Mika Anderson: “If Earth had a heart beat, it’d be in Africa”


Credit: Jason Messner / The Foothill Dragon Press

Abby Sourwine


For Foothill students, life science teacher Mika Anderson is someone they can ask about life on a scientific level. Whether it be mitosis, the Calvin cycle, pluripotent stem cells or the principle of complementarity, Anderson undoubtedly has a surplus of knowledge when it comes to life sciences like biology and physiology. However, what she has learned in through her own life experience is just as valuable.

In the classroom, she uses dissections and lab practicals to broadens students’ minds to see the world in a different way. Outside of the classroom, she continues the habit, using travel as a means to broaden her own world view.

You may have seen her travel wall, home to dozens of photos taken in dozens of countries, memories of the places she’s been. She wears a smile in nearly all of them. Today, traveling is one of her favorite hobbies, but her start as a world traveler was not as luxurious as it may sound.



Anderson spent all of her elementary years in Japan before eventually coming to the United States through Connecticut, and working her way out to San Diego. By the time she entered middle school, she had already checked three countries and two continents off the figurative list.

After going through struggles like fleeing Vietnam, getting a divorce, living in a convent and immigrating to America, Anderson knew that her mom would prefer her to stay close to home, after all she was a “typical, overprotective, Asian parent,” as Anderson joked.

But, she knew she wanted to go someplace new, recognising that “it was in part because I was being rebellious and didn’t want to do what my mom wanted me to do but it was also in part because I was ready.”

It’s a choice she stands by because, in retrospect “going to college was one of the largest growth periods of my life,” she said. “It blew my world.”

UCSB was also a bit saddening at times because she beared the burden of paying for college on her own, with help only from the financial aid office. So, when she saw people going to incredible places to study abroad, she was “really bummed.”

“Then I met my husband,” she said, “he wanted to explore and travel and I was ready to explore and travel.” So, they started with a backpacking trip around Europe. From there, she “got bit by the bug” and has been traveling ever since.

She has trouble choosing a favorite trip, but recalls her biggest trip: a journey around the world with her husband which lasted a full year in 2006. For that one, she said, “all the stars were aligned.”

She and her husband had just bought a house and applied for a sabbatical almost jokingly, never expecting to get accepted. They decided that they would only go if they were both accepted.

“Next thing I know, we get this notice from the board,” she remembered. They were both accepted.

From there, they dealt with selling a house and most of their possessions, all but what could fit into a small storage unit, and then they went.



She deems New Zealand the most beautiful place she’s visited because “it’s a postcard,” though Hawai’i is among her favorite destinations as she was married there and visits often, but she seemed to light up the most when she talked about Africa.

“Everything about Africa is so different,” she shared. “There’s so much history there as well as a variety of things that you can study and learn. Things that are exciting, like going on safari, and things that are heartbreaking, like driving in a van in Tanzania and there’s a dead baby on the street, and no one cares.”

She likes to tell her friends and family that “if Earth had a heartbeat, it’d be in Africa.”

Now that she has kids, she tends to travel to places that are on the safer side, like Bali, her first big trip with kids.

They also recently spent two months on a trip to Nicaragua and Costa Rica. She was happy to take her children there to broaden their worldview, as well. Nicaragua exposed Emma and Beau to “real poverty” for the first time, and also showed them that “there are whole cultures that speak Spanish,” it’s not just a “secret language between our family,” as they had previously thought.

Outside of traveling, Anderson considers herself “not an artistic person,” but she does participate in what we might call “the arts.” She plays piano, as well as guitar. She recalls how she and her husband would sit in their living room and play guitar and sing, and how “before we started traveling that’s basically how we bonded,” she said.

The arts that she does participate in are what she called “very science oriented, musical, it’s mathematical.”

Anderson loves to sew, quilt, and build. She’s even pondered the idea of taking carpentry classes in retirement. She’s already got a pretty good foundation, saying “I can pretty much put together, any piece of furniture you want.”

But her “best hobby” is dancing. Growing up, her mother used any spare money she had to put Anderson in ballet lessons. Anderson remembers how eventually her rebellious side got the best of her and she went out for a gymnastics team, unbenounced to her mom.



With help from her friends and teachers, she practiced gymnastics all through middle school. Her mom only found out when Anderson got hurt and had to explain the injury. She continued gymnastics through high school, and took it with her later in life.

She and her husband used to go on dates to Nicholby’s to dance.

“I would pick up the steps pretty quickly so I would just dance and at the time when I was dancing people were noticing,” she remembered. People like the Flyin’ Lindy Hoppers, who invited Anderson to try out for their dance troupe.

She made the cut, and danced with them for three years, all while teaching at Anacapa Middle School. One of her favorite parts of being on the team was getting to travel- no surprise there.

She would go perform all over, from Georgia to San Francisco to Seattle, at corporate events, nursing homes, and even the Disney Millennium 2000 show.

In all that she’s learned in her travels and experiences, Anderson has one message that she wants to convey to students: “to be brave and to not pass up opportunities because those opportunities may never come again.”

What do you think?