Emma Vargo

Meet the incredible Emma Vargo, who participated in the VACorps Program in 2019.  Emma is currently studying Allied Health with a concentration in medical sciences at the University of Tampa and did her medical internship at a home for chronically ill children.  Emma shares some highlights of her experiences in South Africa and Mozambique in the below interview.

Why did you decide to participate in the VACorps Program?

 As someone who grew up traveling, I knew I always wanted to study abroad, but as a science major, it was difficult to find time during the school year. I also wanted to gain experience in the health field and increased my resume for graduate school so I began researching abroad internships. South Africa was another must-see place for me and so it led me directly to Vacorps.

How would you describe Cape Town to someone who has never traveled here before?

Cape Town is a magical place filled with something for everyone; mountains, vineyards, culture, city, wildlife, shopping, and the ocean. The locals in Cape Town are kind and incredibly loving which makes it easy to feel at home. There is something about the energy in the air that makes you want to stay forever, and in fact, many of the people who visit,  never leave. Or they want to return as soon as possible, like me.

Tell us about the work you did at your internship site.

I worked at a home for children with illnesses ranging from tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, traumatic brain injuries, and cerebral palsy. I assisted nurses in daily tasks such as feeding, eating, and taking vital signs. I also was able to listen in on group meetings which involved the medical doctor, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and social workers to discuss the incoming cases and review of patients.

What were the highlights of your internship experience in Cape Town?

One of my highlights of interning in Cape Town was learning about the health disparities in South Africa and learning about the differences from healthcare in America. I also enjoyed working with children and being able to be there for them in times of need.

What were some of your favorite aspects of South African culture?

Cape Town’s reputation of being a “melting pot” holds true. One aspect of the South African culture that I fell in love with is how diverse the country is and how at any point in time, you could be talking to people from many different backgrounds. The food was also something that could have kept me in the country in itself, with endless farmers’ markets and local restaurants to choose from.

What’s the single most important piece of advice you’d like to give to future VACorps interns and/or those considering participation in the program?

Invest in the Mozambique/Kruger trip, you will not regret it. I decided to go on this 10-day trip led by Vacorps only a week in advance and could not have imagined not partaking in this once in a lifetime experience. Being able to travel to another country in Africa was incredibly eye-opening and seeing 5 cheetahs in Kruger national park was one of the most amazing experiences I will ever have. Another piece of advice I have for incoming interns or those who are contemplating this program is to just go for it, take that chance, go on that trip, spend the extra money because the leaders in this program and the city of Cape Town is beyond worth it.

What have you learned about yourself after your time in South Africa?

I learned that despite the differences in country, religion, ethnicity, or lifestyle, we are all more similar than we believe and when we put our differences aside, amazing connections can be made. I also learned how resilient and brave I am, which I know will be skills that will lead me to great success. The greatest thing I learned from my time in South Africa was how much  I enjoy living in another country and learning how to adapt to changes and new environments.

Any predictions for what we can expect from you in 10 year’s time?

In 10 years, I imagine myself working as a medical professional and spending my time traveling to rural areas to help those in need. My hope is to start a family abroad and raise my children with a love for travel and learning about new cultures. I will also return to cape town within the next 5 years, hopefully twice by 10 years!