An open mind, a craving for experience, creative skills, and a nose for news: Mikaela (19) has all the qualities of a good journalist. She said goodbye to her family in Peru to study Journalism in Mechelen, which makes her brave as well.
Mikaela has a Peruvian father and a Belgian mother. She was born in Peru but moved to Belgium shortly after her birth. When Mikaela was fourteen, she moved back to her homeland with her family, where she finished secondary school. ‘Growing up in Peru, I got to experience a totally different culture, which is definitely an advantage. It expanded my view of the world,’ she says with conviction.
A world of difference
There is a vast difference between Mechelen and Mikaela’s hometown in Peru. ‘I lived in a cosy jungle village in the heart of the country. Everyone knows each other there and you do everything on foot. The markets are colourful and the fruit is wonderfully fresh. My life there was great and a lot different than the one I have here.’ When she talks about South America, she sounds nostalgic. Yet Mikaela made a deliberate choice to study in Belgium, which turned out to be a rather complex process. ‘My Peruvian diploma wasn't valid here, so I had to do an extra year. I didn’t think it was fair, but I did it anyway. After a year of independent study in Peru and online exams, I finally got the certification I needed,’ she says. ‘I already spoke French because my mother is a French teacher in Peru, but I did learn some new things, especially about the history of Belgium.’
So Mikaela's decision to move here for university was deliberate, but not easy. It meant saying goodbye to her parents and her three sisters. ‘I miss my family and the place I call home, but the education system is so much better here than in Peru. I’m really happy to be able to study here.’
Clown or journalist
Mikaela wasn't sure which direction to choose. ‘As a child I wanted to be a firefighter, a bus driver, or a clown,’ she reveals. ‘I ended up choosing journalism because of the university: as soon as I stepped foot inside Thomas More, I was sold. The colours on the walls and the friendliness of the lecturers immediately made me feel at home.’ She's been studying for a few months now and is just as enthusiastic. ‘Our teachers are passionate about what they do and have practical experience as well, which I think is a real advantage.’
Mikaela is living the typical student life in Mechelen. ‘I live in a house with twenty-odd students, both Belgian and international. Some of them stay here on the weekends, which is nice. They give me strength and make me miss my family a little less.’ Her student house is located next to the botanical gardens and her room is full of plants and flowers. Mikaela has learned to adapt and go with the flow. ‘But it's important to stay true to yourself,’ she stresses. ‘I have my own story.’ It’s a story she’s more than happy to share, which belies her qualities as a journalist-in-training. ‘Telling stories that help people and make people happy is my goal. In a way, it’s like I became the clown I always wanted to be as a kid.’
Mikaela traded her idyllic life in Peru for a student room in Mechelen.
‘I want to give the people a voice’
Mikaela’s desire to help was clearly inspired by her childhood. Her parents are committed to the conservation of 750,000 square metres of rainforest in Peru. ‘I could make a documentary about it, like the Planet Earth series, and address climate change. Or highlight other controversial topics, to give the people a voice and inspire action. I realise we live in a bubble of luxury here, but sometimes that bubble needs to be popped.’ Photography is another interest of hers. Mikaela enjoys telling stories through both words and images, as the illustrated faces on her trousers and jackets reflect. ‘All of my faces are sad and have bags under their eyes. I don’t really know why,’ she says with a laugh.
Todo pasa por algo
Mikaela isn’t sure where she’ll end up, but she knows it won't be Belgium. She's eager to get a taste of the international internships on offer in her journalism programme. ‘It will definitely be enriching, and I look forward to using that knowledge throughout my studies,’ she explains.
She’s eager to look beyond borders. 'You can tell stories anywhere, but I always need to be on the move. I can't sit still.’ She doesn't have a dream destination in mind yet, but Peru is certainly an option. ‘I speak Spanish, so that's a big advantage. But I think I’ll just see where the waves of life take me.’ Her life motto: everything happens for a reason. Or as she translates it: todo pasa por algo.
Hannelore Van Hove