GoAbroad Interview

Brent Hunter - Director

Brent Hunter - Director

Brent Hunter was raised in Brenham, Texas, and he studied Field Biology and Spanish Linguistics at UT-Austin. He later completed an MBA in International Business at St. Edward's University. Brent traveled to Mérida, Venezuela on a summer study abroad program and later completed his MBA coursework while studying abroad in Costa Rica. Brent has worked for many years now as an overseas program director for student groups in Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Spain.

What was the impetus for starting Sol Abroad, an organization focused on providing high school study abroad programs in Spanish-speaking destinations?

lt was seeing the value for high school students having an international immersion experience prior to starting college. So many things change when you study abroad and getting to do this in high school can really help a student figure out their course for college as far as what degree they want to pursue, and also ideas they may have for a future profession. We wanted to be an early catalyst for all the great things these young people can do in the future!

Students at Puerta del Sol in Madrid, Spain

Sol Abroad students at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, Spain.

How are Sol Abroad’s programs different than the other high school study abroad providers out there?

We only focus on our four Spanish-speaking destinations so our goals for Spanish immersion are clear. We are known for the strong personable touch that starts from the very first interaction with our staff at Sol Abroad headquarters and ends with the group hugs at the airport when the program finishes. By really focusing on four locations where we have built sustainable relationships with the local communities, we create a much safer environment for our students to engage and flourish. Also, we hire onsite directors who live in these locations to really give our students’ the insiders view. Not to mention, that this adds an even greater layer of safety and security for our students.

Honestly, from the moment a student or parents finds us they realize we do things differently. I think they start to get the vibe that this is something personable and genuine, and then that just naturally flows through all aspects of our programming. We call our students “SOLmates” so you get that idea that Sol Abroad is really about heart and soul.

Studying abroad in high school is a lot different than college, what does your pre-departure orientation look like for this high school demographic?

Its more focused on making sure students and parents understand the level of maturity that is required to study abroad as a high school student. We also focus on our Conduct and Behavior policies. As minors, its very important the students and their parents understand that this program is about having an incredible Spanish immersion experience and being safe. We’re not a party program.

Visiting Hierve el Agua mountain springs in Oaxaca, Mexico

Sol Abroad students visiting Hierve el Agua mountain springs in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Why the focus on only Spanish-speaking locations?

We love Spanish! And we see the great value it provides students in today’s world. Its a tangible skill that students can carry with them in pretty much any line of work, specifically here in the U.S. With the growth in the Hispanic population in the U.S., it is very important that students learn about Spanish-speaking cultures and how they work. Cultural competency is a great skill, and one that is going to prove itself to be increasingly valuable over the coming years in the work place. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world and we can only plan on it being more and more important in the U.S.

What types of language requirements and proficiency expectations do you have for students interested in your programs?

No language requirements - students should just come with a desire to learn and have an interest in the Spanish language and these truly unique locations. We have students of all language levels join the program, so it really does not matter how little or how much Spanish a student knows. It’s not about that. Our expectation is that students leave the program with a greater confidence in speaking Spanish. We want them to realize that it’s not about getting everything perfect, but it’s about learning to express yourself in real life situations. Through being forced to communicate in Spanish with locals, our students make breakthroughs in practical usage of Spanish. It’s an incredible compliment to what they have studied at their home high schools. I think it also just helps build confidence and independence overall.

What types of activities or excursions are available for students outside the classroom?

We like to expose students to a wide array of what the location has to offer that is unique. We want our students to see and do things they have never done before - or may not get to do again. For the cultural activities, we choose activities that also keep the student engaged in Spanish. A cooking class in one of the favorites for our students. Not only do they learn more about local foods and dishes, but they also get to experience this through Spanish! Cultural activities are included weekdays throughout the program.

Sol Abroad Staff Members

Brent with program director Eva Verardo and study abroad advisor Dan Smafield.

We carefully choose weekend excursions that allow our students to discover more about the country in which they are studying. We highlight what the region has to offer. For example, in Costa Rica we focus on seeing different national parks and experiencing the eco-tourism Costa Rica is famous for (such as white water rafting, zip lining, etc.). We select our excursions based on cultural and educational importance or sites of natural beauty. The excursions should be fun and engaging.

What kind of programming does Sol Abroad have in place to aid in student immersion?

For starters, we only use homestays. The host family probably provides the strongest base to building up a student’s Spanish and cultural competency on our programs. Having host families who actually care about the student and take the time to help them with their Spanish is very important. Also, the cultural activities must be well-thought out and selected so that they are geared toward using Spanish and learning about something in Spanish. And, of course, every weekday morning our students take Spanish classes taught by native speakers. For many of our programs, students can even earn college credit!

What has been your biggest achievement since starting Sol Abroad?

Seeing families send their children with us summer after summer. Once you start to see students come back for multiple summers and see multiple siblings join the program you definitely know you are doing right by people.

What is the most fulfilling part of your job?

Seeing how inspired the students get on the program. I also love to the read in the evaluations when students say “I learned more in three weeks with Sol Abroad than I did in three years of Spanish class.” That makes my heart shine. It’s also very fulfilling to check in with Sol Abroad alumni and see what they are doing years after their program with us. I’m impressed with how many have gone on to the Peace Corps, for example.

Monte Albán ruins in Oaxaca, Mexico

Brent at Monte Albán ruins in Oaxaca, Mexico.

What’s on the horizon for Sol Abroad? Any updates we should know about?

Yes! We just launched our brand new video which we worked very hard on this past summer in Costa Rica.

Also, we are working on a brand-new Sol Abroad website, which will be launched in the coming months. We can’t wait to provide a more complete and interactive website to our students.

Besides that, we plan to keep on the incredible path that we are on. We will always continue to work on maintaining the high quality and personable touch that we are known. We want people to identify us as the go-to high school study abroad program for Spanish immersion. I think so far we’re doing a great job at making it apparent that that is what we know and do best!