Michi Ferreol graduated from Harvard College with BA in Sociology. As one of CAMP's Co-Founders, she continues to be an amazing mentor for the organization and its members.Read all about what she has to say about the rewards of studying abroad below!
Having now graduated, what do you think is the most important take-away from having attended your school/studying abroad?
Experience really is the best teacher. Harvard has over 30,000 course offerings and I was only able to take ~40 of them, but I've never felt like lacking in the lessons and skills that I took away. I owe that feeling largely to the fact that every minute I spent outside the classroom was as much of a learning opportunity as the time spent inside it. I made my decision to switch from a pre-med track to an education track halfway through my summer in Tanzania, when a visit to a local hospital made clear to me the dearth of health resources in developing countries. I realized the difficulty of committing one's life to public service during my summer in London working for the Special Olympics, when countless fundraising campaigns still left us grasping for sufficient funds. I even wrestled with aligning myself with a political belief system over dinner with friends from the Institute of Politics. These experiences taught me so much more than I could have ever learned from even the most distinguished university professors.
What is your best memory in the time you spent studying abroad? What did you love most?
I have way too many incredible memories (see here and here), so it's really tough to choose ones that stand out. In general, though, what I loved the most about college was getting to know people deeply and wholly. While big things like the yearly Harvard-Yale football game (which we won every year that I was an undergrad, by the way, hehe) or Harvard's large 375th anniversary dance party will always stick in my mind, the moments I will really cherish are the simplest ones. I loved going on midnight walks by the Charles River with my best friends, talking about anything and everything. I loved getting up at 4am to watch the sunrise from the top of the Science Center observatory. I loved weekly late-night runs to Felipe's to get burritos, sledding down Widener Library steps on dining hall trays, and dancing in foam at my dorm's biggest party of the year. And while I know that the individual events themselves will eventually fade and meld into one another, I will never forget the people I did them with!
Would you recommend studying abroad? Why or why not?
150% yes. You grow in unprecedented ways when you're made to leave home and live by yourself in an unfamiliar environment. The experience teaches you not only to be a more conscientious person, but to also acknowledge your limitations and weaknesses in more than just an academic context. I also became a more loyal and nationalistic Filipino when I left the country. There are so few Filipinos who study abroad, so the responsibility of representing the nation well and bringing it pride is thrust upon us--a role that requires maturity, strength of character, and fierce dedication. The opportunities to learn and grow are absolutely endless overseas.
Is there anything that you wish someone had told you to consider in choosing the right school for you? In other words, was there any defining characteristic of your school that you hadn't known about coming in, but which had a defining impact in your experience there?
The name or brand recognition of a school should not be the prime reason you choose to go there. It shouldn't even be one of your top five reasons. It's really tempting to play the name game when you're coming out of high school, but always remember that fit is key. This is the cheesiest statement anyone can make, but the people around you make the largest impact on your time at any university. Pay attention to whether the people and the culture jive with who you are as a person. You end up falling in love with a place not because of its prestige but because of its significance to you, and that meaning is derived from those around you. Ultimately, I still believe that it's the person, not the school that makes the experience, so think about where YOU would thrive best and be the happiest!
What did you feel you were best prepared for when it came to studying abroad? What did you feel you could've been better prepared for?
At ISM, I took the International Baccalaureate program, which helped me prepare very well for college-level coursework. Beyond academics, though, speaking to upperclassmen friends and hearing about their first years at their respective colleges gave me insights into what to expect in terms of lifestyle and campus culture (e.g. emails become your life, you easily burn out from signing up for too many activities, freshman weight gain is real).
I didn't feel as prepared, though, for the process of weeding out which organizations and clubs to stick with. I wish someone had told me earlier how to spot an activity that was worth doing. I realized sooner or later that an organization had to fulfill one or both of the following two things to be worthwhile: (1) you should be able to build professional skills through your work with the club and/or develop a better understanding of yourself, and (2) the organization should have a very good, tight-knit community that can be your pseudo-family at college.
Best piece of advice you could give an incoming freshman? Or a student considering college abroad?
Dare to be vulnerable. Whether that's raising your hand in a 100-person lecture to ask a question, inviting a professor out to dinner, or telling a friend that you've been missing home--be honest and open. Don't ever feel like you have to pretend that things are alright. Coming to terms with your vulnerability will allow you to fully experience moments more deeply and fully, as well as get to know people more meaningfully. You're not a superhero and no one expects you to be. Never forget that everyone had to once start were you are at now, and no one did it alone.
Other pieces of wisdom?
When choosing between spending time with a friend or meeting new people and doing a pset or writing an essay, always go with the former. You won't regret it.