Betina: Hello readers! I’m back!! After a summer of being MIA and working behind the scenes (blame my super intense internship at Unilever), I’m finally ready to get back to TBC (at least until my next internship starts HAHA)!
Annicka actually handled this interview, but since Michi is a good friend, I wanted to take over the introduction.
At 23, Michi is by far the youngest of our #WorkLifeGoals features. She graduated from Harvard a little bit over a year ago—winning the prestigious Ames award, given to only two distinguished students of the graduating class who “demonstrate exemplary leadership and passion for helping others without any fanfare or acknowledgement.”
She co-founded CAMP (College Admissions Mentors for Peers) Philippines: a student-run non-profit that helps local high schoolers apply to universities abroad, particularly through mentorship and internship programs. (Coincidentally, my own crazy internship journey started because I was a part of CAMP as well! If you’d like to volunteer for our upcoming conference, register here!)
I’ve known Michi since my 6th grade drama class where she directed me and Patxi Elizalde in a Lucy and Linus skit. Even then, she’d show up 110% ready to work and it was obvious she would go on to do amazing things. Michi has since impacted countless students—Annicka and I included—over the years, whether through CAMP or any of her other initiatives.
Annicka and Michi caught up recently over Skype to talk about Harvard, CAMP, internships, job-hunting as a fresh grad, finding her calling, and her dreams of bringing accessible, high-quality education to the Philippines.
Justine: Annicka transcribed and edited the whole 1 hour and 30 minutes (!!) conversation here for you guys to read, but because it was so long, and I mean 5000 words long, we decided to cut it into 2 parts. The first part aka today’s post is where Michi talks about CAMP, and the second is where she talks about everything else Betina just wrote.
We will also be releasing the audio file within the week, so you can get access to the whole detailed conversation between Annicka and Michi! Watch out for that on The Border Collective’s FB page and maybe, possibly Youtube account for this? Who knows.
A quick intro for those who don’t know who we are, I’m Justine, she’s Betina, and this is The Border Collective, your one-stop shop if you’re a college student looking to get ahead by interning! We talk about resumes, interviews, and job hunting in general as 20 year olds who are still in college. We’ve been on hiatus from writing for the last 2 months, because it’s our summer and we both got into intensely competitive internship programs, with Betina at Unilever for Business Week and me at Philip Morris for INKOMPASS.
While we’re getting ready to go back to school and back to writing, The Border Collective hasn’t been idle either. In the last 2 months, Bea Pelayo curated Intern-view to finally feature non-Ateneans and non-business majors, while Annicka Koteh launched #WorkLifeGoals, the latest feature here on the blog where we talk to inspiring people with cool careers about how they got there! Or at least, Annicka does. 🙂
Ok, enough from me, thanks for reading and hope Michi said something useful for you!
Annicka: First off, I just want to ask you—how did this all start? Did you always know that you wanted to get into education and be a teacher?
Michi Ferreol: I wanted to be a doctor because both my parents were doctors. I went into college thinking that I was pre-med, taking all these Life Science classes to prepare. But then in the summer of my freshman year, I went to Tanzania to work with a health non-profit, and it involved traveling around the country and training doctors and nurses to use the health products we had. So the teaching there was teaching the healthcare practitioners.
That was also the summer I realized I didn’t want to spend 10 more years in white-washed hallways, when I could already be out in the field doing something practical. That summer really changed everything, when I realized that I really liked this aspect—health not in the context of being a doctor, but health in the context of teaching. So I ended up taking classes around sociology, education, global health, and then I just completely fell in love with the side of teaching students, as opposed to healthcare, and it snowballed from there.
Health not in the context of being a doctor, but health in the context of teaching.
And it’s funny, because looking back at high school, I can see that this was my calling. I was a Filipino scholar at the International School Manila (ISM), so from a very early age, I knew how important educational opportunity was.
A: Was it always in your plan to study abroad?
M: No, it was always in my plan to go to UP med like my mom and dad. But when I went to ISM, that’s when doors started to open. I started thinking beyond the Philippines, and it was only because they really put that mindset into you. From the very beginning, they’re like, “Oh, there are 40,000 colleges in the USA.” They really tell you how many choices there are out there, so that was the only time I started considering it.
So the more I went through high school, the more I realized I wanted to challenge myself. And my guidance counselors really helped me with that. They’re the ones who really pushed me to do it, so I have them to thank. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have tried. I would have been too scared. But because they were with me—that’s why I decided to try.
A: Were you ever made to feel different because you were a scholar in both Harvard and ISM, or was the environment very welcoming?
M: I wasn’t conscious of it at all, which is really great. In ISM, for example, it’s super cool to be smart in ISM. Like all the coolest kids there are the ones who do well in school. And they don’t just focus on academics, they also focus on your extracurricular activities. So if you do very well in like, a sport, they encourage you to be a very well-rounded person.
At Harvard actually, I think 75% of students are actually on some sort of scholarship, whether that’s a partial scholarship or a full scholarship. You’re actually in the majority if you’re receiving financial aid. So there was never a big arrow pointing at you saying, “I’m a scholarship kid.” People actually admire and look up to scholars, because they know you overcame a lot of obstacles to get there. So I always felt like there was a family that was really welcoming.
A: In line with that, that’s how you decided to establish CAMP and everything, right? To share the love for education. So when did CAMP happen, like around your freshman year of college?
M: CAMP was actually made at the very end of freshman year, through a Google Hangout. I was catching up with my good friends from high school: Kimi Rodriguez and Kaye Kagaoan. And we were all scholars at ISM.
So we were just chatting, and we were all sort of complaining about the fact that there were so few Filipinos at our colleges. The Filipinos we all knew were from international schools, so we were like, that’s weird because obviously the talent isn’t just concentrated in the international schools.
So we did a little research by asking around, and we realized that there was just no structure for applying to colleges abroad [within local schools]. So we were like, wait, but this is so easy, you only really need a good mentor and guidance for the ability to change your mindset about it. Because that was the biggest thing for us, having our horizons expanded. So we were like, oh, let’s just set up a Facebook group! And answer questions for students who might have questions.
At the beginning, it was just gonna be a Facebook group. And then when we grew to like, 450, we were like, oh my gosh, there is a huge demand for this. We decided to start doing school visits, and then the mentorship program. Because we saw how much enthusiasm there was, that’s why we decided to make it bigger.
CAMP was fantastic, and I would say that it was one of the most important things I’ve ever tried to do in my young adult life. I’ve met so many cool people who did it as well, and we kind of opened the gate to thinking about international education, so I really loved that.
A: And CAMP’s grown so much; it’s so big now!
M: Yeah, I’m actually not part of it anymore, because we really think the power in CAMP comes from its being run by students.
So when I graduated, it didn’t make sense to keep running it. We actually fully transitioned it out to the younger students and now, it’s still thriving. So it’s pretty cool because the mentees that were originally the class, are now taking over, so it’s like a full circle for them, which is really great. I think it’s doing well.
[Betina: After I saw the interview transcript, I actually messaged Michi about this because I feel exactly the same way about The Border Collective!! Student empowerment is a wonderful thing ;)]
A: So how were you able to manage all of this—running CAMP on top of your other extracurricular stuff—with your academics both in high school and college?
M: There is this book I’m currently reading which is super applicable to this, about the art of not caring. And for me really, I didn’t spend or waste my time on things that didn’t make me happy. I always worked on activities that I really wanted to do, that I loved and was passionate about. I didn’t waste my time on things that I was gonna do because it’s practical only.
You know how some people take a hard class so they can prove themselves or put something on their resume? I don’t do things that way. I think that’s also why, when I’m working, I can finish things really quickly or I can fit it all in one day, because it doesn’t feel like work. It just feels like I’m in my flow.
A: You also launched CAMP’s internship program for high school students. How was the feedback from that, since you got people who are usually younger than your normal interns in the Philippines? Was the feedback good, and did the interns prove themselves capable?
M: The feedback was so good. That’s kind of a mentality that we’re trying to change—that interns should only be college students or even older than that. Because what really matters is your ability to learn quickly and pick up on things. Age doesn’t matter, and I think we’ve proved that with interns that we’ve had in different places over the past three years we’ve been running this program. And people have always been so amazed by the interns, so I think it’s been working out pretty well.
The one thing I would say is that it would definitely benefit students to have hard skills. We’ve been having companies looking for graphic designers, people who know how to use Photoshop, coders, or webpage designers who know WordPress or Squarespace. So it always helps to have the hard skills, but of course, you don’t necessarily need to have them, because you might be able to do other things within the company.
Also, just going to put this out there. I think there’s still a mentality in a lot of local schools that your summer is for relaxing. Which it is, like I think you should vacation, recharge, rest, everything. But I also don’t think you should just sit on your butt the whole day playing PlayStation. Do something, at least. It doesn’t have to be an internship. You could volunteer on your other days of the week, because it’s an opportunity to learn something. You don’t even have to do something with an organization, but you could learn coding; you could go online, learn by yourself with all the applications that are out there. It’s about being involved and active.
A: Speaking of mindsets here, what can you say about the saying that “Those who can’t do, teach”? Have there been people who have tried to discourage you from it?
M: When you have a Harvard kid come back to the Philippines, and you’re a Harvard graduate and it’s such a big deal, people are like, “Wait, you want to teach lang?” There’s always a lang. It’s really sad, because teaching is one of the most, not only effective, but noble things to do. And when smart, capable people don’t go into it, that’s when we fail our students, and that’s why schools don’t do well.
As a parent, you give up your child to a school for seven hours of the day. This is the cognitive dissonance and mental disconnect here. Why do you disrespect, underpay, and completely underestimate the very people you are trusting the most important people in your life with? And I want to make people more aware of that. Because without our teachers, our students wouldn’t be able to do anything.
Teachers are the center of the classroom, and when you ask students about what motivates them, they don’t answer rewards, or medals, though sometimes obviously those help. What really helps is the teacher, like if a teacher believes in you, and invests in you, and has faith in you, you will be a good student.
That’s why I’m not shy about telling people that I wanna teach and fall in love with teaching. I might just stay in it forever, and it’s not something to be ashamed of. That’s why I write about it, talk to people about it, and it’s a slow process. But I would love for the culture and mindset around education and teachers to change, too.
Betina: And there you have it for the first part of Michi’s #WorkLifeGoals post! Can’t thank Michi enough for doing this interview. She’s been #lifegoals since we were in middle school, so it’s no surprise that she’s managed to do so well, even a decade later.
We briefly touched on CAMP, and I just want to provide a little bit more background for those who are interested. Right now, CAMP’s biggest initiatives are the mentorship program, the internship program, and CAMP Conference.
The mentorship program matches local high school students with university students (preferably from their target universities) to mentor them throughout the application process for universities abroad.
The internship program was created to level the playing field with international applicants.
Filipino high schoolers aren’t really encouraged to intern during their summers, and so they tend to lag behind their international counterparts when it comes to summer internships. CAMP wanted to close that gap a little bit by providing internships for a select-few high school students who are looking to apply abroad.
(After declining my place at a university abroad, I joined CAMP in 2014 as one of the internship coordinators, and in the process of finding internship placements for CAMP, I ended up getting my first-ever internship with Rogue Magazine! Fast-forward 5 internships later, I still credit CAMP with inadvertently setting me on my internship journey.)
Annicka: I’d just like to vouch for CAMP’s internship program, too! I was an incoming junior when I applied to be part of the pilot batch back in 2014, and I didn’t expect to pass CAMP’s screening after having a terrible Skype interview. But what I really did not see coming was getting dropped in the Philippine Senate at 16, when I had next to no experience under my belt, and when slacks just looked way too big on me (even though they kind of still do).
That particular internship was nowhere in my choices, since I was gunning for something in publishing. Nonetheless, I’m super grateful for that summer since it (a) gave me an insider’s look into legislation and (b) taught me a lot about technical writing and workplace etiquette. That stint has since opened so, so many doors for me even though I didn’t push through with applying abroad—though I did push through with that dream internship in magazine publishing, eventually.
Michi and the CAMP Team really made sure that we were prepared by giving us crash courses on professional conduct, correspondence, and all that jazz. So there’s really nothing to be afraid of when it comes to opportunities like this! Go forth and carpe diem.
Betina: Obviously, I was really happy when Annicka applied to join TBC, because really our goal at CAMP was to get students to consider being more productive during their summers!
Going back to CAMP’s initiatives, the CAMP Conference is our biggest annual event—where we spend a whole day conducting workshops, panel discussions, and talks for high school students who are interested in applying abroad (and their parents too!) This year, CAMP Conference will be held in ISM on August 13. Right now, we have 800+ number of participants registered, so we’ll need a lot of help with registration and set-up! If you’d like to volunteer, please sign up here!
I’m the director of volunteers, so feel free to ambush me before, during, or after the event. 🙂
Justine: Hope to see you guys at the event! Up next here on the blog is the second part of Michi’s #WorkLifeGoals interview, this time filled with her time as an intern for a health NGO in Tanzania and the Special Olympics in Great Britain back in 2012, plus all her advice for ambitious young college students like us!
Also up next is hopefully a breakdown of the CAMP conference from Betina’s perspective, us talking about our past internships, and the continuation of Internship FAQ’s since I might not be interning anywhere this sem! No promises though because we’re both taking a short breather until the end of August so we’ll see!
I will be posting the answer to “how to ask about allowance for internships” soon to continue the Internship FAQ’s, so please be patient in waiting for that!
Ya’ll know the drill by now. If you have anything you want to ask, say, or comment about to either Betina or me, email us at either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com! For partnerships and business deals, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
And if you want to get a faster reply, message us on The Border Collective’s Facebook page!
If you have any questions to ask us anonymously or anything you want us to write about, drop it into our ask.fm and Google Form! We’re always happy to help, though we may be slow in replying because school is starting and I’m on “must graduate with a 3.0 mode” + all our interns are also back at school. 🙂
Thanks for reading and hope Michi wrote something useful for you! 🙂