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San Diego State University

Daniel Soto

Transformed by study abroad,
an alumnus gives back

By Michael Klitzing

Daniel Soto, ’09, admits to being pretty intimidated when he first arrived in Sau Paulo, Brazil, for his study abroad experience. He had studied Brazilian Portuguese in classes, but struggled to grasp the slang needed to carry on a conversation. Also, as a community college transfer student who had never before lived away from home, he wondered if he could handle life on his own.

“I didn’t know how to cook, I had never cleaned my house and I didn’t know how to use a washing machine – I was thinking, ‘I’m going to starve, shrink my clothes and live in filth,’” joked Soto, who was required to study abroad by his international security and conflict resolution (ISCOR) major.

“But I learned that I could really be self-sufficient.”

The self-discovery he experienced during his semester in Brazil has inspired him to make similar experiences possible for SDSU students. 

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Supporting current and future Aztecs

Now an Aztec alumnus working in banking and real estate, Soto recently created a scholarship fund to help students with financial need immerse themselves in foreign languages on long-term study abroad programs. The first scholarships will be awarded this semester.

“With more of our students studying abroad, including many with financial need, it’s important that we support them not only with programming but financially,” said Noah Hansen, director of the International Student Center. “Scholarships like the one created by Daniel are critical to address this need. We’re grateful to him for giving students the ability to explore the world and have a transformational experience.”

Both language and length of program were important considerations for Soto. By being dropped into the deep end in Brazil for a full semester – unsure of his language abilities and knowing no one – he was forced to learn the culture and make friends by communicating as best he could. It paid off; Soto says that by his second month in the country he “dominated” the language.

“I really wanted to focus on language with this scholarship because we’re a globalized world,” Soto said. “A lot of Americans don’t learn to speak the language when they go to other countries, and I think that can give people a bad idea about Americans. I want to change that.”
 

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A unique path

Soto said he benefitted from the global perspective his Brazil experience provided. He was fascinated by the different dynamics of the cities he spent time in, from the hustle and bustle of Sau Paulo to the laid-back, carefree vibe of Rio de Janiero. He made a group of international friends from countries like Mexico, Colombia, France and Chile.

Soto also learned a lot by striking up conversations with strangers. He vividly recalls meeting a woman from Paraguay on long bus ride back from a side trip to Iguaza Falls. She told him she had come to Brazil for opportunity because the economic situation in her native country was so dire. As a Mexican-American from San Diego, Soto said he was shocked to realize that issues like immigration were universal.

“Study abroad provides a greater sense of empathy and understanding,” he said. “When you go somewhere you expect things to be different, but we’re all just the same. I think if we could grasp that it would help us deal with situations a lot better.”

Soto added that the adaptability, communication skills and open-mindedness he gained during his program in Brazil have benefitted him professionally and personally.

“It was the best time of my life,” Soto said. “I still look back on it and wish I could go back.”

If you are interested in supporting study abroad scholarships for SDSU students, please contact Steve Sanders at ssanders@mail.sdsu.edu.

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