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Why SoCo is so wonderful

A group of 2019 SoCo participants jump for joy on Bartolomé Island. Courtesy of Jose Urteaga.

SoCo is the abbreviated version of Sophomore College, which is essentially a three-week program that allows incoming Stanford sophomores to choose one particular topic on which to focus and take classes. The themes of these classes encompass the gamut of interests, from conservation in the Galápagos (which allowed me and 13 of my classmates to venture to the most significant archipelago in evolutionary history), to energy in Hawaii, to Spanish, engineering or American politics. Taking a SoCo class can expose you to a new topic that you haven’t previously studied and perhaps even influence you to change your major.

Prior to meeting on campus for about a week, we had to post extensive notes on discussion boards on (our online lord and savior) Canvas on a collection of related books and packet readings. Do you get academic credit for these courses, you ask? Yes, indeed. You can get two credits, and depending on the course, they might be pass/fail or for a letter grade.  

You might have classes every day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or your schedule might be more chill with only a few classes sporadically throughout the week, giving you more time to focus on independent projects. No SoCo is complete without bonding activities and meals at the illustrious Arrillaga Family Dining Commons.

Furthermore, you might potentially receive opportunities to network within your SoCo, as we did. Our trip happened to have the format of an alumni travel-study trip, so we students accompanied a bevy of alums on an “expedition” (read: fancy cruise ship trip) — a journey that traversed the Galápagos Marine Reserve and stopped at a different island each day. Some of us left the ship with LinkedIn connections and exchanged email addresses.

Traveling with a group was fun, as was the process of getting through customs and immigration. Although I have gone through this process tons of times, it was very different and sort of exciting to go to a counter by yourself, without your family guiding the process. Of course, going to another country also meant that we had the wonderful opportunity to immerse ourselves in another culture. I had a smorgasbord of different delicacies that I hadn’t had before, like empanadas, a dulce de leche doughnut, yucca bread (also known as pão de queijo), white pineapple (unequivocally the superior pineapple) and this absolutely bussin’ crepe/nut/fruit sauté dish.

One of the major thrills of the day would be to come back and jump into the Jacuzzi after snorkeling in the frigid water and then going back to our cabins to see what dibujos (the cute name for the towel animals) that the staff had made for us. Then we’d jump into our immaculately-made beds that had regional baby-chocolates on the pillows for naps together. The amount of bonding that occurred was beautiful, and I believe translated well back onto campus and will continue in the future — we’ve already had a mini-reunion. It was fun to talk to the ship’s staff and the pangueros (dinghy drivers) and hear about their connections to the archipelago, as well as wander the streets of the towns.

Each day’s expedition brought a new island brimming with amazingly-adapted organisms. Students and alumni would snap hundreds of photos of the landscapes and the animals that had a strong propensity to come very close due to us being humans, which are not natural predators. We were lucky that the weather was in our favor — mostly cool and pleasant with occasional bouts of garúa, the quintessential sea mist.

I will never forget what it felt like, out of a myriad of vivid, incredible events, to gaze upon dozens of scarlet and turquoise “Christmas” marine iguanas, see the slow saunter of a tortoise, pull minor “shenanigans” on the ship with my friends, see a blue-footed booby feeding its chick, walk smack into an Opuntia cactus, get stung by a jellyfish on my mouth and swim with sharks while seeing unstirring sea cucumbers and chocolate chip sea stars.  

On behalf of our SoCo, I can confidently say:

Freshmen, you all should definitely apply to a SoCo program because it will undoubtedly be one of the best experiences of your undergraduate career at Stanford. Besides learning a lot, you’ll make a bunch of unforgettable memories and be able to ease back into the grind of your second year at Stanford. 

Contact Sarayu Pai at smpai918 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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