Who are you?
My name is Arta Starova.

Where do you come from?
I am from Macedonia, I am Turkish and Albanian.

Why do you define yourself like that?
Well, in Macedonia there are a lot of different ethnic groups. I say Turkish and Albania because I am a product of my culture in my manners, in how I treat people. So it is a pride thing, I am proud of my culture. The hospitality and the friendliness most, I guess. I like saying that.

Why did you come to UCR?
I came to UCR because I was looking for a better education. A better education for myself in what I wanted to study: environmental science. I wanted to prove to myself that I can do it. That I can go out and be alone with myself and be self-sufficient as a student.

And did that come true?
Yes, I am happy with my education here. It is the best that I could have hoped for — given the financial restraints.

As in, I could also have gone to Harvard for $60.000 per year but in the end I decided against it?
Well, I don’t know if I could go to Harvard, but —UCR is all that I could have hoped for.

Why Liberal Arts and Sciences? Did the concept mean anything to you before you came to UCR?
I had a very nice college counselor in high-school and she told me about liberal arts and sciences. I knew that I wanted to study environmental sciences but I also knew that I did not want to do science only. And then after I came to UCR I met a student who had similar interests to me. She combined environmental science, human geography and sociology. She felt that it really worked. And since my first semester that is now the path that I am on.

What is your greatest ambition in life? And do you want to share it?
My greatest ambition? Eh, well… [laughs]. My greatest ambition in life is to, eh, is to inspire kindness in people. And to be able to break some sort of boundaries. I am diabetic. In Macedonia especially people sometimes stigmatize that. That has sometimes made me think that there are things that I cannot do. Breaking boundaries is about proving to myself that I can do it. Not so much as an example, but showing it to myself.

And what do you mean by inspiring kindness?
The one thing that I would want to remembered for is that I am kind. Being kind is being willing to do something for others without wanting to have something in return.

Who are your examples in life?
I mean, of course, mostly, my mother — and then my family. They are so, well, selfless. This is part of the Turkish and Albanian culture, it is about giving. And more generally in the Balkans, people are very giving. I mean, you’ll sit down and they’ll take out five different chocolates for you. I sometimes miss someone offering a coffee to me and not asking for the money in return. In the Balkans it is kind of like a fight who in the end pays for the bill. It is an honor to pay.

Is there any message that you have for UCR community at the beginning of the new academic year?
I have come to realize that here at UCR, in the bubble, people can get a bit settled in their tried and tested ways. People do not really want to get out of that bubble. It goes both for students and professors. The greatness of professors such as Vazquez and Aiken is that they motivate students to get out of the bubble and into the wider community. And then actually do something and not just be stuck in their rooms. Being at UCR is not just about doing your readings and then go back to class, I think.
When I came to UCR, there was a refugee committee. I joined it and we would regularly go to the Asylum Seeker Center (AZC) here in Middelburg. It opened new friendships for me, new perspectives. I was organizing their day trips to event for kids at the World Wildlife Fund. Here there was a setting of integration, where newly arrived AZC kids met other kids from Middelburg. AZC kids are just so much fun. They are loud and so much into every activity you will throw at them. So much would happen between them and the other kids, just fun to see.
Another initiative I worked with is the City Seeds farm that is here. Truly remarkable there is that on certain days, at 11am, they have a stand with vegetables that they give out for free. And all kinds of people, often people without much financial means, would come there and collect. Simple maybe, but remarkable.

So professors like Vazquez and Aiken have inspired you to engage in activities outside of the UCR bubble?
Yes, and I think that it is needed. Sometimes people at UCR are too easily satisfied with just doing their studies and settling for that, nothing more. And some professors accept that too. I think that it is a shame that education is sometimes perceived to be just that. So we all need to be on the look out for these kinds of things — and we also need to initiate them! It is cool to be part of such things.

Do you think of this as an integral part of liberal arts education?
Yes. Liberal arts is about everything, inside and outside the classroom. It is philosophy, it is sociology, it is also environmental science. These all combine very well. When you study just one thing, if you get stuck in just one track, you don’t expand your horizon. — I never did anything with asylum seekers before I joined the refugee committee. That is why I went: I wanted to educate myself.

And have you brought that back to your academic development?
Yes, I have become a much more critical thinker. I have learned to see the importance of very different perspectives, not just from inside academia, but for instance in the AZC or the community garden. I learn things there that I would never learn here. And it helps me tremendously: I feel that I have grown as a person because, despite that I am a student, I do not at all approach the world through theories only.

Finally, do you know what you want to do in life after you will have finished your studies?
Wow — let me think. Well, actually I do know. I want to do more practical work. That is the first thing I want to do. That is what is lacking in a lot of educational studies: lots of theory, but how does it relate to practice. You need to master the theories; they help you understand some things. But I am the kind of person who wants to make things practical, and theory is not enough: it’s not the whole picture.