I am a scholarship recipient and I had a stipend to have it fully paid. I absolutely had no intention or desire to go study abroad. I am turning 40 years old, this is my second degree, I have a family, and I work 40 plus hours a week in apartment management. I am a homebody in general, and have not traveled since we went to Costa Rica for our honeymoon in 2007. That being said, I was highly encouraged by the Texas State University financial aid and scholarship department (Stephanie, Adi, and Ray) to take advantage of this opportunity. They helped me get over the fear of being away from my family and job by just relating to me that there is a program to suit everyone, and that my family would be ok and would support me. Which they did. I am so glad I went, I am a changed man from the experience.
Why did you choose SOL Education Abroad?
SOL education had great online reviews. They had two and three week plans that fit into my time schedule, and they were the most competitively priced.
What was your favorite part about Oaxaca?
The food is amazing! I will dream about the coffee, the local fruits, the seven local mole sauces, quesillo and of course the chapulines.
What made your experience abroad unique?
I am a full time husband, father, student, and employee. Getting support from my family and my employer was my top priority. I was the oldest student during my stay in Oaxaca, and I feel like I was able to bring my experiences to share with others.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
I was 100 percent taken care of every step of the way. The Texas State financial aid department got my aid approval quickly, and Sol Education Abroad gave me absolutely everything I needed to be successful on the trip. The directors for Sol Education Abroad in Mexico were outstanding people, top notch!
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
Packed more underwear!! Seriously I wish I had packed fewer shoes, shirts, and pants, and just packed more underwear. Underwear shopping in a foreign country is complicated.
Describe a typical day in the life of the Sol Education Abroad Oaxaca program.
Wake up and have an amazing breakfast and coffee with my host mom/family. Walk eight blocks to the university (stopping for churros, pan dulce, or fresh squeezed juice on the way). Have highly focused Spanish lessons for four hours, lunch, and then go to a cultural activity like a native Oaxacan cooking class, or tour Santo Domingo Cathedral, or go to the art and museum district.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
I loved exploring Oaxaca. I went to many churches, museums, and mercados that were not part of the program. I also enjoyed doing things with my host family like shopping, visiting another town and family, visiting off the beaten path places important to Oaxaca. I got to watch the Olympics in Mexico in Spanish!
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I was in a beautiful home with an amazing 76 year old woman named Mercedes. She was widowed, but her daughter and other family lived close. She absolutely reminded me of my grandmother. The accommodations were great: I was treated very well, I had my privacy, and I felt safe and secure the entire time.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
I always try to think of what I can bring to an occasion or to another country. I would suggest focusing on a nice personal gift for your host family, and something personal that you can share with your teacher or the school. I knew that we were going to an "all grades" university. So I brought a ziploc bag of stickers such as Frozen, Star Wars, Avengers, Shopkins, Peppa Pig, etc.. I gave them out to the little elementary kids at my school in Oaxaca.
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
I have thought about it everyday since I have been back. Being back, I am grateful, and I have been practicing more patience. When you are in a foreign country and do not speak the language, you must be patient and thoughtful to avoid being rude or frustrated. I can practice the same principle here in the U.S.; I encounter situations daily where there may be a communication and/or language barrier.
Would you recommend the Sol Education Abroad Oaxaca program to others? Why?
I would absolutely recommend it to anyone. I just spoke today on a panel discussion at Texas State University about my experience and shared it at an incoming freshman scholarship orientation.
Thomas is a 39 year old sociology major at Texas State University. He has been married for almost 10 years to Adrianne, a Texas State Alumni and a fourth grade teacher at the elementary school in their neighborhood. They have a beautiful four year old daughter named Ava, who is bilingual in Spanish.