Intelligence and Security Studies in Latin America

featuring Coastal Carolina University

Throughout May 2023, we designed an experience spanning three different countries in Latin America for a group of undergraduate students either majoring or minoring in Intelligence and National Security Studies at Coastal Carolina University. Over the course of three weeks, students took part in academic activities and cultural tours in Bogotá, Medellín, and Panama City. 

Throughout these interactions, the key overarching goal was to present students with a historic and contemporary view of the concept of security across three distinct Latin American contexts. In addition, the activities and visits were selected so as to present other key social and political phenomena in Colombia and Panama – such as human rights, corruption, peacemaking, and crime – that interact with and influence the concept of security. In doing so, students were able to achieve both a depth in security studies and breadth in the general context in which these issues are situated. 


Bogotá (Colombia), Medellín (Colombia), and Panama City (Panama)


May 9th – May 29th, 2023


Faculty-Led Immersion

"Spending three weeks studying abroad in Colombia and Panama was an amazing experience. I learned a lot about what has happened in these countries such as the FARC vs. the government in Colombia, and drug trafficking organizations causing major problems in Panama. One thing that really grabbed my attention during this experience was the Military Museum in Bogota, Colombia. Our guide explained very well what has happened in Colombia regarding the internal conflict. All in all, I would do it all over again! It was a great experience!"

Justin Merrick

Intelligence and National Security student


This program is the first that we have developed in partnership with Coastal Carolina University.

Under the leadership of Dr. Matthew Cobb, Assistant Professor in the Department of Intelligence and Security Studies, this program was developed as a Maymester experience meant to complement students’ classroom experience in their core courses within the department.

In addition to Dr. Cobb’s leadership, the success of the program would not have been possible without the support of Dr. Christopher Gunn, Department Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of History, and Dr. Anne Berler, Director of Academic Advising & Peer Leadership, both of whom accompanied students on this journey as well. 

The Journey:

Following the end of spring semester, students embarked on their journey, beginning their 20-day expedition in the capital city of Bogotá, Colombia.

Within the first few days of arriving, they had the chance to engage in discussion with Dr. Angelika Rettberg, a professor at the Universidad de los Andes whose research focuses on the effects of Colombia’s internal armed conflict on society and the country’s reparation mechanisms for victims of the conflict.

Following this lecture, students then proceeded to meet with representatives of the Department of Security for the city of Bogotá, where they learned more about the city’s current security plan and were introduced to the process of formulating such public policies. 

After finishing out their stay in Bogotá with an excursion to the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, students then flew about 250 kilometers north to the city of Medellín. In order to allow students to digest the knowledge presented in Bogotá and to engage more directly with these themes, they had the opportunity to work with local Colombian students on an interactive activity which required them to debate a specific topic related to the Colombian conflict and subsequently write a report presenting the findings and takeaways of these debates. In addition, students were able to learn more about the local context and culture through additional tours and visits, including a tour of Comuna 13, a neighborhood in Medellín that transformed from one of the most dangerous places in the country into a vibrant and innovative community known for its colorful street art and social urban projects. 


University of Medellín

The University of Medellín (UdeM) is a higher education institution located in Medellín, Colombia. Since its establishment in 1950, it has become one of the leading universities in the country, with a strong commitment to promoting academic excellence. Projects such as this one are part of the university’s broader strategy to promote internationalization for its students and partner institutions. This collaboration would not have been possible without the support of Diana Yuranny Amaya Bermúdez and Sandra Lorena Cardenas Arias from the UdeM’s International Relations Office. 

In their final stretch of the trip, students left Colombia and headed to the capital city of Panama, where they were not only exposed to academic content related to security studies, but also had the chance to engage with practitioners. For instance, they had the opportunity to meet with representatives from the National Commission for the Study and Prevention of Drugs (Comisión Nacional para el Estudio y la Prevención de Drogas, CONAPRED), a public agency focused on understanding and preventing drug-related crimes in Panama. To once again contextualize security in relation to other key themes, students were also able to tour Panama’s Museum of Freedom and Human Rights before heading back to the U.S.

The Impact:

At its core, this program aimed to allow students to bridge the content they have learned in the classroom with the real-world challenges of addressing complex social and political challenges. By participating in a series of interactive activities with practitioners and academics across three different cities, students had the chance to develop and apply critical thinking skills to understanding the similarities and differences in each context.

For instance, in both Colombia and Panama, students learned about techniques to address drug use and regulation – a subject they already had prior exposure to at Coastal Carolina. While in Colombia, they were exposed to a series of social programs in the country that work to provide alternative paths for individuals at risk of engaging in substance abuse or drug trafficking. Subsequently, when they went to Panama and learned about the country’s regulation process for drugs and chemical substances, they engaged in a rich discussion with speakers from CONAPRED about the ways that their approach was different from that which they saw in Colombia, despite being a common issue between the two countries.

In addition, it is critical to us to create spaces in which students can interact more directly with the local culture to allow for mutual exchanges of information, experiences, and knowledge. 

For example, when the program participants visited the University of Medellín and had the chance to interact with local students, they not only learned more about the first-hand experiences of these students with the effects of the conflict on modern-day Colombia, but were able to share their own perspectives and insights on how this varies from the United States. 

This type of activity, in turn, generates an ‘internationalization at home’ experience for the Colombian students, who have the opportunity to engage in global learning alongside their international peers. But beyond the differences that students identified throughout these interactions, they came to find a number of similarities that transcended national boundaries – in quintessential Gen Z fashion, one of the groups ended up bonding over their shared love of memes.

Did you enjoy reading about this incredible international education journey? 

Our passion in the academic field has given us the privilege of actively collaborating with more than 80 universities, offering professional and extracurricular experience journeys directly impacting more than 4000 students.

Written by:

Jaret Waters

Campus b Team

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