Name: Emily Armstead
Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English and Spanish (advanced)
University: University of Michigan
Degree: Biopsychology, Cognition And Neuroscience
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Medical Assistance in Quito, Ecuador
Duration: 3 weeks
Start month: August 2015
Claim to fame: Before volunteering with UBELONG, Emily volunteered at various hospitals and gained experience in working in a medical environment and interacting with patients.
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
When I found out about UBELONG through my university, it seemed like the perfect fit for me. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore another country while giving back to a community that truly needed help. Additionally, as a pre-medical student I was immediately drawn to the Medical Assistance project in Quito because I would be able to explore my future career in a culture that is very different from my own.
What is your favorite memory?
I have so many amazing memories from my volunteer experience that it is impossible to pick just one! I would say that my favorite memory is running a 10k through the streets of downtown Quito with my host family. The other volunteers and I originally thought that we were going to watch the 10k until about five minutes before we left when Geovanna informed us that we were also participating! We threw on our running clothes and left, but we ended up arriving too late to start at the start line so we joined in half way through the race! The race was at night, so all of the churches of Quito were lit up beautifully. The streets were filled with people from Ecuador cheering us on the entire way. At the finish, there were fireworks and tons of people in the crowd applauding us.
This moment was one of the first times that I truly felt at home in Ecuador. After the race, we went out for pizza with my host family. I will never forget this exhilarating experience which brought me closer to my host family, the other volunteers, and myself.
What did you take from the experience?
Not only do I feel like I made an impact on multiple people in Quito, but this experience taught me more about myself than I ever could have imagined. I learned that although travelling alone can be intimidating, the outcome is so rewarding that it triumphs all fears that I originally had. I met so many amazing friends from all around the world whom I hope to keep in contact with for many years to come. I also took from this experience the cultural awareness of working in a clinic in an impoverished area. The patience needed to work in this clinic is much greater than that in the U.S. because of the lack of equipment and staff. I learned so much about the culture and people of Ecuador by volunteering in the clinic, and I will apply these experiences in my future career in the medical field.
What advice would you tell a future volunteer?
I would tell a future volunteer not to pass up on any opportunity that presents itself while you’re on your journey. Whether it’s staying an hour longer at your job or embarking on a day trip to explore somewhere new, you never know what you’re going to find when you cease an opportunity to learn. It can be easy to fall into the habit of working, eating, sleeping, and repeating while you’re volunteering because the days can be exhausting at times, but I encourage future volunteers to seek out adventure in every day that you’re there because you never know if you’ll be able to return again.