SOLES Alumna Spotlight: Erika Soga '16 (MEd), TESOL

Erika Soga
begin quoteSOLES taught me that there’s a theory or thought behind what I’m doing.

Tell us about your SOLES degree program and why you chose it.

I was looking at the SDSU program (for the bilingual education and English certificate for TESOL) and also the SOLES program. At first, I wasn’t too sure of what the difference was and what area each school specialized in. But after researching a little bit, SOLES, it was more the main piece of literacy culture; it was so much more specialized in that area, and it was more certificate based, and the classes and everything was geared towards…the whole department makes sense more than the SDSU program. SDSU was bilingual education, or special education and foreign language…it was really different. Once I applied, I applied to both schools, but once I got into USD I was like, “Oh, I’m going to go to USD!”

Do you have a favorite professor from your time in the TESOL program at SOLES?

Yes! Professor Molina…I was so impressed and in awe of her education. Something that I like about SOLES is that they teach you about becoming a teacher, and what kind of teacher and the role it requires to work in a classroom. Just hearing Dr. Molina talk at the open house back in the fall…she brings up such an important essence of teaching--lunar knowledge for adult learners. That was just one example. It brought me back to when I was a student at SOLES and, “Yes, this is what I love and this is so inspirational.” There’s a cause to the teaching, that’s what I love about it. I do remember Professor Manasse, as well. His teaching was great. He kind of made teaching so that the students really understood and were on the same page as him. When he thought that we were kind of lost, he’d say, “Okay, let’s go back to this point and lets do that over again” so that we would understand. It’s not that I keep in touch and we email each other, but I do update Professor Molina about what I’m doing and if I need a letter of recommendation, and professor Manasse, as well.

What was your favorite class?

I forgot the name of it, but the class that Dr. Lohagan taught, I think that that was my favorite. I didn’t like it at the time and I thought that I was lagging behind the class, but there was a lot of pair work. We could do the assignments, pretty much all of it, as a pair in the classroom, and class assignments, as well. So then I did my part and my partner did her part, and the collaborating result of the project…that was okay. It was really difficult for me, but when I look back, she taught us how to use social media and English as a global language, literature, it was kind of a practical...a useful class. And so, I think that was one of my favorites.

What was your favorite place on campus?

The patio outside of Bert’s Bistro, where the people eat. I liked it because of the view. That’s my favorite place. There was also another place I liked, the lounge in the SLP. The Graduate Student Commons. I went there to study.

Did you have any kind of mentoring when you were a student?

I had a tutor outside of the school. She was my mom’s friend and she had masters’ in a few areas/fields. So especially for my thesis, I needed a little bit more support in my writing. She tutored my writing during my thesis--I think that helped a lot. Obviously the practicum teacher, too, she was sort of a mentoring role. I had my mentor/teacher twice, so I got to know her pretty well and I liked her teaching style. She really gave me insight into that field of ESL. She asked me, “you know some people shy away from the field, but are you really into it?” And I said, “I’m going to do this!” She really encouraged me in the end.

Were you involved on campus at all?

I did work at the Missions Cafe for a while in my first year, so I was busy doing that, but I really wanted to get involved in some of the SOLES organizations. I regret not participating in a lot of the activities, but I did go to the little concerts that they had.

Did you complete the international requirement while you were at SOLES? Where did you go, what did you study, etc.?

I didn’t…I did CABE (California Association for Bilingual Education) and I volunteered at a conference for a day. So that was my international experience. It’s not international…But that one time I went to it, I volunteered at a little booth and I was volunteering with another fellow teacher in the area of bilingual education. I remember I spent the day with her because we were volunteering at the same time and place, and we were talking, and a lot of the booths were centered towards English education as a second language and different publishers for textbooks, etc. There were lectures about the field, also. I remember talking a lot with my fellow volunteers, talking about our identities and cultural upbringings. I bought a picture book written by one of the key speakers at the convention and it portrayed her heritage culture, and heritage language, the beauty of it and how it’s weaved within her identity. But that experience really came in handy for the rest of my time at USD because that’s such a big part of TESOL, and teaching English and my identity, as well! Everything was new when I started in the program; I had certain ideas because my undergraduate thesis program was in bilingual education, but it was a whole new experience and every bit and pieces of the experience kind of molded together to bring an outcome in my program.

Was this conference considered to be an independent study? was just an experience in the field of bilingual education. It was a day of volunteering and seeing the presentations that they had. It was more of a “take what you can out of it” kind of experience. For me, it was really inspirational because those are the fields I was really interested in, as a bilingual educator and teaching English as a second language. I knew that it had existed, heritage language and identity as a bilingual student/person/individual, but to actually need and buy the book and see all these organizations working within that field really gave me an understanding and a positive affirmation that, “oh, there are people out there and this is a thing.” I would look back to it a lot. I looked back at the book a lot, even for my thesis, and it really gave me a whole new feel of, “ok, I’m not alone in this and I really want to use it in my studies in the TESOL program”.

Tell us a little bit about your journey since graduating from SOLES.

After graduating I started applying to companies. At first, I started with Vidkid. It’s an online English teaching job, and I taught Chinese children online and I really liked it because they were children and I liked the portal that we used. I really like it because it taught a lot of basic English as well as, when you go into intermediate, like reading, and the themes are really nice (like animal habitats), and I really liked it. They had a little form that you follow and you can be really creative, which I like about teaching with the materials. But it didn’t work out because the times that I taught it had to match the times in China, so I had to wake up really early in the morning and all my lessons were early in the morning. It didn’t really work out for me…a little too much stress in the long-term.

Then for a while I was doing something other than teaching; I was caring for disabled children. I kind of got into it because they said, “there’s a little tutoring, too”. Teaching them how to speak, and learn, and going over their homework” so I did that for a while. But, I just wanted to get into the teaching field a little bit more. It wasn’t quite enough for me and it kind of turned into more of “baby-sitting” than tutoring in a way. It turned out to be too much of a care-taking job (which I knew that it was going to be), but I was drawn to the educational and teaching part.

So then I was back to finding jobs and applying. I started teaching at the Converse International School of Language; it’s a private school downtown. It was so rewarding and it was kind of the first time for me really teaching at an organized school like that, a private language school. Most of my students were Brazilian but there were different types of nationalities and a whole bunch of people put together. There were even adults! It was really neat to know that, “Oh, he wants to be a doctor. She wants to be a head of a company, etc.”…just their dreams. To know that I’m a part of their dream and their journey. Because they are students that came from abroad, too, to study English, they would tell me about their host parents and going out to restaurants--I was really privileged to be a part of their experience, their journey in America. The school encouraged a lot of activities and someone would come in once a week with a bulletin of activities. So that was the first time I really taught in a language school, as I had mentioned, a lot of the experience that I had at USD really became useful. Devising the syllabus and the lesson plans, I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on that work.

At the same time, shortly after that I started tutoring Japanese and I was enrolled in a tutoring company called Varsity Tutors, and I didn’t take on any students from that tutoring service. I had one student I was tutoring Japanese for and so I really found a little niche for myself. I really enjoyed speaking Japanese as a second language, and so after that I started kind of going towards that direction and I thought, “You know, I really want to do this,” I taught at a Saturday school before, and I thought, “I think I can do this on my own!” I really wanted to focus in that area, so after a while I started seeing whether there were students out there that really wanted to have me as a tutor. The school that I started in July 2019 is called Camellia Japanese School. I only have about five or six students right now, but it’s really fulfilling for me and I really like what I’m doing. So that’s what I’ve been doing since SOLES.

How does it compare teaching English as a second language versus teaching Japanese as a second language?

I think when I teach English as a second language, it is more communicative and there’s a lot of emphasis on communication. There’s a little bit of grammar involved, but a lot of it is about conversation, and thematic, or situational. Whereas teaching Japanese is a lot about starting off with the alphabet, then counting the numbers. I have more experience doing beginners in Japanese, and obviously the Japanese students have less experience in Japanese (because I’m teaching it in America), so it’s going to be important. Teaching English as a second language is really different. For example, when teaching Japanese, if the student is absent one time, we go back a few steps back to get their mindset in Japanese again. With teaching English as a second language, there’s more outside influence, because they are here and exposed to the language more often. I rely a lot on their experience here, going out to restaurants and what they really need to survive here in America. With Japanese, it is very difficult to find materials that really convey, “this is how it’s like in Japan, and this is why you need Japanese, and this is the kind of Japanese you need.”

What do you do in your spare time?

In my spare time, I usually just study and prepare the Japanese language teaching field and I do Japanese tea ceremony. I do my hobbies and I do my extra work for that. I’ve been thinking that I may want to volunteer at a Salvation Army as an ESL teacher, but I’ve been just concentrating on my Camellia right now. I go out for walks with my roommate, and I don’t have much of a commitment right now but I just started and am trying to figure out how everything’s going to fit.

How has your SOLES education impacted your career and your career goals?

I really feel a lot of times when I’m teaching that it’s a lot of the experiences that helped me figure out “oh, this is what I want to do today in class”. But when I first started at SOLES, a lot of people said I lack the theories, the methods, and the knowledge behind what I’m doing, so sometimes I can’t figure out why I’m doing certain things in class (the benefit and the purpose). But because I have that educational knowledge, teaching English or likewise teaching Japanese, I have a little bit of a leeway of figuring, “oh, ok so I’m not doing it grammatically but I’m doing thematic teaching.” Dr. Molina said, “If you’re going to teach grammar, just do it as it comes--kind of a teaching philosophy.” So I think, “I need to introduce this, the order, and taking into consideration the student’s state of learning.” It’s kind of difficult for me to consolidate a few things because I always thought, “Ok, why am I doing this? What’s going to work?” and like I said, it’s a lot about experience, but it’s also a lot about what I learned at SOLES. I just have a real different perspective about teaching; like thinking about the students and not just the curriculum. Thinking about the overall picture of “how are the students going to interact with me?” or one of the topics I deal with is, “what is the difference between child learners and adult learners?” I can use the materials that I used for children for adults, but how am I going to build the lesson and get this content across to the adults? It’s a little different. SOLES taught me that there’s a theory or thought behind what I’m doing.

If you had any advice to give to a SOLES student currently in the TESOL program, what would you say?

I would say to get as much experience as possible while you’re in grad school, and also be involved in the student body. Know that your classmates are really going to be a beneficial resource during your time in SOLES. I just feel that getting experience is going to be the most important thing while they are in grad school at SOLES. I do recommend a lot of volunteering. You do have the pressure that you need to deliver a really good lesson, but where I volunteered at the Salvation Army, I had a lot of leeway of what I was going to do and how I was going to present it (the paper or just their textbook). I always want to do the best for the students, but in developing the lesson I would think, “Ok today I’m going to do this”. I was in the middle of developing my teaching styles so the volunteer work really helped a lot.

If I did it differently, I’d think more seriously about how I kept in touch with my classmates after graduating. Maybe even during school getting together as a group outside of the classes and working with each other and bouncing ideas off. I would have interacted more with my classmates. I’m starting to realize that SOLES doesn’t end when you graduate; nothing ends.


Amanda Gonzales
(619) 260-4539


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