One of ISA’s most veteran staff members, Michelle McRaney de Winder pioneered ISA programs in Peru. In 1998 she started working in our U.S. office and traveled the world leading programs. Michelle has led ISA programs in Spain, Mexico, Australia, and the Dominican Republic. In 2006, she moved to Lima to serve as ISA’s Resident Director. Michelle’s passion for international education and life in Lima is contagious. We sat down with Michelle to find out what made her fall in love with study abroad and ask why Lima is an ideal destination.
ISA: After traveling the world, what made you choose Lima as a place to settle and begin a new ISA program?
Michelle: ISA had previously met with two amazing Universidad del Pacífico representatives at a national NAFSA conference several years in a row prior to opening the program in 2006. We were really impressed with their academic offering and intrigued by all that they told us Peru had to offer international students. After a successful first visit and a great follow-up visit, we decided to give it a try and put Lima, Peru on the ISA map! Lima is a magical place that pulls you in and you become a part of, if your heart is open. Many of my students have returned for a variety of reasons, and some have stayed, so it’s not just me who is crazy about this city and all of its idiosyncrasies.
ISA: In what moment did you realize that you wanted to begin a career in international education?
M: I studied abroad in Monterrey, Mexico as an undergrad. When I saw how wonderful the on-site staff were at the Tecnológico de Monterrey, I knew I wanted to be a part of that experience for other study abroad students. They were warm and welcoming, from the moment I arrived at the airport. They were very organized, efficient, and knowledgeable, which made my own study abroad program a huge success. The international office at the Tec were my first examples of how to coordinate an on-site study abroad program. When I discovered ISA in Austin upon graduation, it was my very dream come true, and I was easily swept up in all the ins and outs of study abroad, including sales, marketing, pre-departure, on-site and post-departure. I was lucky to be involved in all aspects on the ground, travel and be part of a network of colleagues who are passionate about our field.
ISA: What is one of your most memorable study abroad moments from your time with ISA?
M: In 2005, I helped lead a summer program in Santiago, Dominican Republic. On the very last day, one of our students, who was probably the most improved in his language skills, handed me his resume. He said he was graduating and would love to work for ISA because the summer experience had changed his life in such a positive way and he wanted to have an impact on encouraging more U.S. college students to go abroad. He reminded me of myself, because that is exactly why I also started working at ISA. We hired him almost immediately after his graduation!
ISA: How did the #studyabroadwithmichelleanddanny get started?
M: Danny, the Lima Academic Coordinator, and I are always brainstorming how to help promote Lima as a study abroad destination, but how do you put it on the map when there are so many more popular choices? That is when it hit us that one of the main factors that makes the ISA program so unique is us! We’ve been friends for over 10 years and we make a great team, so the program wouldn’t be the same without the two of us.
ISA: How many times have you been to Machu Picchu? What is your favorite part of visiting this amazing site?
M: I have been to MAPI at least 50 times, but honestly I lost count. The landscape is breathtaking and never gets old. The weather changes during the day so no two times I have been at MAPI have been exactly the same. The views can be mystical and misty, or really bright and sunny, or a combination of both. I make sure to take lots of deep breaths out there because the air is so much cleaner, and I focus on the green mountains and snow-capped glaciers surrounding the archeological site, always with the image in the back of my head of an explorer happening upon Machu Picchu for the first time, all over grown. It must have been amazing. Turn Right at Machu Picchu is my favorite book that I’ve read this year.
ISA: We know that you guys lead a lot of different activities for both ISA WorldStrides Customized Programs and ISA programs throughout the year. What was one of the most memorable programs that you’ve been involved in leading and why?
M: This one is tough to determine because each program is so unique. I personally really enjoy traveling with the incoming freshman from our Global Leadership in Peru customized program. It is one of the most intense programs we have ever run. Students are involved in variety of intercultural activities with locals in Lima, the Amazon jungle, and the Sacred Valley of Cusco. Once the program is over, I feel so satisfied because I know the students have changed tremendously in their two weeks in Peru. I think they might just be the students who make a real difference in this world. They walk away more aware of Mother Earth, la Pachamama, and the social, political and economic issues that the rest of the world faces. I think they will all be better Global Citizens and it makes me proud to have been a small part in their learning experience.
ISA: What is your favorite “hidden gem” in Lima that you recommend to students to visit?
M: The Barranco district is one of my favorite places to spend time. There is a little hole in the wall restaurant called Burrito Bar in Barranco that has great chips and salsa, guacamole, quesadillas, burritos and tacos. So many students get a craving for Mexican food while they are here and it is almost impossible to find. Afterwards, I always recommend a visit to Blu Gelateria nearby. They have classic and Peruvian gelato flavors from different regions of the country. After eating, I love to stop at the Pedro de Osma Museum and Museo Mario Testino to see the latest exhibits. As if that wasn´t enough, student may also enjoy the Contemporary Art Museum (MAC), and sit down for a coffee at La Bodega Verde.
Just strolling through the streets and taking in the unique architecture and street art make Barranco a great place to visit. There are boutique shops for students looking for unique gift ideas for friends and family. Barranco has an endless amount of hidden gems to visit and they all feel special because they are small, independently owned entities.
ISA: Lima is famous for being known as the culinary capital of Latin America. Do you have a favorite Peruvian dish?
M: I have many, but my favorite is probably locro. It´s a homemade classic made from squash and huacatay.
ISA: How about a favorite restaurant?
I am obsessed with Peruvian-Asian fusion cuisine and I love going to Edo for Peruvian sushi. I also love food from the Amazon, which you can find in Amaz Restaurant. Of course you can never go wrong with coastal food such as ceviche, chupe de camarones, and sudado de pescado, which are some of my favorites. I am a total foodie and would love to eat out every day if I could!
ISA: What do you love about living in Lima today, and what is something that you miss about living in the US?
M: I love living in Lima because I can walk to almost anywhere I need to get to from my house. I can walk to the office, the university, my yoga classes, the grocery store, the pharmacy, nearby restaurants and even the mall! I used to miss mostly bagels and Mexican food, but I can even find those nowadays. I mostly miss driving and my family in the US.
ISA: In just 3 phrases, why do you think students should choose Lima as their study abroad destination?
M: language and cultural immersion, self-awareness, environmental conservation