#WorkLifeGoals: Michi Ferreol on 3 Internships, Interview Tips, and Why Education Is Her Calling

I have a tendency to not listen to people who give advice about things they’ve never done. It helps filter out unnecessary opinions and in keeping my ears open to advice I’d take seriously. So, finding out that Michi Ferreol, with all the amazing life experiences she’s had, would be dishing out her opinions on interning and why she’s headed into education, bowled me over. I was speechless. Which is rare, if you know me.

Here is someone who is living out an amazingly cool dream, and is willing to share how she achieved it. But I’m not doing her intro enough justice.

If you want to read the real amazing intro to who Michi is and the NGO she started as a Harvard freshman, read the first part of our #WorkLifeGoals interview with her.

Before I give you guys over to Annicka Koteh, the producer of the #WorkLifeGoals features here on The Border Collective, quick introductions!

I’m Justine, my partner is Betina, and this is The Border Collective, where we talk about anything and everything internship related. We’re back after a 2 month hiatus from writing while we worked full time at our respective FMCG’s, Philip Morris and Unilever.  We had our super amazing interns fill in the gap while we were gone with tonight’s kind of post, #WorkLifeGoals, where we interview people who are literally work life goals, and Intern-view, where we interview people who interned somewhere we haven’t.

Today’s post is brought to you by Annicka Koteh, our awesome intern who’s in charge of fielding and screening our #WorkLifeGoals. So if you know someone who should be featured here, drop her a line at annicka@thebordercollective.com! Time for me to shut up and let her take over to introduce Michi and the second part of her #WorkLifeGoals feature!


Annicka: Hey there, dear readers! With the CAMP Study Abroad Conference happening last Saturday, we decided to take a look at one of its founders to see exactly how far a passion for education can go. And if it isn’t obvious enough, Michi Ferreol has gone places.

She’s flourished as a scholar both here and abroad, started a local non-profit to aid in international college applications, and still yearns to do more as an aspiring teacher. So while we talked about Michi’s educational experiences and the origins of CAMP last week, we saved the latter part of the interview—revolving around her internships, career plans, and advice—for this post.

Happy reading, and we hope Michi is as #WorkLifeGoals to you as she is to us!


A: Also I’m curious—why Sociology in college, as opposed to other social sciences that could also apply to education?

M: That’s a good question. Well, my first answer is that I thought Sociology was the broadest, so Sociology is kind of a cop-out because you could technically study Sociology and study anything. Like you could study sociology of health, sociology of education, sociology of history—all different types of things. But at the same time, I really loved the people taking Sociology. Everyone I met in that major was very action-oriented, like we didn’t just want to talk about things, but we also wanted to do things.

One of my professors who was my favorite was a woman named Kaya Stern, and her research is on incarceration, so she talks a lot about people on death row, about minority prisoners, and how the system really disadvantages them. And more than just research, she runs this thing called the Prison Studies Project, where they teach in prisons so that the inmates can get adult education. So when they leave, they actually have skills, right?

That’s what I’m saying, that Sociology had a big mix of, yes, we can study and read about it and talk about it, but we’re also doing something about it. And the combination of those two things was really fascinating to me.

 

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A: Oh, cool! Now, I kind of want to ask about internships, since, after all, this is a blog about internships. So how did you get them—for KIPP and Engaging Schools, right? How did those come about?

M: In freshman year, I did the internship in Tanzania with the health non-profit. In sophomore year, I worked at the Special Olympics in London. In junior year, I worked with KIPP in New York helping them set up a new school, and well, those were my internships, and then I’m at my current job now.

In terms of how I got them, I was taking up all the e-mails that I was getting and applying to a whole range of things, and I think the one thing that definitely affected things for me, was talking to people who had been involved in that internship, or whom I knew worked where I wanted to work.

For example, for the Special Olympics, I got on the phone with a woman who was working there, who was connected to student politics at Harvard, so that made it easier to make connections. She met with me and someone there, and became my supporter and advocate throughout the process.

The first two internships, I actually applied through Harvard, and then they [Harvard] interviewed us, and then the companies interviewed us before we got it. So the last one, KIPP, was the hardest one to get, because I didn’t go through the school, but all on my own. And they didn’t have a publicized internship program on their Facebook page or webpage, so what I actually did was contact a friend who works there—like he was a teacher at one of the schools.

So I said, hey, like I sent him an explanatory e-mail saying why I wanted to work there and what I wanted to do. And he sent and forwarded it to someone at the headquarters, and then this someone decided to call me to learn more about what I wanted to do. So I said, “I really wanted to work at the school, I wanna do administrative stuff, I wanna see what it’s like to be in on the action.” So you really have to advocate for yourself, because no one else is going to speak for you.

You really have to advocate for yourself, because no one else is going to speak for you.

It was only after that that I got a call from someone actually working at a school, so they were setting up a new elementary school in upper west Harlem. And they said that they needed someone to help with operations. And I said, “Perfect. I’m in.” This was a month before school ended, so I found everything on my own.

I applied for a grant on my own, to cover my expenses for the summer. I found a dorm on my own, and I stayed in NYU dorms that summer, figured out my commute, all those things.

I think a lot of it was really initiative, like you can’t just sit around and wait for someone. You have to follow up consistently, like every week, because people are so busy, and obviously the internship program is not the number-one thing on their heads—they’re thinking about a whole lot of different things. So you have to be very good at making a personal connection that way.

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A: So how important do you think your internships were in preparing you as a fresh grad in the real world?

M: Incredibly, like more than my studies.

When I was applying for jobs, the one thing they look for is work experience. They care about your activities, of course, as long as you’ve shown leadership in your extracurriculars. But if you had good work experience under a boss that speaks highly of you, and you worked in a corporate setting or in an office setting or something like that, then you’re ahead of the pack. It puts you ahead of everyone else because they know you can function in an office.

Also, I think learning really happens in the field. You can study all you want, but if you don’t apply it to a real-life situation, you’re not going to learn. For example, right now, I feel like this is the only time I’m learning about how a small business runs. You’d always talk about how to focus on the customer and customer experience, but I am only now understanding the context and how this is applied. So I definitely think that the most important thing in college is to get that experience.

 

A: How was it like as a fresh grad looking for a job? Was it easy, or shocking, or did something just come in for you?

M: I would say it wasn’t easy, like I had to do a lot. At the company I’m currently working for, it’s a business rotational program, so it’s super competitive. I went through a resume call, a phone call, an in-person no-campus interview, and one last stage where I came to the office one day and I met with five different executives. So they really screen you very hard for jobs like this, and you just have to be very good throughout.

To be honest, after the first resume thing, they look at your resume once and think that you’re smart and capable, then after that, what really matters are the interviews. So how you are able to talk about your experiences, like you personality, how you’re able to come off as a person. More than “Is this person competent?”, it’s more of “Is this person someone I would spend 24 hours on a deserted island with?” They want to work with someone cool, exciting, nice — they don’t want someone who’s boring or someone they feel will be mean to them.

 

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A: So do you have any interview hacks or tips to show personality and all that?

M: Not being afraid to show your real side. A lot of people think that you have to be super formal and of course you won’t just go like, “Hey dude, what’s up,” but you can joke around, that’s okay. It’s okay to be funny about yourself; you know when they say introduce yourself, you can add something a little more informal, because they want to know you’re a person too.

So that’s one thing, but another thing is to know quirks about the company. For example, at this company I interviewed for recently, I know that they have this special day where they do an Olympics-style event with their staff. So I mentioned that when they asked me why I liked the company.

I didn’t just talk about their mission and what they’re doing, but I also talked about how I loved their culture, like I love the fact that you have an Olympics day. Mention very specific things about the company that make it super unique to you.

I guess the last thing would be, it’s so easy to talk about a certain experience because it sounds impressive, but I actually think that people like it when you talk about experiences that are unique as opposed to experiences that are impressive.

It might not be impressive that someone spent two years in Africa doing non-profit work. It’s not Goldman Sachs; you’re not with Microsoft or Google or any big company. You’re working in Africa, but it’s such a cool experience because you were there in a different context. So it’s about not being afraid to talk about experiences that may not be the flashy, starstruck experiences.

 

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A: So right now, you’re working in curriculum development?

M: Right, the name of the company is Curriculum Associates, and I’m actually not in curriculum development. I’m sort of in a business program, so we move from department to department within the entire company. But it’s an education technology company. We have a program called i-Ready, which is both an exam for assessment and an instruction tool for teachers. It’s also very video game-esque, like there are fun characters and games and interactive stuff. So what happens is that the student sits down with a computer, takes the diagnostic exam, and the program will tell the teacher what the child is good at, bad at, or what he or she needs to do to catch up.

We only recently became a technology company, but we used to be a print company, so we print textbooks, workbooks, and supplementary materials for the classroom. And it’s a pretty big company, with around 500 employees.

 

A: Do you still get to do interactive one-on-one stuff with actual students? Or are you more of on the corporate side of education right now?

M: I am in the corporate sector right now, yes. I miss working with little kids, like I really love little kids. But I decided to do something more corporate because all my experiences in college were very much within the classroom already, teaching non-profits and all. And I didn’t really have a perspective of the corporate side, and I didn’t have the skills necessary for management or business.

I felt too comfortable in the classroom. So I decided to push myself, and I don’t regret it. I really appreciate the experience, and I love this company. But I’m also excited to do things inside the school and classroom again.

 

A: Okay, so one last question: Do you have any pieces of advice for those who want to be in your field, or those who are concerned about going into teaching with this perception of it?

M: Drown out the external voices, and listen to what you really want. Because, at the end of the day, you are the captain of your own ship, and you shouldn’t let others dictate what is important to you, what your values are, and what fulfills you.

So we had a saying in a program that I did in college, which said: “What is the mountain on which you want to die?” Which is another way of saying, what would be the cause for which you’d completely sacrifice everything? And if you can say that about education, and if you can devote yourself to it, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t.

That’s the broader view, but more practically, for people wanting to go into education, definitely have classroom experiences. What’s cool about education is that it’s pretty simple, that we want to help students. We want to improve learner outcome; we want to make classrooms better for teachers and students. So even if it’s volunteering, or a weekend thing, or tutoring, do a classroom thing. Because that will help you understand what is needed in that setting.

The second thing is, education is a very impractical field in that you don’t earn a lot. You’ll always need to feed yourself and pay for your apartment and things like that, but don’t think about it in a traditional way. You can always get another job, and with two salaries, fend for yourself. So never have the logistics hinder you from doing the job, because there’s always other ways to earn money.

I guess as the last thing, don’t forget that education seems specific, but it’s so broad. There’s higher education, there’s K-12 education, there’s education technology, print education, curriculum creation. There’s policy, government work, coding classes, online classes, tutoring—there are so many ways to approach it, so you can have a specialization within it. And that’s super exciting, because you get to be an expert in your own field of education.

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And that’s it from Michi Ferreol from her 1 hour and 30 minutes conversation with Annicka, which Annicka transcribed for this feature! We’ll probably release the audio in all its unedited glory soon, so that you guys can listen to it if you want to know the real conversation!

If you want to hear more from Michi, read Part 1 of her #WorkLifeGoals feature here!

Thank you to everyone who made it to CAMP Conference, you guys are the best! So great to meet those who volunteered to make it the amazing event that it was.

Up next here on the blog and on our personal adventures is probably the first video for Internship FAQ’s? Who knows, it all depends on whether this weather is going to be cooperative or not. But most definitely, this Friday aka August 19, I aka Justine, will be going to Teach for the Philippines’ Yuppie Night! I was sent the invite this morning, and it seems super cool.

I’m not being paid to promote it or anything; I’m genuinely curious as to why people would dedicate 2 years of their lives to teaching in public schools, so I’m going to go and ask the Teacher Fellows and Alumni themselves. Kind of my thing to ask people point blank about why they made their life decisions. If you guys are interested to, RSVP there and let’s meet up on Friday. Exciting.

If you have anything you want to ask, say, or comment about to either Betina or me, email us at either justine@thebordercollective.com or betina@thebordercollective.com! For partnerships and business deals, you can email us at admin@thebordercollective.com!

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 of school/ internship hunting for the semester. 🙂

Thanks for reading and hope Michi wrote something useful for you!

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