Rebecca Heine

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Abstract

Rebecca Heines, better known as Becca, serves as the mentorship coordinator of North Carolina’s Service Learning Initiative (NC Sli). She also is a bilingual navigator at the University of North Carolina hospital in Chapel Hill. She discusses her experiences as a college student volunteering with organizations targeted towards the Latinx community. Becca discusses how her social networks and study abroad immersion in Latin America inspired her passion to serve.

R0904_Audio.mp3

Transcript

Carolina De Leon: I’m here today with Becca. I want to make sure that you consent to me interviewing you today and that you’re okay with this happening.

Becca Heine: Yes, I consent.

CD: Okay Becca, so where are you from?

BH: I was born here at UNC hospitals in Chapel Hill. I lived in Durham from when I was born till the first grade. I moved to Chapel Hill from Durham when I was 7 and then I’ve lived in Chapel Hill ever since. I went to high school here at Chapel Hill High. And now I’m still here at UNC, haven’t quite gotten enough. Just kidding I’m kind of ready to get out. Yeah, so I’m very North Carolina born and raised.

CD: Awesome. How old are you?

BH: I am 21.

CD: What are you studying here at UNC?

BH: Here at UNC, [00:00:15] I’ve bounced all over the place from trying to figure out what I wanted my major to be. I came in very science-minded, still am, and I was absent-mindedly following the biology BS track because science is what I’m good at. I was like “maybe I should just do what I’m good at” and I started to question that. I was like (to myself) “maybe there are other things I like; I just have never tried them.” And so I was like okay, I don’t know what I’m good at. I impulsively saw the application process for the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. They have a few undergraduate majors through Gillings and the environmental health science one looked pretty cool to me. I’m very interested in how a person – like, how a set environment impacts your health— this is a cool combination of both things I’m interested in, environmental health and inequalities. That would give me a cool way to start taking some of those classes. I did a semester of that program and I really loved it. I decided to go abroad the following year, my junior year spring semester, I went to Ecuador for the semester.

It was the best decision ever but it makes it really hard to fit a—. Essentially I thought I want to go abroad, I’m going to make it happen so I just went abroad. I said I’ll figure out the credits when I get back, which is not the best choice but also if you really want to do something in life, you just got to do it. That was my choice. I did it knowing it was going to be really hard when I came back to finish a 4 semester public health degree in 3 (semesters). Only one other girl in the entire program had gone abroad so I knew it was going to be tough but I can figure it out. I came back and I was hoping that what I wanted to do with my life would all fall into place magically while I was abroad but clearly that didn’t happen. If anything, I had no idea what I wanted to do even more. I came back and I was signing up for classes on Connect Carolina the summer before senior year. I was getting all my classes for that major. The classes were very engineering based so I didn’t really realize until my first semester that I subconsciously taken all the social science classes. I took my hard sciences, physics, chemistries, but all my electives were environmental health and classes that were looking at more social aspects. The undergraduate program is engineering but we take classes with the grad students so it’s very much ( ). As I signed up for all these classes, I was sitting in the living room and I was looking at my Connect Carolina thinking, “I don’t want to be in any of these classes, oh my God”. I was like “Something’s wrong”. Two days before senior year I walked in academic advising saying “I think I made a mistake”. If I change my major to international politics global studies major I can graduate on time. I don’t know how but I’ve already taken a lot of the classes for my general education so it all fit in to that category. My academic advisor said, “You’re right”. So I changed my major two days before senior year. I gave my mom a heart attack but I’ve loved it and honestly this class was one of the main reasons I changed it. I really wanted to take this class and I knew there was no way I could fit it in my schedule if I have my old major. I have my chemistry and biology minors and then I’m majoring in international politics. Everyone always laughs when I say that cause they say, “what are you doing? Your interests are all over the board.”
I’m looking at pre health stuff (classes), it’s very pre-requisite based, so I can major in whatever I want. I’d like to think that medical schools feel that I definitely bring more of an understanding of cultures and issues that others are facing because of my academic background versus someone who is just a biology major. I know a lot of politics surrounding different areas of the world, immigration patterns, and health care policy that many doctors know nothing about. I think that’s important and that’s why I did it. That’s what I’m studying at UNC.

CD: What interested you about NC Sli (Scholars Latinx Initiative) that made you want to join and how did you hear about it?

BH: My pathway to Sli cracks me up how I stumbled upon it and how it became such a huge part of my life. The summer after my freshmen year of college, I did like a summer study abroad program in Santiago Chile. I had a Spanish teacher both semesters freshmen year and she really pushed me to go. She asked me what I was during that summer: “I think this would be great for you to definitely get you ( ) get your Spanish up” the teacher told her.
I mean I’m a freshman, I have no idea what I’m doing this summer. So I said, okay so I did it (went on the trip). On that trip, I met a girl named Nalini. Six UNC students went on the trip and there was Nalini who was nice. She was actually the cousin of my high school friend so we had a little connection before the trip but had never met before. That trip was fun, we ended up becoming Facebook friends. I came back the next semester, fall sophomore year, and I saw Nalini posted something on Facebook about applying to be part of an organization (NC Sli). The deadline was that night at midnight.
Since I had gotten back from Chile, my Spanish was a little bit better. I was looking for ways to get involved in Latinx community. I felt like I can actually do something to contribute. I feel like without the language, it’s hard sometimes. [00:08:29] But it was something I’m passionate about (volunteering) and now I felt like I could actually participate and do things, so this could be cool. I Facebook messaged her and asked her what it was about (NC Sli). She said it was an incredible organization, she had been in it for two years, “you would love it, apply to be a mentor.” So I said okay and I remember staying up late and my roommate was in her bed and I was half asleep filling out this application.
I got accepted to be a mentor. This was before sophomore year. [00:09:15] The way the mentorship works through NC Sli, now we have a different model, but at the time you get sophomores in college paired with sophomores in high school in the Latinx community. We changed our counties some but at the time we had Lee County, Orange County, Chapel Hill/ Carrboro city schools, Durham County, and Chatham County. Lee County is the furthest out; it’s an hour/45 mins away. At the time, the moral of the program was that every other weekend all the students would come to UNC and we would have meetings in the global center. Depending on the grade level, we would work on different things. For example, sophomore year was a lot of identity stuff: who am I, what makes me a part of this community, how do I view myself, how does my community view me,ect. Junior year we would move more into ACT, SAT stuff. Senior year was very college essay based work. The originally platform was created so sophomores in college would be paired with sophomores in high school and you would be their mentors for three years until you both graduate the same year. Which is pretty cool cause in a three year relationship, you can gain someone’s trust if it works out and your compatible in that time. Now it’s (the program) is a little bit different. We make an effort for families to not have to drive so far. For the furthest counties, we do on site events over there (at their campus) where each site meets by themselves for academic events three times a month. Then once a month, they come here (UNC) with their mentors, which is more bonding time. Then they usually get a weekend off.

CD: I want to interrupt you for a second… How do the students sign up, is it voluntary? Is it in a classroom setting that they decide that they want to be a part of this program? How do the students get chosen to be a part of Sli?

BH: It’s an application process. Depending on the counties, we shoot for different amounts of students. We have different strengths of presence in different counties. For example, we might be closer to guidance counselors in certain counties than in others. They (guidance counselors) spread the word. I feel like a lot of it has become word of mouth. The program has grown: for example, it’s like a kid in a grade below will see it and kid in a grade above will post it on social media “Oh, Sli rocks”. The younger kid will be like, “oh that’s cool, how do you get to be in that”? The older kid says “oh well, this month you fill out this application.”
The heads, Ricky and Elaine, the co-directors of Sli, get paid because it’s their job, unlike us (volunteers). They will go to the communities and try to talk to people at school. They go to school nights for Latinx families and they will go to talk to them about the program. They do a lot of work like getting the word out in the communities about the program and that it would be a cool opportunity.

CD: Do you want to share a little about your mentee, not in detail or anything personal but how is that really enriched your experience there?

BH: Something that’s been really interesting for me is that a lot of our— [00:13:34] I’ve been looking at education, the college application process and the education system from a very different perspective than the one that I’ve experienced. This has been very rewarding, specifically looking at some of our students are undocumented and looking at what that process looks like for different students has been so interesting. I don’t know honestly, it alarms me that up until two years ago I didn’t really understand that. Clearly, there were peers that were going through this and I had no idea. I think looking at what that’s for me (college application process), it was always like my dad’s a doctor and my mom’s a nurse practitioner, so you’re (Becca) going to college whether you like it or not. It was never a “what-if”, it was like you’re applying to ten schools and that’s what’s happening. I think that it’s really important to understand what other people are experiencing. For me, that’s been— I’ve learned a lot about what actions need to be taken in different communities and what it’s like to be a child of a parent who hasn’t gone through the educational system here in the states. Especially since it looks very different in every country. It also made me realize that I have an unfair advantage and how reliant I was during the process of college applications. I would ask my mom, “I don’t understand this, can you read over this essay in English?” … or “Mom, I don’t get this form, can you help me do it?” I think that doing financial ( ) the kids all bring in their financial forms and get frustrated trying to fill them out without their parents. That’s a whole side of this I had never experienced. I think that also being paired with a mentee, my mentee and I have become very close for three years. I’m very lucky to say that and I think that I’ve learned a lot about trust during that process. The first year, I feel like our relationship was very surface level: what do you do, what do you like, how are your grades? I don’t want to push you (mentee) too hard because I’m trying to be friends and your mentor. I feel like that was interesting. Junior year came and I went abroad. It was hard to keep up with her while I was in a different country but we still made it work. If something went wrong, she would start coming to me more. I started noticing more and (told myself) “this is cool, it’s a trusting relationship.” She would tell me, “Becca this thing is happening in school, I don’t know how to handle it, what do you think?”… Or “oh this thing happened at home and it stressed me out, I’m having issues with x y z.”
I think that I’ve learned a lot about the value of trust, especially in looking at cultural barriers too. With her family, I’ve seen the large presence of cultural barriers. Over time, we’ve definitely grown a lot more and I think that’s been really cool. She’s awesome, my mentee rocks! Through Sli, I’m a mentor and I’m also on staff. It was hard to do both but I love it so much. Junior year, I was doing communications coordinator working on all the social media.

CD: (Interrupts): Is that volunteer?

BH: Yeah. It’s an extra position.

CD: Like an officer?

BH: Yes exactly. I work with social media. Senior year, I became the Lee county mentorship coordinator, which is what I like the most about Sli. That’s why I wanted to be the mentorship coordinator for my county because I think the mentorship— there’s a lot of different aspects of Sli. There’s the family kind of setting that brings families— the families come with the kids for the events here, which is so important. Honestly, it’s one of the most important parts because they receive instructions in Spanish about what they can be doing to help their kid. A lot of students live at home during college in the U.S. We explain the cultural differences of: this is what it looks like so don’t freak out when your kids think about living somewhere else. We explain things to families so that’s the family aspect. There’s a school aspect, like a crackdown (instruction) of: this is the ACT, this is the SAT, write your essays and figure out your financial aid essays too. There’s mentorship part, which I find the most rewarding. I think that having a mentor who is pursuing their education and you have a good relationship with your mentor, then your encouraged to do the same. I think that’s really important. That’s why I wanted to be involved in (the role of a) mentorship coordinator so I can conduct the pairings. It felt like a dating site. I read all the bios of the mentees and the mentors’ applicants and paired them together. I follow through and if anything comes up with the mentorship, I’m the first mode of contact, so I really love that because it’s my favorite part.

CD: So let’s talk about your other volunteer experience at the UNC hospital as navigator. What interested you about doing that?

BH: Sli actually led me to this because Alejandra (friend) and Nalini worked there. It’s called “Carolina Conexiones”. They were like “Becca you would love it, you need to do it”. This was like junior year, but I was busy at the time so I didn’t know if I would have time for this. When senior year came, I told myself they were right, I needed to do it, I ( ) love it. So I contacted them and asked how to get started and how do I take the language exam. I definitely was interested in working with Spanish speakers in a hospital setting because as I’m interested in medicine. I wasn’t always interested in medicine because some people want to look at all of your bones and I do like the gory stuff — I do I ( ). For me, it’s been more about reaching out to certain communities that need a little extra help. I’ve always thought that was important so for me. This was an introduction to working in Spanish in a hospital setting. I asked myself: “is this something I could see myself doing in the future?” The answer is 100% yes. A big thing that interested me was getting my feet wet: “do I like the hospital setting, do I like running around my feet, do I like talking to a bunch of people, do I like trying to gain their confidence?” Being very personable is so important especially with cultural barriers. I think that has definitely taught me a lot about what I want to pursue in the future. Specifically in communities that I want to work with. It impacts where I want to work and what exactly I want to do. For example, if I did medicine I would definitely want to do family medicine versus specializing in some particular surgery and not really playing a long lasting role in people’s lives. It has taught me a lot about that. I think I talked a little bit about it but I can keep going. At first, I was definitely nervous. I was so scared to talk to anyone thinking that I’m going to say something silly.

CD: [00:23:25] Can you explain a little bit about the set-up, like when you go there, what is expected of you?

BH: Okay, perfect. I show up every day and I walk in to change into my little uniform, my khakis and my polo. I put on this pin that says “Hablo Español”. At first I felt really dorky wearing it but honestly it’s really important because people who walk down the halls sometimes will ask me a question cause they’ll see my button. I think its good that they have us wear those. Every day, the volunteers get the Ipads that have the daily patient reports. They have a print-out sheet that has all the Spanish primary language patients coming in that day and the time they are coming in. So we wait in the waiting room for them to come in and then ask them (a lot of them we recognize off the bat, that’s my favorite part) in Spanish, “we’re bilingual navigators, if you want we can help you go through the receptionist and nurse” and usually they’ll say yes. So then we go in with them and sign consent forms. Sometimes it gets complicated when looking at insurance and things can get hairy with that. I’ve had a lot of different experiences, which I think is so interesting. [00:25:17] I think it’s important to understand where patients are coming from with regards to how they’re actually going to pay for the treatment they are receiving. I’m exposed to the other end of it, being this patient’s advocate, I’m on your team; I’m going to help you get through this.

CD: So like a mini lawyer?

BH: Yeah that’s how I feel sometimes. Making sure they understand everything, make sure they feel confident with themselves and what is going to be happening. A lot of health insurance stuff, if they need special financial help, I’ll show them over to the financial counselors office and ( ) help them. Once they finish up with the receptionist, I take them to the waiting room.

CD: Is this in the ER?

BH: It’s in the children’s specialty clinic. I do spend time in the ER sometimes cause we get Spanish speaking patients who don’t really understand where they need to show up. If they have kids sometimes they show up to the Spanish specialty clinic so then I take them to the ER. I’m all over the place, wherever I’m needed. But it’s cool cause I definitely get to see different sides of the hospital and see different barriers to care which I think is very important. I definitely spend some time down in the ER with patients. Then I chat them up usually in the waiting area, which I really like. I think that’s where you start becoming more comfortable with one another so I like to talk to them and ask where are they from originally and how long have they been living in North Carolina? I ask where did they live cause a lot of people in the specialty clinic travel an hour away twice a week to get very particular treatment for their child. They always ask me where did I learn Spanish. Conversations usually go a particular way. It’s good if they have any particular concerns because once I start talking to them in a more causal way, they’ll bring them up. They’ll mention that they might need help with a financial thing and then I’ll be able to tell them where to go. I think one of the most rewarding parts of working there is the random questions people will ask me once they feel like they can trust me. I’ve had people ask me how do I do the FAFSA for my kid for financial aid in the hospital waiting room. Just different things like that. I’ve had people ask me “hey where will you be in an hour? Can I come find you so you can help me look at this financial document?” I think it’s important for them to feel like they have an advocate in a hospital setting because it’s overwhelming. I really like that part of it. So then the nurse calls us back and I interpret for the nurse, which could some days be just as simple as height and weight. Other days it’s helping the nurse take off a baby’s diaper, doing a bunch of things, having a very depth discussion about the hundred medicines some kid is on in Spanish. It definitely changes a lot. I think that’s another reason it’s really important to build trust and connect with the patient in the waiting room. They feel more comfortable to say that they don’t understand something to me. For example, when we’re in the nurse station and they are confused about medicine or confirming what pharmacy it needs to go. That’s usually a big problem. For example, another thing I think is important is the people who I recognize. During my last shift, I always help this woman and she always get so excited to see me. She always comes in with her 4 kids and she’s holding them all. She didn’t know where to go for her appointment at the hospital so she shows up to the children’s specialty clinic cause she knew I would be there and would help her. So she was like “hi, I don’t know where I need to be, can you help me? And I was like “yeah c’mon!” So I went and got the receptionist to look up where she needed to be. The nurse told me she is not supposed to be here. So I went across the hospital to help her check in somewhere else. They sent me to the basement. I followed her to the basement and at the end she said thank you. I replied, “of course you always know where I am.”
I feel like that sense of knowing there is someone on your team is important. [00:30:18] There are definitely days where I feel like I doubt my Spanish. For example, the other day someone’s pocketknife had fallen out in the waiting room floor and one of the parents tried to tell me in Spanish there’s a knife on the floor, but they used a word for knife I have never heard in my life. I know the word for knife in Spanish but I only know one. Apparently there’s a specific word for pocketknife. He was telling me that word and I said to him, “I don’t understand what you’re saying to me, I’m sorry.” He was pointing at it and (when I realized it was a knife) I said “I’m so sorry, I’ve only heard the word “cuchillo” for knife in my entire life.” He was laughing and it turned out to be fine. Obviously we turned it (knife) into the receptionist. We couldn’t have anything dangerous on the floor of a waiting room. There are definitely times where I’m like “AHHH” (screams) but I think the patients are so appreciative that I’m trying (to speak Spanish) my best.

CD: [00:31:27] How do you think that these two experiences are going to play a role in your future career? I know you mentioned it a little bit before but since you want to go into a particular area of medicine, your experience at Sli, combining the two, how do you think that’s going to impact your future?

BH: In Sli, I’ve learned a lot about education barriers. I think that a lot of education barriers I’ve seen are tied into mental health barriers. Not just with my mentee but with a lot of mentees. They’re going through a lot of stuff at home, a lot of excess stress and anxiety caused by things like DACA, it’s a very stressful time to have DACA. Imagine being a regular high school student and having to think about that, that’s so much! Thirty teen year old me could not have handled that, I promise you that. I think the excess stress— a lot of them have a job. Did I have a job when I was that young? No. I’ve learned a lot about how mental health has a large impact on their schooling. Everyone always say education is the gateway to success and the great equalizer. I think it’s a lot harder to do well in school when there’s a lot of background stuff going on. I think that Sli has definitely taught me a lot about the role that mental health and excess stress can play on the Latinx community, especially in high school. Just in general honestly. I’ve also learned a lot about being exposed to a bunch of families and learning about different things people have gone through. This includes families that are separated and the role that that can play. A lot of domestic violence stuff is interplaying with undocumented status. People have been able to step forward and say something is going on although they are undocumented. I’ve seen cases of that or heard about it. [00:34:24] If I become a medical practitioner or get into family medicine, (who knows what the future holds) I’m going to be a lot more aware of little things that may need to have a follow up question asked. The importance of taking the extra few minutes to get to know someone, where they’re from, what they’re carrying, to try to build that trust, it leads you to give them the care that they truly need. If I went to my pediatrician and as I got to know her better, I tell her what I’m stressed about, I feel like that’s when I speak the same language as my provider. I really do hope that I’ll be able to apply a lot of what I’ve learned in the future.

END OF INTERVIEW
TRANSCRIBED BY CAROLINA DE LEON
6 MARCH 2018
https://dc.lib.unc.edu/utils/getfile/collection/sohp/id/27583/filename/27625.pdf