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Landing in Latin America

School wasn’t quite over for Sam Dietze when he graduated from Bridgewater in May 2013.

With his bachelor’s degree in hand, the business administration major from Chantilly, Va., headed to Panama and his first job — one he landed after a little networking and a casual interview on a beach.

Photo of Sam Dietze

Dietze, who played football for the Eagles, is an assistant manager for Petroport SA, a 15-year-old Panamanian company that imports, exports, stores and bunkers liquefied petroleum — butane and propane. Living and working in Panama, he oversees fuel tank management for the company. He is responsible for accounting for and explaining unexpected changes in fuel tank levels, which can result from factors as varied as temperature, leakage or robbery, he said.

Dietze also handles logistics. In this role, he formulates optimal timing patterns for shipping movement and how much fuel to give each ship during a transfer, while trying to maximize profits and guarantee safety.

“When I was offered the job, I kept hearing the phrase, ‘do it while you're young.’ I accepted within a week,” he said. “It was an impulsive decision, but it was time to do something different. I’d spent all of my life in Virginia.”

When he first arrived in Panama, Dietze had plenty to learn.

“I spent the first couple of weeks reading books on the oil industry, on bunkering (moving fuel on and off ships), and studying the company’s operation.” His next step was to explore the job site in Colon, less than 40 miles across the Isthmus of Panama from Panama City, where the company is headquartered.

“It took a few weeks, but I was able to apply tools learned in the classroom.”

He said he is especially grateful to professors Thomas Fechtel, David Huffman, Ronald Kline and Louis Pugliese of the economics and business administration department, and Spanish instructor Valerie Dinger for their relentless encouragement and wise advice.

“There was a lot to learn, but it was a matter of doing and learning from my mistakes along the way. I think they’ve entrusted me with the responsibility because I’ve worked hard to prove myself accountable since day one.”

Even though Dietze had studied Spanish, he concedes that Panamanians talk “very, very fast.” Fortunately, his boss is fluent in English. When conversing with his co-workers, however, it’s all Spanish.

“I am definitely the ‘gringo’,” Dietze said, but he gets along fine in Panama. “It’s cool to experience life from the minority stand point because I’ve never been able to feel that until now. It has taught me a lot about people."

He added, “The most challenging aspect was when my Spanish was minimal. But once that was complete, the challenge was timing.”

Like every other first-time employee, he had to find the hours to work out, schedule Spanish classes, get groceries, pay bills — finding a work-life balance.

“But at the end of the day, work is conquered by being on time, persistent engagement, and an optimistic mindset,” said Dietze, who also stays busy as a freelance consultant, swim team trainer and new business owner (beverage distribution).

Living and working in Panama do have their perks. “I love the fact that I can wake up and head to work in warm weather every day. That will get you going!”

“I would call this a dream job for a student right out of college,” Dietze said. “It was such a comfortable feeling knowing I had a job with one semester to go. Between having fantastic professors and summer internships with IT company Intelligent Decisions, I was ready. Nothing felt better than knowing that my teachers were as excited as I was anxious in regard to my journey. Bridgewater shaped me for the better and will always hold a special place in my heart.¨

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