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Friday, December 2, 2011


Nansen and I are doing our HIV/AIDS surveys at the universities in town. Yesterday we were at Universidad Nacional Andina del Abad de Cusco (UNSAAC). Its a public university, the largest in town, and very well respected. There is an entrance exam that every student needs to take and get a minimum score on for entrance. And apparently the minimum score is very hard to achieve. There is actually a special pre-University school students can attend after colegio (high school) just to prepare for the exam. Some students take up to years to prepare. Some students never get the score they need and end up at other universities. In addition to having a wide range of subjects and being well respected, UNSAAC is also free to anyone who gets in. This is obviously a huge deal for anyone from a middle to low income family.
Yesterday as I was waiting for people to finish their surveys, I looked around me. We were in the quad between the tourism, economy, and one of the engineering buildings. The buildings were all white, very modern, with scaffoldings enclosing external staircases. I could see in the windows of the tourism building and see classrooms with polished white floors, computers, and projection systems. Behind the building I could see the houses that are built into the hill side of the Cusco valley. These houses higher up and harder to get to and generally where poorer people live. They are constructed out of dirt adobe blocks. People cannot afford paint or tiles for the outside of most homes here. Clothes lines stretch across the roofs as almost no one here can afford a washed or drier. Things such as framing around windows, doors, and other niceties are also nonexistent. I thought about the houses in the campos I've seen. Dirt floors, sometimes only one room, wood-fired ovens for cooking. Barely electricity, much less televisions or phones.
Suddenly I understood in a different way what a really incredible opportunity UNSAAC must be for some families. Not in the way we talk about it at home- do what you want, make a little more money- but truly life changing. And not just for the student, but for their family as well. These buildings are like nothing else in town. Its easy to see how even just getting to study in one is an amazing advantage. Not to mention job opportunities and health insurance and the knowledge of how to look out for oneself in this complicated and quickly changing world. I wonder how many students in the US properly appreciate their colleges.

Speaking of appreciating our colleges: Oberlin just got named #3 healthiest college dining hall in the country!