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A Taste of Latin America

With the theme “A Taste of Latin America”, the DKFZ Alumni Association hosted its second New Year Reception for International DKFZ Scientists on Thursday, February 19, 2015. Manfred Schwab, who has been the association’s Chairman for the past two years, welcomed the more than 200 guests to an entertaining and inspiring evening in the grand auditorium, which had been colorfully decorated for the event. The guests included DKFZ alumni, international DKFZ scientists as well as “prospective” alumni – active members of the DKFZ both academic and non-academic.. “After all, that is what all who are working at the DKFZ really are,” Schwab said. He noted that combining the concepts of “alumni” and “international” has already been extremely well-received and added: “I am starting to really like this!” As with last year’s Chinese-themed reception, this event also offered a variety of regional musical and artistic performances. Incidently, this event coincided with the date of Chinese New Year, the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice. “The Chinese among the audience have the unique privilege of celebrating Chinese Spring Festival the Latin American way” Schwab noted. The evening started out with a lively traditional dance performance, originating from Colombia, by the group “Alma Latina.” Next, Paula Marin and Andres Florez, both PhD students from Colombia, presented a quick guide to understand Latinos by reflecting on the differences between Germany and Latin America. Among other examples, they described a bus ride in Germany as an “intellectual challenge” that begins when buying a ticket at the vending machine. In contrast, traveling by public transport in Latin America is more of a “physical challenge” – from hailing a bus, hopping onto it, and squeezing oneself into overcrowded compartments. The famous song “Chan Chan” performed by Buena Onda set the stage for a presentation by two young master students from Colombia, David Bejarano and Veronika Ceballos, who took the audience on a photo journey across the continent entitled “One Year in Latin America”: from Carnival in Rio in February, Honduras’ International Carnival of Friendship in May, Winter Carnival in Chile in July, to Costa Rica’s “Carnaval de Limón” in October. The two enthusiastic Latinos presented inspiring impressions from their homelands and encouraged everybody to take “a taste of Latin America” for themselves.

Haikun Liu, a DKFZ Junior Research Group leader from China, subsequently talked about his experience as an international scientist at the DKFZ. Coming from a small Chinese village, Liu’s studies first led him to Shanghai before he came to Heidelberg, where he joined the department of Günther Schütz at the DKFZ. Liu noted that even though beer, soccer and cars make Germany a very attractive country, this was not what motivated his choice in the first place: “It is always the people you go to, not the places.” After five successful years as a postdoctoral fellow, he had to start from scratch as a junior researcher. “Seek out your own subject,” Liu advised the younger listeners. “This is the only way to step out of your mentor’s shadow.” He stated that international visibility is important and that for him, being Chinese, it is an advantage to be in Heidelberg. “Thus, I am the Chinese guy from the DKFZ, which makes me much more visible than being a Chinese guy from Shanghai.”


“The Rhythm of the Neuroblastoma Cell” was the title of the next performance by  PhD student  Angel Flores who had converted the content of his PhD thesis into a dance; he had submitted it to a competition held by the journal Science – and won! Whether this form of scientific publication will become commonly accepted remains to be seen, but it was certainly very entertaining! After the final song “Canción con todos,” where everybody was encouraged to join in, Manfred Schwab thanked the organizers, above all Sarah Zimmermann and Lindsay Murrells, for their efforts and announced plans to continue the series next year with an evening exploring the tastes of another similarly attractive region, or country, of the world – suggestions from volunteers willing to organise such an event are very welcome. After this, the guests were invited to enjoy an exotic spread of food and drink and to engage in further conversation at the buffet. The bar serving Latin American cocktails, run by volunteers Heiko Weyd, Karen Nieto, Ana de Oliveira from the DKFZ, was a popular place for many.  Altogether, the response from the audience was overwhelmingly positive.

By Stefanie Seltmann

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