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UA Senior Learns Life Lessons While Abroad

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  Emery Hartstein is an interdisciplinary studies senior at the University of Arizona planning to leave her comfortable lifestyle in the United States to serve others in Spanish-speaking countries.  Although she is from Scottsdale, which has been named the “most livable city,” she said she hopes to live in foreign countries doing volunteer work to make a difference.  

In early February, Hartstein traveled to Cuenca, Ecuador to act as a translator for medical professionals that provide healthcare to the underserved population.  During her 12-day volunteer trip, with an organization called Healing the Children, she said she learned about the value of life and understanding other cultures.

“I think intercultural communication is really important because it opens up peoples’ eyes past their immediate boundaries,” she said.  “Once a person has the ability to do that, they’re able to see that lifestyles are different and cultures are different.  I think it helps round a person’s worldviews in a way that can make them more compassionate.”

Hartstein said traveling has allowed her to see what the world needs most is compassion.  

“When you meet a group of people that are willing to dedicate their time, with a combination of their skills, you can see the power that combination can have with helping to change the world in a positive way,” she said.

Hartstein, who studies Spanish, public relations and sociology at the UA, said she was amazed at her ability to translate during the medical ear, nose and throat procedures, even though she knew nothing about medicine.   

Her recent trip to Ecuador marked the one-year anniversary of her studying abroad in South America.  Hartstein said that if it weren’t for the experiences in Chile, that also enabled her to visit Peru and Argentina, she would have never volunteered as a translator on a medical mission.



“The U of A is the sole reason why I was able to do this because the [study abroad] program was completely transferable with Chile.  Had I not studied abroad, I wouldn’t have been fluent and I wouldn’t have been able to go to Ecuador a year later,” she said.  

Hartstein has studied Spanish her entire life.  But, she said learning a foreign language is best accomplished while emerged in the culture.  Although she considers herself bilingual, she said it’s easier to speak the language one hears everyday.

“It is difficult to live in an English-speaking country and attempt to maintain my Spanish,” she said.  “I noticed that when I arrived in Ecuador, I had lost a lot of my Spanish-speaking abilities.  I picked them up quickly once I got there, but it was a bit disheartening to remember how much I used to know in comparison to how much I know now.”

Although it took hours of studying for her to regain her vocabulary and learn new medical terms, she said no one should let fear stand in the way pursuing a goal.  Although she originally felt terrified, she said also felt a conviction to go make a difference.    

“I think a lot of people let fear run their decision making. I [didn’t] know medical terms in English [and] I didn’t know how I was going to know them in Spanish,” she said.  “If I had let my fear of being insufficient stop me from doing it, I wouldn’t have had one of the best trips that I went on.”    

Hartstein returned from her trip with a better Spanish vocabulary and cultural awareness.  She also said her dedication to understand what’s important in life has created a harsh distaste for materialism.  

The 21-year-old said she relates better to the values and priorities of those in South America.   

“It bothers me that as far as materialism goes, people would spend so much money on something that holds an importance and entitlement, for the sake that other people recognize that.  They want that recognition because it holds a status of wealth,” she said.  “I think that money is a really powerful thing and it can be spent on much better things.”

Hartstein said that South American cultures value face-to-face conversation, rather than overusing technology.  Also, she claims that her definition of success does not align with standards of the United States, but rather with people from the foreign countries she’s visited.    

“I feel like our culture and our society teaches us that a definition of success is to make as much money as possible and it’s not the same there.  I don’t resonate well with that,” she said.  “Money does not define success for me. My experience and my happiness [do].”

In order to surround herself by those who uphold the same beliefs and standards, Hartstein said she plans to move to foreign country after she graduates in May.  

“I don’t think I’m going to be living here much longer.  My hands aren’t suited in a corporation field, where maybe many others’ skills can be applicable.  But, my skills are to help people.  I’d like to go somewhere where there aren’t as many people, until there are and then I’d switch from that organization to the next,” she said.  “I really like traveling and seeing other cultures.  I like being put in uncomfortable positions, pushing myself [and] being scared.  I don’t find that feeling in the daily routine that I live here.”


Click here to read a detailed description of Emery's trip.

Written by Shannona Maule, Video done by Lauren Sokol

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