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International Experience: Sri Lanka

April 22, 2016

A blog post from SOLES MA in Higher Education Leadership Ambassador, Emily Davis:

“You’ll get what you need.”

I have heard this advice countless times during my years at SOLES, often coming from my wonderful advisor, Cheryl Getz. At first I didn’t know how powerful it was, but let me tell you—this mantra has come to sum up my entire SOLES experience.

In particular, I had no idea what I needed when I went to Sri Lanka for two weeks in January of this year. I almost didn’t go on this trip for financial reasons, and was actually not at all excited to go when I got on the plane. And thank God I did, because that trip has changed my life. This trip is certainly not your typical study abroad or educational trip, and for that I am so thankful.


Instead of visiting museums, you’re hiking over 1,000 stairs to an ancient palace and your jaw drops at the sheer beauty of your surroundings. I didn’t know how much I needed to re-center myself in nature.



Instead of staying in a hotel, you’re staying in a peace center, a hostel, and the location of a future higher education institution; all dedicated towards empowering the Sri Lankan people. I didn’t know how much I needed to be pushed out of my comfort zone.



Instead of hypothesizing about community development, you’re living it and staying in the homes of the community members. You’re a little nervous because communicating without speaking the same language is so hard, but you’re content and joyful because everyone speaks the language of dancing and laughter. I didn’t know how much I needed to let myself be loved by strangers.



Instead of sitting stagnant in a classroom, you’re learning how to lay brick to form walls and digging dirt out of the side of a cliff to lay the foundation of a community center. I didn’t know how much I needed to work with my hands and remember the importance of simplicity.



Instead of studying with classmates, you’re studying with incredible individuals that have become dear, life-long friends. I didn’t know how much I needed to be vulnerable and let other people walk alongside me in my journey.

If I can give you any advice as you’re beginning your SOLES journey it would be this: embrace the things that feel the most uncomfortable. Sometimes, they stay feeling uncomfortable. But sometimes, your life will be transformed when you get what you never knew you needed.

International Experience: Jamaica and Japan

April 19, 2016

A blog post from SOLES MA in Counseling with specialization in School Counseling Ambassador, Natalie Crook:

As my time at USD is beginning to wind down, I look back at how much my life has changed (for the better!) over the last two years. I have been given opportunity after opportunity to become the best counselor I can be. Whether it is interning across the county or spending hours researching guidance lessons, I never thought I would have made it so far in such a short period of time. One of the most significant opportunities I have had during the Counseling program was the international requirement. I never could have imagined the experience that was to come. Throughout my two-year journey at USD, I have had the chance to travel abroad twice! The first opportunity was Jamaica, where we studied multicultural counseling and college and career counseling. The second opportunity was Japan, where we studied crisis and trauma interventions. Although both trips included the same professors and many of the same students, each experience was vastly different.


I should really start out by saying that I am not a traveler. Any application or awkward icebreaker that I have ever participated in that asked, “interest?” I always wish I could have written, “traveling!” But no, I am more of a “laying on the couch in my PJ’s” kind of girl. I just don’t think that response would get me a job! The point I am trying to make is that these adventures were far outside of my bubble. Between climbing waterfalls and snorkeling in Jamaica, to eating crazy foods and staying up way past my bedtime in Japan, these were all memories for the record book. But don’t get me wrong, although we were having plenty of fun, we were learning more than we could have ever learned in a textbook. During both trips we visited schools and worked with locals to better understand their education system, including their counseling services. We had the opportunity to work with high school students in Jamaica who were preparing for graduation and mapping out their hopes and dreams. We also were able to listen to community members of Fukishima tell their tales of survival after the strongest tsunami destroyed their town. Both journeys were life changing and, without USD, I don’t know if I would have been able to experience this once in a lifetime opportunity.Jamaica

International Experience: Changsha, Hunan, China

March 23, 2016

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MEd in TESOL, Literacy and Culture, Tina-Marie Freeman:

SOLES offers a plethora of options to complete the mandatory international credit. I have classmates who have gone to Tijuana, attended on-campus talks, and taken a course in Japan. Yet despite the many opportunities available, I had my heart set on a summer internship in Hunan Province, China. Through the efforts of my advisor and the SOLES faculty, I was able to make this opportunity a reality.

As a student in the M.Ed. in TESOL, Literacy, and Culture program, I was interested in applying the skills and theories that I had been learning. San Diego offers incredible opportunities for ESOL, but I hoped to explore the opportunities abroad and better understand how the teaching strategies I had acquired applied to English as a Foreign Language. Thus, I spent three months working for a start-up English training school located in southeastern China. The company was comprised of people from the U.S., Canada, China, and Zimbabwe.tesol_teach_in_china_01_body

As a small business exploring multiple ventures, its employees took on a variety of roles, often switching projects at a moment’s notice to accommodate a new priority. I was initially hired to work on designing assessments for students and finding ways to track student progress. While I continued to work on this project throughout the three months, I was also teaching EFL classes to children, teenagers, and adults. I designed a loose curriculum and several lessons for an adult Business English class, which we taught each week at a large Chinese company. When a niche market for prepping elementary and middle school kids for English speech competitions was discovered, I was summoned to create lessons and assessments. I was able to teach, reflect upon, and revise these lessons as the program continued.

The company demanded diligence and enthusiasm from its employees, but I was able to practice the many skills and theories that I had learned during my first year in the M.Ed. program. I learned much about the education system in China, and enough to know that my experience in one city, in one part of the country, does not reflect the attitudes and practices of the entire country. Upon returning to USD for the fall semester, I was able to use my experiences in my coursework, specifically for the class English as an International Language. My experience teaching a business English course in China as well as the information gleaned from this course allowed me to begin creating my own curriculum and textbook for adult ESOL students who are hoping to use English in the global business market.

The TESOL program at the University of San Diego prepares its graduates for the many contexts in which they will be teaching by emphasizing the importance of students’ culture, educational history, and ideology toward education and student-teacher relationships and roles. My international experience gave me the chance to test the theories I was learning as well as provide opportunities that are, and will continue, to shape my future career in ESOL.

Life after SOLES

March 3, 2016

A blog post from SOLES MA in Leadership Studies Alumna and SOLES Ambassador, Jodi Austin:

In the fall of 2013, I embarked on a journey that forever changed the course of my life.   When I initially began the MA in Leadership Studies program, I believed I was giving myself a chance to open doors that would have otherwise remained closed. During my two years at SOLES, I not only opened doors, I experienced something money could not buy….a greater connection to myself and people around me. These connections help shape my life after SOLES.Jodi 1

Maintaining contact with my professional networks developed during my time at school has been critical to my success. Prior to beginning the program, I did not understand the benefits of maintaining these valuable connections; however it is important to have relationships with colleagues who share professional and possibly personal interests. The second important piece to life after has been maintaining my self-awareness. It is important to know when people, places, and things no longer serve a purpose in life. There is nothing worse than feeling stagnated, while in moving along this journey called life. The final part of my life after SOLES has been popping that bubble called the comfort zone. Being self-aware will aid in getting out of the comfort zone. Pushing my boundaries has helped me manage my creativity, strategize better, slow down and take calculated leaps. Leaving my comfort zone has not always been easy, but I would not have it any other way.Jodi 2

Another big part of my life after SOLES has been remaining active in the SOLES learning community. One of my favorite ways to remain active is by being a student ambassador. This allows me share my experience with potential students. I attend open houses and correspond with applicants answering any questions they may have about the SOLES programs. I also volunteer my time during fall semester serving a Senior Teaching assistant. Participating in this way allows me to remain in contact with students and faculty. Although, I miss being a student at the University of San Diego, I am grateful for the time I spent, the connections I made, and the ability to still be an active participant in the SOLES community.Jodi 3

Becoming a Student Again

February 2, 2016

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Counseling with specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Kimberly Macias:

I just started my second semester at USD in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program and I couldn’t be happier with my experience so far. iStock_000021029111SmallIt’s hard to imagine now that I almost didn’t go to graduate school, but it was a major possibility for me. You see I, like others I know, didn’t jump straight from undergraduate to graduate school; instead I took a few years off and worked. My job path was a promising one. But I had always told myself that I wanted to continue my education and just needed a little break. But as the years went by, I found that it was hard to get myself to apply for graduate programs. Looking back now I realize it was because I was comfortable were I was at career wise and was afraid of the unknown that came with quitting and getting back to school.

work-experience-before-grad-schoolLuckily, I remembered my promise to myself and got motivated to apply for programs in counseling. However I felt nervous still about the prospect of going back to school. I was worried about going back to school and needing to study again. All through the interview process and even after I accepted the offer here at USD I was worried about whether or not I was making a mistake. I didn’t know if I had what it takes to go back to school. I am sure that many who start graduate school, even start straight from undergraduate, feel daunted at the prospect, but there was also some excitement as well.

Now, after completing my first semester I am so glad I took the leap and went back to school to get my masters. At first it was strange having to study and taking classes again after so long working, but I know I made the right choice. I am looking forward to the rest of my time here at SOLES in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program to reach my educational and career goals.

A Mother’s Journey in Higher Education

January 12, 2016

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management, Desiree Del-Zio:

The University of San Diego, specifically SOLES, has been my home away from home for the past two and a half years. Several nights a week I sat in classrooms absorbing information, sharing ideas, and developing a skillset of leadership and higher level thinking. Several other days and nights of the week I sat in study groups or in the library, preparing presentations, writing documents, generating power points, and the other necessary tasks meant to demonstrate my awareness and development. And other days and nights of the week I gratefully spent with my two beautiful daughters.

Des and girls

My beautiful daughters and I 

As a single mother with a full time job in nonprofit management and a full time graduate studies schedule it is safe to say that these years included a tremendous amount of time and emotional management, careful decision making, and incredible growth – for all three of us. The result of all of these efforts: a master’s degree in Nonprofit Leadership and Management from a university campus that is as beautiful as it is prestigious.

It is simple and easy to share that the result of these years is the tangible piece of paper that designates my education level, and allows me to update my business cards with a little alphabet soup behind my name. But the truth is the results of this journey are far greater than that. In these past years my daughters have learned to take tremendous responsibility for themselves and have also witnessed my accomplishments with great pride. We have worked as a team to ensure our home, our pets, and our wellbeing was managed in the healthiest manner possible. We have been challenged in ways we did not expect and met those challenges with bravery and conviction. In addition, although my girls were always college bound, our conversations about higher education now include the discussion of both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. This was an unexpected but quite welcome side effect of these years of work.

Moreover, my time at USD has included an incredible experience in the study of leadership, multiple courses that explored organizational management through a lens of change rather than administration, and a deep appreciation for the relevance of self-reflection and self-awareness in professional development.

The SOLES experience has afforded me the opportunity to learn and to teach, to journey to Guatemala and meet with their public servants, to complete 40 units, to gain tremendous insight into my field of study, to work as a student consultant to the nonprofit community, to present my academic and professional development to colleagues and professors, to be accepted into the International Honor Society for academic excellence in philanthropic education, and to share this with my daughters as a mother, a mentor, and a role model.


Life in the classroom

It is with humility, great pride, and tremendous gratitude that I step away from this experience having demonstrated to both myself and my children that anything is possible for anyone. The invisible barriers, which exist in the minds of single mothers, could have prevented me from taking the first steps into this experience. But with their permission, the unending support of my family and friends, a few tears and a whole lot of smiles I now take my learning into the professional world: a little wiser, a lot more reflective, and with two daughters who enthusiastically talk about walking in my footsteps. There can be no doubt that in the past two and a half years I earned a lot more than a piece of paper – I earned a whole new life!

My Ode to You… and Me

January 12, 2016

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Higher Education Leadership, Lan Yang:

If your semester has been anything like mine, you’ll have experienced the extreme highs of moving to the absolutely breathtaking city of San Diego. You’ll have experienced the hint of nervousness from leaving those you love behind and leaving the familiar faces and places that you’ve spent so many years with. You’ll feel the lightness of a new journey, a new chapter and the darkness of loneliness and fear for new beginnings.

My dear, this semester, you will begin a professional job and be challenged in and out of the classroom. Many times you will feel like this guy on the right.Hanging Man Your ideas of professionalism will be stretched and your willingness to conform will be tested. How do you perceive yourself and how do others perceive you? What are you willing to give and what will you fight to keep? Your courses will ask you to dig deeper, to find the true meaning of the very essence of you. What is your purpose? Where do you find meaning in life? My advice to you? Embrace it. With open arms. Many questions will arise, cause discomfort, bring memories. Hold all of it. And hold it some more. It’s going to feel a bit like this…

As if new academic and work environments weren’t enough, you just may happen across this thing called personal life, too. There’s a chance that within your 1st week here, you’ll find a strong emotional connection with another human being. Yes, I’m talking about the romantic kind. Chances are one in a million, but my friend, do not discount it because it will bite you in the butt. So what happens then? I’m just going to tell you that the pressures of school and work are multiplied tenfold when you have a personal life as well. Let this be your warning. DO NOT HAVE A PERSONAL LIFE. Just kidding! Love or not, heartbreak or not, my best advice to you will forever be to embrace your life. Embrace the journey. See a trend? Seriously, give your all, be vulnerable, and share in the most authentic way possible. That’s what makes life beautiful and worthwhile. Also, love Brene Brown.

I’m realizing this Ode if much more for me than you, and that just sheds light on the constant tensions I feel throughout my life. Currently, it’s this tension of wanting to share my experience while wanting to share something more general that everyone may easily connect to. FaceplantWhat I have learned though is that tensions don’t have to be polar opposites.
I can share this piece about myself and my experiences AND this piece can be a space for others to find connections for themselves and their experiences. (Now, let’s hope you did found that connection and that the theory is true…). Don’t make me feel like this hippo.

In all seriousness, this semester has been a rollercoaster ride and so insightful. Yes, it brought about more questions than answers, and yes, it brought about more challenges than triumphs, but by golly, I could not be more grateful for each and every one of those experiences. For example: I am currently sitting on my bed IN THE LIVING ROOM typing this because San Diego can’t handle rain. Legitimately had to move my bedroom into the living room so they can replace the drywall that is no longer dry. So, this semester? It’s been everything. But hey, I was never able to watch TV from the comfort of my bed before, so hellooo New Girl!

I’ve never really been into the New Year resolutions thing (minus 13-year-old Lan) and was invited to participate in choosing a word as an intention instead. What better word than EMBRACE for the year of 2016. 2015 was all about change and growth, and I want 2016 to be a practice in embracing all of that more fully. To embrace myself and others more fully. May that be my gift to you. Embrace yourself, others, experiences, and everything in between to your full capacity. Life’s going to throw some funny things at you, and life’s got good aim. But so what? You have this awesome blog post, an amazing SOLES community, and a pint of ice cream to get you through.😉



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