Alumni Spotlight: Serra Berry


Serra is a High School Spanish teacher who studied abroad with SOL in college, and now shares her same experiences by taking her students to Costa Rica with SOL for full language and cultural immersion.

Why did you choose this program?

SOL Education (university programs) and SOL Abroad (High School programs) are extremely affordable, nearly all-inclusive, high quality, and full-immersion. I was drawn to SOL at first because of the limited number of locations – Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Argentina; their focus is quality, not quantity, unlike most programs.

SOL promises and delivers 24/7 help and service in both the US and abroad. Their on-site directors are natives and know exactly what they are doing as teachers, facilitators, friends, and mentors. I never once felt like I was being misguided, was uncertain, or confused. SOL was extremely thorough in their advertising, application process, and pre-departure counselling.

On money matters, SOL allowed me to fundraise, set up payment plans, work with scholarship foundations, and they helped me navigate affording my university program, as well as each of my students' individual financial needs. Their nearly all-inclusive price attracted parents and provided a level of security for them – what parent wants to send their kid to another country with a ton of cash?

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

My university required that I study abroad or live a semester in the language house on campus for my BA in Spanish. I chose to study abroad because of what SOL had to offer. SOL organized all but my flight and packing my bag for me. They literally handled everything from credit transfer and homestay to excursions and tuition abroad. My university received an official transcript from SOL just 2 days after I returned home, which coincidentally was the same day I started Fall classes.

As a teacher organizing a custom program for my high schoolers, SOL provided me with informative presentations, a custom web-page for students to apply to the program and make payments, and they even booked a group flight for us (included in tuition). They followed up with students and parents for outstanding payments, and ensured all paperwork and insurance on file were complete. All I did was serve as a messenger of information. It was painless!

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

For those on University program, spend time with your host family and the locals, and speak as much of the language as you can (even if you don't know that much). You won't regret it.

For teachers designing programs, share your ideas with SOL! They want to help you give your students the opportunities and experiences that YOU want them to have. They will listen and make as much of it happen as humanly and financially possible.

For high school students, SOL is the safest program you can imagine. Going abroad can be scary, but you won't regret it. You will feel supported, cared for, inspired, and empowered the second you land.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

On most weekday mornings, you have class – Language, Literature, Culture, and other courses offered. Each afternoon, there's a variety of cultural activities to participate in, from dancing and cooking, to yoga and volunteer projects. The weekends feature excursions outside of town.

During orientation, you will tour your town and get to know the area so you can get around in groups and know where all the program meeting points are. Navigating public transportation and understanding the taxi system are also covered, as well as banks and money transfers. On a typical day, three meals are provided by your host family, including a packed lunch when travelling.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

As a college student, my biggest fear was living with a host family. What if they don’t like me? What if I disrespect them? What if I flush the toilet paper and break their toilet? What if I don’t like their food? My mind was flooded with worries!

SOL mostly eased my mind before I left by telling me that if my host family and I really didn’t get along, they could move me to another family. I was sure that would be my luck. My family ended up being the best part of my experience! I learned and used the most language with them, had new opportunities and experiences, learned to dance Cumbia, and how to bake traditional coffee desserts.

My high schoolers had the same fears, and by sharing my experiences with them, they were calmed as well.

What do you regret about your experience?

I regret that it wasn't long enough! Fortunately, SOL provides an alumni discount and custom faculty-led programs. I studied abroad in 2014 for three months, returned on my own once in 2014, again in 2015, traveled with 15 students using SOL in June 2018, and I have just finalized my June 2019 program for 15 more students!