An Interview with Emily Lubell, SIT Chile Alumna and Fulbright Grant Recipient

Emily Lubell is a recent graduate of the University of Vermont where she majored in psychology, concentrating in behavioral neuroscience. In the spring 2009 semester, Emily participated in the   SIT Study Abroad Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment program. Emily was recently awarded a Fulbright grant to pursue research on the correlation between urinary stones and socioeconomic status in Arica, Chile.  

Emily Lubell on program excursion to Pueblo de Putre

Why did you decide to spend a semester with SIT Study Abroad in Chile?

I wanted to be immersed in a Spanish speaking culture and conduct an in-depth study in the public health field.

What types of hands on experiences did you have while studying in Chile that advanced your understanding of challenges and opportunities in the field of public health?

Nueva Imperial Intercultural Hospital

During a visit to Nueva Imperial Intercultural Hospital in Temuco, Chile. The hospital integrates modern and traditional medicine.

We learned about the Chilean public health system in the classroom and in the field. We visited many of the health facilities in person and got a true sense of how the Chilean health system operates. The Chilean health system is completely different than the U.S. health system, and it is very difficult to fathom how it works without seeing it in person. Doing so allowed us to discriminate between what sounds good in theory and what works well in reality. It was interesting to see how a health system works in another country.

 What was your Independent Study Project (ISP) in Chile? Is your ISP research connected to the work you will be doing in Chile on your Fulbright?  

My ISP research focused on potable water quality in Arica. Originally I was interested in determining which health risks may be associated with the potable water. If I found related health risks, I was then planning on determining what pattern emerged by socio-economic status.

When starting my research, I realized that no work had ever been done on Arica’s potable water with relation to human health. During my study I found that water quality may be a risk factor of urinary stones, which are rumored to be very high among the Ariqueño population.

 I consider the work I will do for my Fulbright scholarship an extension of the work I did for my independent study with SIT.  I will look at the distribution of urinary stones by socioeconomic status and will then determine if the pattern of urinary stones among the Ariqueño community correlates with the city’s potable water sources. I will also look for other factors which may explain the patterns I find.  I would not have been able to propose this study if I had not first yet learned how the Chilean public health system worked. The SIT Chile public health program provided me with that background knowledge.

What role did the SIT staff play in your experience during the semester? Have you been in touch with the staff since?

The director of the program, Rosanna Testa, put me in touch with the right people for me to carry out my project. I

Emily with ISP research advisors, Gustavo Meza (right) and Regina Copa (left)

could not have done my research project successfully without her guidance. Since leaving the trip I have stayed in close contact with Rosanna and she has undoubtedly played a major role in the application process of my Fulbright scholarship. I plan to be in touch with her about my research when I return to Arica as well.

How has SIT Study Abroad shaped the way you look at the world?

The experience that I had studying abroad exposed me to a completely different way of life than I am used to here in the United States. It bothered me that having good quality water was not a right- as it feels in the U.S. – but a privilege only for those people who can afford to buy it. 

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I encourage all students to consider going abroad to study a field that interests them. My experience studying in Chile gave me both a global perspective and in-depth knowledge about the different aspects of public health. This program also deepened my cultural understanding and enabled me to learn more about myself. When starting this program I knew I was interested in public health, but studying it abroad in a hands-on manner allowed me to dig deeper and discover which specific aspects of public health I am most passionate about.  

  The independent study component of SIT gave me the opportunity to explore a topic I was truly curious about – why some people in Arica avoided drinking tap water. The opportunity to study something I was genuinely interested in was the most rewarding part of the program.  

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