron Sharpens Iron Panama 

One aspect about Wheaton that most intrigued me as a prospective student was the Iron Sharpens Iron (ISI) Program. As a high school senior looking to double major in economics and international relations, I dreamed of the opportunity to travel with professors and examine the economic and political well being of countries in Latin America. Thus, being in Latin America traveling to Panama, Peru, and Colombia on an ISI trip this summer is truly surreal. After an end to an informative time in Panama, I’d like to highlight three of the many experiences that have impacted us most:

1. The Panama Canal is expanding The Panama Canal, a 48-mile canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, is a vital channel for international marine trade in Panama. After a presentation by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), we were amazed by the utter grandness of the canal and how central it is to the lives of so many Panamanians. The business of the canal is connecting markets, and with around 14,000 ships passing through a year paying up to $450,000, it is directly responsible for four percent of Panama’s GDP, not to mention the countless jobs and further economic benefits it stimulates.  Currently, the canal is undergoing an expansion that will increase capacity by 20 percent, double gross revenue, and reduce transportation costs. Currently, the canal is the cheapest way to get from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and vice versa. 

2. Copa Airlines is “optimistic for the future”

It was fascinating to meet with Wheaton grad Dan Gunn ’90, senior vice president of operations at Copa Airlines, to learn more about Copa. Headquartered in Panama City with 74 destinations in 30 countries, Copa directly produces 4.2 percent of Panama’s GDP and 12.6 percent when including catalytic benefits through tourism. Dan stressed that Copa’s success is tied to their excellence in executing and explained the benefits of their antitrust immunity in a 1998 partnership with Continental Airlines. For me, the primary takeaway was how optimistic Copa is for the future. They will soon expand to several more cities, and I’m looking forward to seeing how their clear vision for connecting, coupled with their passenger-oriented leadership, will transform travel by air in the Americas.

3. The Kuna hope to forge partnerships with universities abroad

Our time in Panama showed us firsthand that Panama has become a regional and logistical hub with lots of economic benefits. With this modernization, it is important to also focus on indigenous populations in the region and how they are assimilating to these changes. We met with the Kuna, an indigenous group with an estimated population of 60,000 located near Panama’s northeast coast, Kuna Yala. Captain David Iglesias, our trip leader and director of the Wheaton College Center for Economics, Government and Public Policy, is actually half Kuna—it was beautiful to witness the love the Kuna chiefs expressed toward him during their talk. They spoke about their bilingual education system, love for environment, ecotourism, and how they have managed to maintain more autonomy than most indigenous groups. When referring to ecotourism, they told us how they loved sharing their homes with others but were disappointed with the problem of trash. Since only three percent of Kuna students attend university, Kuna economists also shared with us that they dream of forging partnerships with universities to send their students abroad to learn more languages and return to create businesses.

One might say this trip has opened my eyes to the untapped potential in Panama. As the trip leads us to Colombia and Peru, I’m looking forward to learning more about these culturally rich countries that are living in a post-terrorism state of growing their economies.

Kelen Caldwell ’17 is an economics and international relations double major traveling with ISI this summer. Photos: (top) At the Miraflores Lock, Panama Canal, with the team; (above) With Kuna indigenous chiefs and leaders after their briefing in their Panama City administration building. Read about ISI's travels in Colombia, written by  Emma Schaafsma ’17.

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