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Faculty and Students Recap Chile Travel Sustainability Course: ‘A Truly Life-Changing Experience’

UW Extended Campus November 16, 2015
Dr. Alex Godoy speaking to UW students on the Universidad del Desarrollo campus as part of the Chile Travel Course.

Seeing a different way of life humbles you, broadens your views, and slowly chips away at preconceived notions. Travel is the ultimate education. That was the idea behind the Chile Travel Course, a sustainability course organized by a former University of Wisconsin Sustainable Management faculty member.

On August 24, 2015, a group of students from across the UW System returned from the whirlwind 16-day educational adventure. The sustainability course was led by two distinguished faculty members: Dr. John Katers, who was previously an instructor in the UW Master of Science in Sustainable Management before becoming the dean of UW-Green Bay’s College of Science, Engineering, and Technology, and Dr. Alex Godoy from the Universidad del Desarrollo (UDD) in Santiago.

An international passion for sustainability

John and Alex have known each other a relatively short time, but they are like brothers separated by 5,500 miles and have remarkably similar worldviews, John says. Since 1999, John has taught courses on pollution control and prevention, renewable energy, resource management, and other environmental topics at UW-Green Bay.

He and Alex met in 2012 when Alex came to UW-Green Bay through an International Visiting Scholars program. Alex later made a return trip to Green Bay and taught courses in environmental science and Spanish; his highly energetic and knowledgeable nature left a lasting impression on the faculty and students in those departments.

A map showing the location of Santiago, Chile.

Alex came back to Wisconsin with a group of 17 students from Santiago, the capital of Chile with a population of five million people. Alex and his students were particularly interested in Green Bay’s Fox River—which was contaminated by paper mills and other industries for decades—and learning how the city was able to move forward with cleaning it up. He wanted to return the favor by hosting Wisconsin students and teaching them about Chilean sustainable practices.

A one-of-a-kind experience

The Chile Travel Course was “a great mix of tours, culture, fun, and learning,” John said.

The country occupies a long, narrow strip of land in South America between the Andes Mountains and Pacific Ocean. If you traveled from one end to the other, you’d encounter rich forests, grazing lands, volcanoes, a labyrinth of fjords, twisting peninsulas, Easter Island, and the driest desert in the world. Basically, it’s an adventurist’s dream.

The course gave students the opportunity to experience South American culture, get to know students from other UW programs and schools, learn about another country’s sustainable efforts, and earn credit toward their degree.

But hey, we don’t want to simply tell you about the trip. You’d get a better sense of the fun and excitement of Chile by seeing it for yourself. That’s why we put together this photo journal of the Chile Travel Course with special notes and stories from John and two Sustainable Management graduates, Angela Dybdahl Oroian and Alexandria Skoch.


Santiago: the main hub for the sustainability course

After arriving in Santiago, John and the group of eight UW students spent their first full day in Chile touring the capital city, which included a visit to La Moneda Palace, the seat of the Chilean president. The city served as the hub of the trip—the group’s hotel was located close to the downtown area.

John: “Most of the students didn’t know each other before the trip, but they became good friends by the end.

The Chile Travel Course group was a mixture of graduate and undergraduate students from the UW Sustainable Management program and UW-Green Bay. Most live in Wisconsin, although a few online students traveled from farther away—St. Louis and Cleveland—to join the trip. “In online learning, you don’t have daily face-to-face interactions with professors and other students. It’s great that the Sustainable Management program offers creative ways to get to know them,” Angela said.

Alexandria: “We found my favorite restaurant by exploring around the hotel. A group of us went for snacks one evening, and we immediately fell in love! The arepas (cheese-filled, deep-fried cornmeal dough) were unbelievable.

Green Innovations Conference

Students spent one day attending lectures at the Green Innovations Conference hosted by Universidad del Desarrollo, a private university located near Santiago. The topics ranged from earthquakes to health and environmental monitoring to mining, as well as other environmental challenges facing South American countries. UW Master of Science in Sustainable Management graduates Cody Sandahl and Angela Dybdahl Oroian were able to present at the international conference.

The Universidad del Desarollo campus.
The Universidad del Desarollo campus. Credit: John Katers.
Dr. Alex Godoy speaks with UW students on the Universidad del Desarrollo campus.
Dr. Alex Godoy speaks with UW students on the UDD campus. Credit: John Katers.

John: “We had a lot of fun and also learned a lot about culture and sustainability in Chile.And Alex Godoy was a great host!”

Tour of Chagres foundry

Students tour Chagres, a copper-smelting plant.
Students tour Chagres, a copper-smelting plant. Credit: John Katers.

Chile is the largest copper producer in the world—in fact, the country contributes to more than 25% of the global supply. While visiting the large Chagres copper-smelting foundry, Chile Travel Course attendees watched as copper was separated from other minerals, a process carried out in high-temperature furnaces.

Emissions produced from this process have a major impact on the environment. Chagres stands out for its performance and efforts to increase environmental efficiency compared to other copper companies.

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Day trip to beautiful Valparaiso

Boat tour of Valparaiso harbor.
Boat tour of Valparaiso harbor. Credit: John Katers.

The group traveled to Valparaiso, a seaport nicknamed the “Jewel of the Pacific.” The city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a shining beacon of Chilean culture with its colorful abbeys and street artists.

John: “We visited the port of Valparaiso, saw the US customs inspection areas, and took a boat tour of the harbor. We discussed a lot of sustainability issues that day, including invasive species, logistics, and efficiency.”

Valparaiso graffiti art.
Valparaiso graffiti art. Credit: John Katers.
Valparaiso graffiti art.
Valparaiso graffiti art. Credit: John Katers.

Alexandria: “I enjoyed making new friends from UW-Green Bay and the Sustainable Management master’s program. There is something special about meeting people who share so many of your passions and then traveling with them.

A group of students taking an ice cream break in Valparaiso.
The group takes an ice cream break in Valparaiso. Credit: John Katers.

Alexandria: “The best ice cream flavor that I tried was rose. It tasted just like a rose smells, but with a hint of sweetness!”

Concho y Toro Winery

Sustainable Management master’s students during a tour of the Concho y Toro winery cellar.
Sustainable Management master’s students during a tour of the Concho y Toro winery cellar. Credit: John Katers.

John: “The sustainability director for Concho y Toro gave a lecture highlighting the sustainable efforts happening at the winery, which were very impressive. They consider sustainability in all aspects of the operation—soils, composting, water usage, waste treatment.

Alexandria: “I truly enjoyed the Concha y Toro winery tour. It was extremely interesting to learn about the entire wine-making process from start to finish and how sustainability can be applied to an entire operation from the top down. The location of the winery site was breathtakingly beautiful as well.”

Skiing the Andes in August

A ski resort in the snowy Andes Mountains.
Ski resort in the snowy Andes Mountains. Credit: John Katers.
Sustainable Management students gearing up for downhill skiing.
The group gearing up for downhill skiing. Credit: John Katers.

Easter Island weekend

Students take a hike on Easter Island.
Students take a hike on Easter Island. Credit: Maria Roberts.

The Chile Travel Course itinerary included a free weekend, so half the group hopped a plane to an island far out in the Pacific Ocean. Angela decided to spend the extra time and money to travel to Easter Island and said it was unforgettable, amazing, and the highlight of her trip. Alexandria agreed.

Alexandria: “Four of us took a detour one weekend and traveled to Easter Island, famous for the Moai statues. It was the most incredible place I have ever been in my life and an experience I will never forget. I wish it were easier to put into words how that journey felt. I never thought I would travel to a place and see something that I have only read about in history books or seen on television. It was truly a life-changing experience.

Sunset at Vina del Mar

Group of UW students posing in front of the sunset on the Pacific Ocean.
The group poses in front of the sunset on the Pacific Ocean. Credit: John Katers.

Angela: “The trip was amazing! I didn’t really do it for the credit—I did it to experience South America and learn about their sustainability efforts. I’m so glad I went.

Alexandria: “There are very few opportunities in your life to experience something like this and to travel to such a fantastic place. If you can make it work in your schedule, I promise that it is absolutely worth it.

To find out more about the curriculum or how you can earn a UW bachelor’s or master’s degree in Sustainable Management, contact a helpful enrollment adviser at 608-800-6762 or

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