Meet our new Director of University Relations, Miko McFarland! Miko (she/her/hers) most recently served as the Executive Director of Education Abroad & Exchanges at the University of Kentucky and comes to us with a wealth of experience in the field of international education. We’re thrilled to have Miko on board and recently had the opportunity to get to know her a bit better!
Tell us a little about your background?
I grew up in a Japanese American family in rural Missouri, which was an interesting cultural upbringing. I’ve always been fascinated with horseback riding and that passion turned into a more serious pursuit as I got older. When it was time to go to college, I was also a full-time professional stunt rider. Yes, you read that right. So I attended my college classes during the day and, every night, I was performing dangerous maneuvers on galloping horses in front of rodeo crowds. It was a wild ride! ←See what I did there? 😉
Growing up around different cultures immediately drew me to Anthropology as a major. My professors really encouraged me to pursue a variety of opportunities through this major, so I studied abroad in Mexico, Japan and in Europe. I was the first person in my family to study abroad and the first to earn my bachelor’s degree.
Studying abroad was the serious wake-up call I needed. Not only was I applying what I learned in my classes, I learned to value my college education and the opportunities it afforded me. So when I returned from studying abroad, I applied to graduate school, got a teaching assistantship and eventually returned to Japan as an intern. I was also the first person in my family to earn a graduate degree.
I wanted to pay forward the incredible support I received as a student, so I became a study abroad advisor at my alma mater, taught freshmen anthropology, and also coached a student team of rodeo trick riders. In 2014, I moved to Kentucky to take a leadership position with the University of Kentucky Education Abroad & Exchanges team but, little did I know then, that wasn’t the biggest life change for me that year. I also became a mom that year, which has definitely been the most amazing adventure yet! Now that I’m a mom, I’ve hung up my rodeo gear, but I’m still actively involved with my horses and am passionate about representing the AAPI identity in the equine industry.
For the past six years, I served the University of Kentucky as the Executive Director of Education Abroad & Exchanges. The opportunity to lead this rockstar team and develop exciting education abroad programs was an incredible honor. Throughout the pandemic, I learned a lot about what it takes to be an empathetic and resilient leader. Like all of us, I learned what it takes to be adaptable and responsive to a rapidly-changing landscape. In other words, I found myself once again executing daring and complex maneuvers at a gallop! So even though my path to education abroad has been a bit unconventional, I know I’m exactly where I need to be because I truly believe in the life-changing impact our work has on students.
Why did you want to work for Barcelona SAE?
I’ve worked in the university setting now for 13 years and I’m really excited about the opportunity to work with an organization that receives and supports students while abroad. I consider myself to be a career international educator, so it’s important to me to have a breadth of experience that includes both the university and provider perspective. It’s also incredibly energizing to be working in a multicultural, multilingual environment that reflects the immersive Spanish experience our students are having in Barcelona.
Throughout my career, I worked with BSAE as a partner organization and I”ve always admired the way BSAE infuses education and cultural learning into every aspect of their programming. They have a genuine passion for all things Barcelona and you certainly feel the collective passion through the values BSAE represents. I also appreciate the commitment BSAE has to students who are traditionally underserved and underrepresented in education abroad.
What do you hope to accomplish in your new role?
I hope to be a valuable partner and resource to our university colleagues. As a former study abroad director myself, I always appreciated having partners who I could trust, depend on, call upon, and who truly understood the challenges and complexities associated with working in a university setting. I want to be available to brainstorm ideas, share resources, do benchmarking, troubleshoot challenges, and find connections that will help you advance your goals.
The past several years have been incredibly difficult and I absolutely get that. But our field has entered a new era, which means we have an opportunity to reimagine much of what we do. So I also want to be a partner who is willing to endeavor innovative solutions with you, to challenge the status quo, and give voice to important issues facing our field.
What do you think is the biggest challenge around education abroad/diversity and inclusion work today?
To me, one of the biggest challenges we face with diversity, equity and inclusion work is knowing how to be vulnerable and allowing others the space to be vulnerable. Sometimes, our professional settings have little room for the necessary, messy emotions that come with the important work we’re doing around diversity, equity and inclusion. I follow Dr. Brene Brown’s work and considered her teachings to be a beacon of inspiration throughout the pandemic. Dr. Brown says, “Vulnerability is having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness, it’s our greatest measure of courage.” So I think it’s important that we each find ways to practice vulnerability and create space for vulnerability in the work that we do, and to celebrate that as an act of courage.