Day 8 – Arrival at home

After our delay in Lima, we landed in Miami an hour later than scheduled.  We had an hour and a half to clear customs, collect our bags, re-check them, go through security and board our next flight.  We all left the plane at a run to customs.  After customs, we sent Margo on because she didn’t have checked baggage.  Adam, CL, Jordan and I collected our bags and dropped them at the re-check area.  We now had around 40 minutes.  We were in concourse H and we needed to board for Charlotte at D60.  Needless to say there was a lot of running.  Adam and I ran ahead.  We made it though security and to the gate as they were boarding.  We waited until the gate agent would no longer allow us to wait and then we boarded.  As I was explaining on the phone to my husband that two of us weren’t going to make it, lo and behold Jordan and CL come into view out the window.  We were all on our way to Charlotte.

We headed to baggage claim and it is never a good sign when the belt stops and you haven’t seen your bags.  Our bags had not made the transfer.  As we were filling out the paperwork on our lost bags, the agent informed us that they were going to be on the next flight in two hours.  Instead of risk the transit of our bags to Roanoke and delivery to our homes, we decided to grab a bite to eat and wait for our bags.  We headed to the car and drove into Charlotte where CL knew of a restaurant called “The Diner.”  The food was great and we all enjoyed endless cups of water, after only bottled waters in Chile.

We picked up our bags and made the three hour drive home.  We noticed a couple of things.  First, it was freezing in North Carolina/Virginia.  None of us had coats.  Secondly, after coming from summer where everything was alive and in bloom, the stark contrast of brown grass and barren trees was poignantly evident.  We were all glad to get home, but sad to say goodbye.  Reunion plans are already in the works.  This has been an incredible week and I feel so blessed to have been a part of it!

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Day 7 – Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

After a quick breakfast in the hotel, we loaded up the vans and headed to the airport in Valdivia.  We left the way we had come in- down the dirt road, along the two-lane highway and arriving at the small airport.  We checked our bags in, said goodbye to Loreto and Herman, passed through security and boarded the flight to Santiago.  I can’t emphasize enough, the hospitality we received from Loreto and Herman.  The time we had in Valdivia was incredibly special.

We arrived in Santiago where we were shuttled by bus to Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile (PUC).  We saw a part of Santiago that had been hidden to us previously.  It was the low-class area.  We learned later, that PUC purposely chose this location because they felt that it was their mission to give back to their community.  Although PUC was in a lower rent area, once you stepped onto campus, this image was erased.  You enter PUC through a gate and drove along tree-lined roads with large campus buildings rising on either side.  It was as if we were on an American campus.  We were met with faculty members of the Engineering department.  With Virginia Tech having such a strong engineering presence, it is ironic that none of the six of us are engineering students.

We met with the faculty for three hours.  The Dean of the Engineering department began our time together.  He did his PhD at Berkley and has a heart for innovation.  He is leading his department and PUC in some radical ways for Chile.  To foster innovation, there have been several subjects that have been combined to meet the growing needs of our world.  For instance: Biomedical Engineering.  By combining a group of researchers that include both engineers and doctors, allows for interdisciplinary collaboration.  The Dean and the “Faculty” (in the US, we would call it the college, as in the college of engineering) are also leading the way in transforming the Chilean undergraduate degrees.  As of now, undergrads have to choose their major immediately when entering college and their classes will only include classes within this major.  Instead, PUC is working to implement a more rounded education with a set of core classes in other disciplines that engineers must take.

PUC has a lot of power in education because they educate the elite.  Later on in our meeting we learned that 90% of students attending PUC come from private schools and that the entry test (the PSU- their equivalent of the SAT) scores are the highest among any university in Chile.  They take in the most elite and brightest students each year.  Because their mission is to help reach their community, they have started a new program for less privileged kids.  In Chile the PSU score is the only method of evaluation for entry into a university.  Universities don’t look at your GPA, letters of recommendation or college essays.  It is a number given by a test which determines what University you will be allowed to attend (PUC is trying to change this).  There are plenty of bright kids that do not score as high due to lack of a private education.  PUC is looking to identify these students, bring them into the University, help them get financial aid, and set them up in a mentor program so that they will be successful.  So far this program has been incredibly successful with these students earning higher grades than students that entered PUC with higher PSU scores.  Overall, PCU is doing some incredible things within the Engineering department that will influence education at PUC as well as other Chilean universities.  It was and honor to hear about the vision and direction of PCU.

We then headed back to the vans and continued our drive through the less fortunate area of Santiago on our way to the airport.  When we arrived, we all changed into comfortable clothes for our flights home.  We checked in and Adam’s bag was sent down to the baggage area untagged by mistake.  We waited as the ticketing agent worked with the baggage people to locate it.  After that was resolved, we headed to the gate in a hurry.  We said goodbye to Dean DePauw, Dr. Dooley and Justin and boarded our plane to Lima.

The flight to Lima was 3 1/2 hours long and after not having lunch, we all enjoyed the airplane dinner.  The Lan planes had a wide selection of movies and TV, which made for a relaxing flight.  We arrived in Lima and had to go through security to change planes to Miami.  We boarded the plane and I fell asleep immediately.  What I realized later was that our plane was an hour delayed due to a tire change on the nose gear.

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Day 6 – UACh/Valdivia

We awoke and had breakfast in the hotel.  We were then off to UACh.  Each of us were paired with someone in our field.  I met up with Dr. Claudio Gutierrez again.  He took me to their vivarium (mouse facility).  It was in a wooden building and the cages were located on wooden shelves.  The cages used old glass soda bottles for water.  There was temperature control in the form of space heaters, but no air conditioning.  They also were not able to control for humidity.  They do a 12-hour light and 12-hour dark cycle, but there is light leak in the summer.  We did see one cage that had 1-day old pups.  Dr. Claudio Gutierrez showed me his mice that were diabetic.  Because of their condition, he has had a hard time getting them pregnant.  They mate, but don’t conceive.

From there, we met some other researchers in reproduction.  One researcher is doing work in cows.  When cows are given a 5-day hypercaloric diet, they have increased corpus luteum maturation for ovulation.  Another researcher was studying llamas and how in the winter when they have no access to food, they still don’t abort their fetuses.  Llamas have a gestational period of 11-months.  One lab works on cloning cows.  They have a lot of interesting Reproductive Biology occurring at UACh.  We got to do a quick tour of the fish biology department.  You could see the temporary building where they kept the fish in barrels.  Their new building should be finished in March.

We headed into downtown Valdivia for lunch and exploration.  After lunch, Loreto took Margo, Adam and I to the historical museum.  A German settler Herr Anwandter came to Valdivia and built a brewery.  We toured the house with historic furniture and local archeological findings from the area.  The brewery was destroyed in 1960 by a big earthquake.  We headed to the new hotel and casino in the center of town.  We went up to the 12th floor and had an incredible view of the city below.  After that, we did some shopping.  We visited a local market and a jewelry store which sold the stone lapis- native to Chile.  Our last visit was to a chocolate store where Justin and I split an ice cream.  Justin remarked that he thought it might be the best ice cream he has ever had.  We left from downtown Valdivia to our hotel by water taxi.  It was a beautiful day and the boat ride was both relaxing and gave us incredible views.

We rested for just a short time and then we were off to the Kuntsmann, a Chilean brewery in the German style.  Claudio, Georgia, Loreto and Herman joined us.  We enjoyed the local beer and shared bowls of all types of meats and cheese empanadas.  For our “meal,” several of us ordered the avocado and tomato salad.  What arrived were a sliced tomato and 3 sliced avocados.  I have loved the avocados here, but even I could not eat the entire serving of avocado.  Later in the evening, the rector (president) of the University joined us.  It was incredibly special, to have him take time out of his busy schedule to spend the evening with us.  The food and drinks were incredible and we all went home stuffed, for our last night in Valdivia.

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Day 5 – Universidad de Austral Chile (UACh)

The sun rises early here and sets late in the evening.  We are so far south and in the middle of their summer.  It is always surprising when we start dinner at 8PM, and yet it feels and looks like 6PM.  Dinners have been full of wonderful food, wine and conversation.  However, they tend to go long.  Last night I got a chance to catch up on sleep and enjoyed the wonderful bed this hotel has.  We had breakfast in the hotel and then we were off to UACh today.

We arrived and met the vice-rector of the University.  Our hosts gave us presentations about the University so that we would be more familiar as we toured and met with researchers.  I ducked out to attend Claudio Gutierrez’s (a professor in Vet Med) class.  He was lecturing on diabetes to a group of dental students.  I understood the slides he presented, but his lecture in Spanish was hard for me to follow.  I really enjoyed getting to see a classroom environment.  It is a juxtaposition of the new and the old.  The room is aged, but the projector and technology are new.  The students are similar to students in the US, with their chatter and texting when maybe they should be listening.  What I did notice was that they don’t use their laptops to take notes like they do in the States.  They all used notebooks and pens.  I know they have laptops because I saw plenty of students using them nearby.

I met up with the group and we walked into Valdivia for lunch.  We had the biggest sandwiches alive.  The were the size of frisbees.  Margo and I shared one and of course, it had avocado.  When we arrived back on campus we visited the Microbiology lab and the Biochemistry lab.  I stayed behind to talk to a graduate student named Jonathan who is doing cancer research.  He works on determining the methylation of the promoter region of a protein called multi-resistant drug protein 1.  As cancer patients become resistant to chemotherapy treatments, could it be due to epigenetic changes in methylation patterns on key genes?  I caught up with the group in the milk production facility.  They have the only working, large drying machine to make powered milk in Chile.

We then drove over to the vet hospital.  We saw the teaching and examination rooms.  I was able to watch some students clean the wound of a horse.  We then went outside to the stables and then to the wild animal rescue center.  We were able to see a rare Chilean deer called a Pudu.  We then headed back to the hotel for a debriefing with Dean DePauw and Dr. Dooley.  All of us were able to share our experiences in Chile so far.

It was the birthday of one of the people in our group and so we headed into downtown Valdivia from our hotel for dinner.  We had dinner at an Italian restaurant which was named the Woodpecker, but in Spanish.  The inside was like being in a treehouse.  Our feet were tired and it was wonderful to retire to our beds for the night.

There are new pictures posted online:                                            

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