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The Harbert College of Business one-week study abroad excursions provided students
with experiential international business learning opportunities in Panama (fall2022)
and Costa Rica (spring 2023). Registration for spring 2024 opens in mid- to-late summer
It’s one thing to sit in a college classroom and learn about the fundamentals of international business through lectures and group activities. It’s quite another to learn about supply chains standing at the Panama Canal locks as a giant container ship passes through or to pick coffee beans at the Hacienda Alsacia Starbucks Coffee Farm in Costa Rica.
This past academic year, 31 Auburn University undergraduate students enrolled in the International Business (BUSI 3250) course did both as they complemented their traditional weekly classroom instruction with a one-week study abroad excursion to these two Latin American countries.
According to Mary Catherine Colley, program director for the short-term, undergraduate Harbert College of Business Global Programs and course lecturer, this year marked the first time that some students enrolled in the course went abroad and immersed themselves in the culture, learning about social issues and how economic, regulatory, legal and political factors impact businesses and consumers alike.
“Business is global and even if you’re not a company that exports, you’ll be competing with international firms,” Colley said. “On each trip, students met with Panamanian or Costa Rican entrepreneurs and officials from government, health care and banking to learn how businesses operate and understand the challenges they face.”
For supply chain management senior Tyler Kennedy the group’s visit to the Colón Container Terminal in Panama was eye opening. Housed on a former U.S. military base, the terminal is a modern container handling facility that has opened a world of opportunities for Panama as a hub for regional distribution and transshipment.
“We had a good presentation on how the shipping business has shrunk into a few big companies,” said Kennedy about the guided tour. “They also talked about how they use RFID technology to fight drug trafficking.”
Kennedy said the course and the immersive weeklong experience will help him as he launches his professional career this summer as a senior customer service experience partner for container shipping giant Maersk.
“I’ll be responsible for making sure our clients receive their containers on time,” he said. “This was exactly what I saw firsthand in Panama. I got a firsthand view of all that, including issues like making sure there were trucks ready to take the goods to the right place from the container yard.”
"These programs are a great option for [students] that have traveled abroad for vacation but may be interested in visiting businesses to learn more about how companies operate internationally." Mary Catherine Colley, program director for the short-term, undergraduate Harbert College of Business Global Programs and course lecturer
Other experiential learning opportunities in Panama included visits to
In March 2023, BUSI 3250 students traveled to Costa Rica for one week, visiting the
Alsacia Starbucks Coffee Farm among other businesses.
In March, Colley led a group of 13 undergraduates on a trip to Costa Rica during spring break, where they experienced sustainable farming practices at the Alsacia Starbucks Coffee Farm; met with local business leaders in the country’s capital; learned about the unique marketing practices of a privately owned supermarket company; and visited the University for Peace, La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Poas Volcano National Park.
According to Matt Wilson, a junior double majoring in business analytics and finance, one of the best parts about the Costa Rica trip was the bonds he formed with his fellow students as nearly all of them were traveling abroad for the first time.
“I thought I’d go on this trip, get some class credits and then just move on,” Wilson said during a class presentation several weeks after returning to Auburn. “But instead, I made friendships, and you were all people I could lean on during the trip.”
Junior Sophia Koolman, who is majoring in apparel merchandising and minoring in business marketing, said she’d never forget the visit to the coffee farm, where Starbucks develops best practices to make growing coffee beans more profitable for small-scale farms worldwide.
Koolman and the other students experienced firsthand the coffee making process from seedling to roasted beans ready for brewing.
“I didn’t realize how intense the process was to make one bag of coffee,” she said. “The harvesters return each year, which shows how strong their community is and how dedicated they are to the farm.”
Building on the success of these two international experiential learning trips, Colley already has the 2023-2024 course and week abroad planned.
“We are excited to offer these short-term programs to students who are interested in studying abroad but may not be ready for or interested in a long-term program,” Colley said. “These programs are a great option for those that have traveled abroad for vacation but may be interested in visiting businesses to learn more about how companies operate internationally.”
While the BUSI 3250 course is open to all Auburn undergraduates, Harbert College of Business students are eligible for a discounted rate on the travel component of the course thanks to the generosity of alumni and friends who provided financial gifts to support the experiential learning opportunity.
According to Colley, plans are in the works to offer a two-week trip in May 2024 to Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia for students in the Honors College and Harbert College of Business.
Danny Butler, assistant dean for Harbert Global Programs, said he’s proud of the 31 students who traveled abroad as part of the course. They all lived out the Auburn Creed, he said, referring to the line, “I believe…in a spirit that is not afraid.”
He added: “[Participating] in this program will change your lives and I hope 25 years from now you’ll give back. But for now, you need to tell other students to go on these programs because it will change their life.”