Monday, June 8, 2009

First 3 weeks: Santiago

The UIC School of Public Health created this blog as a way to connect students' work abroad with the campus community in Chicago. As I am new to blogging, please bear with me as I try to paint for you, the reader, my global public health experiences as not only a graduate student learning the ropes in research, but as someone taking his first steps in a new place, space, and culture.

Before I begin I would like to thank Lanny & Terry Passaro for providing the support to make this type of summer research experience possible for students through the Douglas Passaro International Award and for their continued support of the Global Health Initiative at the UIC School of Public Health. I would also like to thank Dr. Judith Levy and Dr. Lilian Ferrer for all of their time, guidance and support in the development of this field experience.

Now on to the first 3 weeks....

So after a months of preparation and many emails back and forth, I arrived safely in Santiago, Chile and have been here almost a month now. For those of you who don´t know, I am working as a research assistant at la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (PUC) in the School of Nursing. The project is called "Mano a Mano" (Hand in Hand) and has a variety of funding sources, but is primarily funded by the NIH. Mano a Mano aims to create a comprehensive HIV/AIDS intervention in Chile and is a multi-faceted project with a diverse population sample (men, women, and health workers). I am working on the research that focuses on an intervention tailored to Chilean men.

More or less, on a daily basis, I work from 830am to 500pm at the PUC office and in the evening or on the weekends the research team goes out into the field to conduct the baseline or follow-up interviews for our male population. The interviews are paper-based and take about 1 hour to complete-- quite in depth and very interesting. Both the control and intervention groups receive the interviews, but the intervention group also includes a 4 module HIV/AIDS curriculum developed by Mano a Mano. Basically, we´re trying to measure to see if the curriculum (our intervention) does indeed increase knowledge, positively change attitudes, and decrease risk behaviors that pertain to HIV/AIDS. We are also interested in incorporating a Mapuche (indigenous group) male population into the research as well.

I am also helping with the qualitative analysis of the qualitative data taken during a series of focus groups and narrative interviews that occurred in 2007/2008. This analysis is very exciting and I just started, but it is going to take up most of my time while I am here. Dr. Lilian Ferrer, the PI on the project is amazing and I am so excited and happy to be working with her. The rest of the staff have been very warm and welcoming and it already feels like we've been working together a long time.

So with brief synopsis of the project done we move to the "adventures." I arrived in Santiago on May 18th, 2009. that first week was spent: 1) learning how the metro works 2) looking for an apartment 3) getting to know Santiago 4) finding my way around the university, and 5) buying a phone. I accomplished #'s 1,2, & 5- still working on 3 and 4. I found a flat (or a "pieza" as they say here) that I share with other folks: 2 internationals (Julien from Niece, France and Claudia from La Paz, Bolivia) and a Chilean (Ruben). I originally thought of staying in a place by myself, but the flat mates are great and very helpful if I need to find important things (like the grocery, etc...). Plus, there are a lot more "hidden costs" when renting an apartment here and it ended up being too much of a hassle.

I am still learning Santiago, but let me just say that the metro here is 1000000x better than the EL in Chicago. Incredible. It is so quiet, fast, and clean! I feel spoiled. Other than adventures in the metro, I found a new love for the Chilean hot dog: el completo. It comes with a tomato sauce (but with lots of tomato chunks in it... more like salsa), sauerkraut, avocado (depending on the style), and mayonnaise-- so delicious. My intake of Nescafe (instant coffee of the world) has increased 3 fold and I have been running in the morning, which helps me to orient myself in the city. Fun times.

Last week I went to a Rotary Club in a neighborhood located just south of the city to do some interviews with the research team (they donated a space so we could conduct interviews there). I talked to one of the Rotary members for 3 hours about pretty much everything: credit, international economic crisis, the dictatorship in Chile, the return of democracy from the dictatorship, public-private partnerships in government, the best place to get a Tom Collins in Santiago, municipal governments, federalism, and the french revolution (he studied political science, can you tell?). oh. my. god. it was great, but i am still exhausted. I think i forgot how tiring it is when you are communicating in a 2nd language-- a lot of concentration and a lot of endurance.

Right now in Santiago, the leaves are changing colors, the night temperature hovers around 32F and the day temp is around 55F. Fall is here in full force and I am told July and August will be cold, with a chance of snow. PUC´s campus is absolutely beautiful.

On June 10th I am headed to the Latin American Studies Association Congress in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I can assure you this congress is all work (although I will be in Rio de Janeiro). I was looking through the program and there is a lot of amazing interdisciplinary health research happening and I am excited to see the presentations and hopefully meet some of the researchers-- hats off to health research and the social sciences!

more updates to come soon!

un abrazo,


1 comment:

  1. Great first post! Can't wait to hear what you're up to next :) Be well, Tug!