Now there's one thing most of us haven't considered: studying abroad.
I know what you're thinking: your parents, family, friends, and the monetary problems you will most likely encounter is making you feel like it's not worth it. Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, they all seem so distant and out of your reach that you're okay with just watching and reading about them. Michi Ferreol was definitely not considering these things before as well, but coupled with some courage, the right influences, and some inspiring people, she is now on her way to finishing her studies in Harvard University with a major in Sociology.
What are some tips for people who are not sure about what they want regarding college?
Michi: The first thing I would suggest is to try to go a whole weekend without touching your devices—no cellphone, no laptop, no gadgets. Go completely off-the-grid. Use this as a time to detox and really reflect on what you want out of your college experience. It really helps to write your thoughts down in a journal or moleskine too. Ask yourself: what subjects do I really enjoy studying? What type of environment do I want to be in? Do I want to stay with my friends from high school or expand my networks? What kinds of opportunities outside the classroom do I want to explore in college? Next, I would encourage you to talk to the people who matter the most to you and whose opinion you really respect. Whether this is your parents, your older siblings, your teachers, or even your athletic coach, listen deeply and intently to what they have to say about their own college experience and compare this to what you want! Also talk to older friends who are already attending college to see what they like (and dislike!) about the colleges they go to. Talking to the people at a certain college can really give you a feel for what the student body and culture is like at that particular school. And finally: research, research, research. The internet is definitely rife with die-hard fans who have shared their thoughts and opinions on different universities. If you can’t visit a college, going on a virtual tour is the next best thing! The most important thing to remember is that you’re not only going to college for the academics, but for a complete experience that will help you grow as a whole person!
Did you have any difficulties, especially in your first year as a student in a foreign university or a freshman in general? Were any of the difficulties related to moving and adjusting to America?
M: Leaving home for my first year of college and knowing that I wouldn’t be back for four months was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. In some ways, I feel like this separation from all the things that matter to me—my family, my friends, my country—really took a toll on me in my freshman year. This was the biggest thing that affected my college transition. Academics were fine since I was very well prepared at the International School Manila with the IB Diploma to take on college-level coursework. Adjusting to America was similarly not so tough because Manila-living is already so Westernized: there wasn’t a language barrier, the food was similar (only in bigger sizes!) and greeting strangers with a “how are you” on the sidewalk didn’t take long to get used to either. Even living alone was not as difficult as I expected it to be because Harvard really took care of us. Besides, after learning how to use the laundry machines and file taxes, nothing seemed too hard. But it was really the feeling of loneliness and insignificance that got to me. Out of anything I’ve learned so far in college, this is what has taught me the most: living alone, being alone, and fending for myself!
M: Yes, I got homesick so much! After the excitement of the first few weeks of a new environment and new friends died down, I realized that I really missed home. I started craving Filipino dishes and began slipping small words of Tagalog in casual conversations with American friends without realizing it. Then, I would get sad because I realized that no one would understand me if I said I wanted Sinigang or that I was feeling “sabaw” on a particular day. Luckily, I was able to find an amazing Filipino community here at Harvard. Our Filipino club—called the “Harvard Philippine Forum” (fancy, right?)—really became my homebase within the school. Though we were only a small club, it made such a difference to be able to make turon on Sundays with good friends who understood where I was coming from and who could humor me by laughing at my Pinoy jokes. I also found an extensive network of Filipino-Americans here in Massachusetts who quickly became foster parents for me throughout the years that I have been here. Many times, I have been invited to their houses where they would cook Filipino food and tell us stories about their younger days living back in the Philippines. But, of course, my biggest anchoring factor throughout my time here has been my family. Skype, viber and whatsapp became our best friends. When my parents learned the art of Facetime, that joined the list too. Keeping in constant communication with them really kept me sane and reminded me that they were always just a text or phone call away!
What are your best experiences so far in college? Crazy experiences?
M: Oh, boy. That’s a tough one to answer. How crazy can I get? (Just kidding) In all seriousness, though, this is really cheesy to say, but I feel like every day I’ve spent at Harvard has been a “best experience” in its own way. It’s really the simple moments here that constantly remind me how lucky I am to be here. An example would be just the other night, on one of my first few days back on campus before starting senior year, my friends and I decided to go for a midnight walk along the river. We ended up sitting by the riverside sharing a bottle of wine and catching up on each other’s summers. We talked ‘til early morning. Those are the moments I’ll always remember! And if that feels like a cop out answer, I also have some favorite “big time” moments that top my list: going to my very first Harvard-Yale football game (and watching Harvard win, of course!), dancing in a sea of people at Harvard’s 375th anniversary celebration, going on a safari in Tanzania while I was there for my global health internship, hearing Aung San Suu Kyi speak at the Institute of Politics, bringing a team of 15 Harvard students to the Philippines to work with street kids, seeing a Zedd concert in London in the middle of my summer internship, going Black Friday shopping in New York during Thanksgiving, meeting one of my idols in education Geoffrey Canada in one of my classes, performing Singkil with the Filipino club for Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussy Cat Dolls, holding a fundraising concert for Typhoon Haiyan victims and raising $14,000, and so much more! I also know that senior year is going to be the best one yet so I expect this list to get even longer.
What made you think of studying abroad? What do you think Harvard can offer you that other universities can't?
M: I’m a firm believer that college isn’t just about filling your mind with statistics and facts related to whatever major you choose (though of course academic learning remains a huge part of it). I believe that college should be about a complete and total experience that allows every single aspect and facet of someone to grow and flourish. It had always been my dream to attend the University of the Philippines, just like my parents, and pursue a career in medicine. In high school, though, I had the opportunity to travel and represent my school in several international competitions. I guess you could say I got my first dose of wanderlust. I saw how different life was overseas and had an insatiable urge to keep exploring and learning about and from different cultures. I realized that I didn’t want to stay in the Philippines for college because I didn’t feel like it would challenge me in the ways I wanted to be challenged. I would still be living at home, seeing the same people, and going to the same, familiar places every day. I wanted to break past that and start exposing myself to a world that I was neither comfortable in nor familiar with. I wanted to test myself and see how I would fare in an international context. I believe I would have been happy at either UP or Harvard, but I chose Harvard because I knew that the skills and experiences I needed were those that I could get not just in the classroom but from what was outside of it.
What made you and your friends push the idea of starting CAMP?
M: CAMP actually started off as a simple response to a gap that we saw was not being filled: that of the resource and knowledge gap between local Filipino schools and international schools in applying to colleges abroad. None of us really thought deeply or planned well before starting it—it was just a spontaneous and organic thing. It was born after we realized how few Filipinos from local schools were actually studying abroad and after we asked ourselves why this was the case. My friends Kimi, Kaye, and I were all Filipino scholars at the International School Manila who had attended local schools before transferring over. We were all on a Google video chat one day and we agreed that, without ISM’s help, we probably would never have been able to apply and get into the colleges we are now attending. This didn’t seem fair to us. After all, not all of the Philippines’ talent and brilliance is concentrated in the international schools, right? So it just didn’t make sense that these were the only schools sending students abroad. More than that, all of the services being offered to students to assist in applying to colleges abroad cost an insanely high amount. To truly be fair and accessible to all students, we wanted to create something free and volunteer-based. Who can mentor students better than other students? Because of this intense desire to equalize the playing field for local school students and provide them with the same opportunities that we were so lucky to receive, CAMP was born!
M: Well, I’m definitely more organized now and I learned the art of asking favors! :) Jokes aside though, CAMP has really been a huge part of my life since my freshman year. It’s been the sole activity that has enveloped every single aspect of me—from the time I spend thinking about it while in the shower to now being convinced that I would like to pursue a career in education after I graduate. There are three things that I’d like to thank CAMP for teaching me. First, CAMP taught me that the most important factor in trying to accomplish anything is grit. I’ve seen dozens of mentees come and go, all with high grades and excellent extra-curricular activities, and the students that truly succeed in getting into their dream colleges are those who do not give up and continue pushing through. Second, CAMP proved to me that people don’t always have to receive anything in return to do good work. We are a purely student-run, volunteer-based organization and you’d think that such a structure would limit us. However, more than anything, it is the fact that we are run by students that makes us so strong. Good will and generosity have fuelled CAMP and this, more than anything, has been the foundation of our success. Third and most importantly, CAMP is testament to the fact that Filipinos (especially young Filipinos) can do anything they set their minds to. The process of applying to colleges abroad is long and tough and challenging, but every year, amazing students continue to prove that they are willing to do anything it takes to succeed!
As a small, final note: I’d also like to say that CAMP has given me the greatest group of friends that I could have ever asked for. Before, there seemed to be few avenues where international school students and local school students could truly interact and get to know each other. Now, however, there is this united, gigantic cohort of young Filipinos eager to return and give back to the country they love!
If you could give advice for those aspiring Filipino students on applying for a foreign university, especially an Ivy League one, what would it be?
M: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Okay, I borrowed that line from somebody, but it’s true. Yes, applying to colleges abroad is tough and will eat up your life for a few months, and yes, getting in is even more difficult and could possibly end in rejection. But you’ll never know if you don’t try, right? Remember that all of us were once in your shoes: we, too, were frightened seniors anxiously waiting for SAT scores or agonizing over ten drafts of our college application essays. The only difference between you and us is that we didn’t have awesome mentors that could be our personal cheerleaders throughout the entire process. Now, though, CAMP is here! And we’ll be with you every step of the way. So keep working hard, sustain that GRIT, and fly high!
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- Marian Plaza
P.S. Thank you to the lovely Michi Ferreol for taking the time to send us her answers. We are truly inspired by what you do.
*all photos courtesy of Michi Ferreol*