Alumni Spotlight: Michaela Flanders


Michaela Flanders is currently a high school student who enjoys dancing, writing, entrepreneurship, and volunteerism. After high school, she plans to pursue a degree in social work.

Why did you choose this program?

This program is a Premed and Public Health program for high school students, so I was excited by the chance to explore the healthcare world without committing to it as a career. I also study French at school, so I immediately jumped at the opportunity to learn some of the Spanish language in an immersive environment. Lastly, I chose this program because of its opportunity to do a homestay. I am a big believer in traveling authentically - meaning that I think it's important to live like the average person who lives in your host country would. This trip let me do all three!

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Global Works assists you with virtually everything while you are in Nicaragua. Lodging, itinerary, meals - all of those are taken care of for you. However, you are responsible for getting yourself to Nicaragua (or any other country that you might travel to with GW). There are group flights that you can take if you're doing a high school age trip, and those usually leave from a specified airport in the U.S. on travel day.

You have to pay for this group flight separate from your tuition price, plus any connections you need to put you in that designated airport. If you think you could do better on your own you are also allowed to get yourself to Nicaragua via your own flight arrangements. The Global Works office does a good job answering travel-related questions for you should they arise.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Pack lots of bug spray and after-bite - the mosquitos are merciless!

I would advise potential participants to determine, for themselves, what they want out of this program before they go. I have seen people get really homesick, and it can affect how they view their experiences.

Remembering that, "Oh, I really wanted to practice my Spanish with some native speakers," or, "I came to learn as much as I could about public clinics" can help to refocus your intentions and help you appreciate how great it really is to be in Nicaragua.

Trips like these are fast-paced and immersive, and while this is what makes them so amazing, it can also be easy to get overwhelmed and lose sight of why you chose to come. Especially when you are in a foreign country with no parents or siblings for 17 days.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

For my Global Works program, it really depended on what city/community we were in and what our primary activities were while staying there. One scenario that wasn't too uncommon for our trip, though, was something like this: get up at seven with a roommate's alarm clock, dress and shower, pack your daypack, and meet up with the rest of the group in the dining area for breakfast at seven thirty.

Gallo pinto (beans and rice), fried plantains, cheese, and eggs are typically served for breakfast, and the "Leaders of the Day" tell you about the day's itinerary while you eat. Get on a bus to go into the community around eight, arriving at a local attraction such as a beach, a small business, or the house of a prominent community member who will tell you their story.

Lunchtime will be the biggest meal of the day, and the food, while not varying a ton from day to day, will be very nutritious and tasty. After, you might have time to take a short nap or hang out with your group. Then, after lunch, you will re-board the bus and go to a worksite. You will work at the clinic or worksite until dinnertime, with the occasional snack/water break.

Dinner is usually meatless but there will be plenty of it. Afterwards, you and your group play a game, reflect on the work you've been doing, or interact with the local community. Finally, the group leaders will announce a time for lights out (usually around 10:30 or 11:00 local time) and everyone will gradually start peeling off from the group to shower or read or chill in their room with their roommates. Typical room sizes are about four people each.

You crawl under your mosquito net and journal about about the day by flashlight, and eventually, when the sleepiness hits, you close your eyes and go to sleep against the peaceful lull of the crickets.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

I admit to not always making friends quickly - I'm a person who tends to have a small number of people whom they're super duper close with and have the rest be friendly but not "BFF"-level acquaintances. I was nervous about how I would mesh with my group socially.

The situation wasn't perfect, and there were some people who I definitely wouldn't say I bonded strongly with. But, I was able to make friends with a few people who I was rooming with during the trip, and the rest of the time I was able to just focus on getting the most out of my travel experience. This was definitely the most important part for me - I had worked hard to be here!

I know my answer to this question doesn't exactly relate to what it's asking, but I guess I would say that I just looked for things I had in common with people and was patient if we didn't become super close. Group dynamic will always vary depending on who you happen to be with, and it can't be easily controlled by the people who organize the program. This particular issue is just about remembering to be open to and considerate of everyone in your group and realizing that, if you are discouraged by a similar situation, it is only one aspect of a still once-in-a-lifetime experience.

What was one thing that surprised you about your trip, or about your host country?

I was really surprised to learn about the influence of alternative medicine in Nicaragua! Our group had the chance to visit a clinic for Eastern medicine while we were in Matalgalpa (a large city in Nicaragua) and I had a lot of fun rotating around in the interactive stations the staff set up for us.

At one, we learned about the way the clinic uses floral therapy to treat those who have experienced trauma. At another, we got to lie down and take part in a meditation - it was so relaxing a couple of people fell asleep! Each member of the group got to get a massage (as well as learn how to give basic massages) and we even got to try out acupuncture treatment as we learned about the nerves in our bodies.

Later, in our host families' community, we got to go on a hike to see beautiful medicinal plants. Overall, it was really intriguing and surprising to find something familiar while away from the U.S.!