Only 15 miles separates master’s student Cole Estrada from his hometown of Atascadero and Cal Poly’s campus in San Luis Obispo. But his journey to Orfalea’s Master of Science in Economics program took him around the world first on a trip full of unexpected adventures.
Estrada began his pursuit of higher education at Cuesta College in 1992. After graduating high school and spending the summer backpacking Europe, he discovering his love of travel and adventure. But, quickly, he learned that this was not the right time nor place for him to be in school.
In 1995, Estrada moved to San Francisco and began to work on completing his general education units while still trying to determine what the right major was for him. After studying Japanese for two years, Estrada knew that he wanted to pursue a degree in linguistics. He ended up attending UCLA on a full scholarship studying general linguist theory, specializing in Semitic languages and minoring in Arabic and Islamic studies.
After he graduated from UCLA in 2002, he spent the next few months traveling to places like India, Pakistan, and western China with his friends from UCLA. Then, on his own, Estrada travelled to Tibet and Nepal, deciding to settle down somewhere in the Middle East and fully immerse himself in his Arabic studies. Estrada found the perfect place to do so in Sana’a, Yemen where he spent the next eight months living, exploring and learning.
He returned to Santa Monica, Calif. for a short period of time before returning to Yemen in 2006 to live permanently. There, Estrada worked at an English-language publishing house, serving as a copy-editor and eventually as the managing editor of a twice-weekly newspaper.
At the end of 2010, the political atmosphere in Yemen began to shift towards a revolution, and Estrada made his way back to California one more time. While looking back at his time in Yemen, Estrada began to see the importance of economic development, which encouraged him to pursue a degree in the field.
Estrada moved back to his childhood home in Atascadero where he started all over at Cuesta College. He spent two years there studying calculus and linear algebra before he began to take upper division economics courses at Cal Poly in the Orfalea College of Business.
While he was unable to pursue another bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly, he was able to enroll in classes with empty seats with instructor permission. After taking more than 10 economics courses at Cal Poly, Estrada knew that he wanted to earn his master’s degree. As luck would have it, the Orfalea College of Business was just launching its M.S. Quantitative Economics program. “I was over the moon,” said Estrada, “I felt like it was created just for me.”
Estrada is now one of 12 individuals participating in the program. He will be graduating this spring and plans to work for the United Nations, with hopes of taking an assignment somewhere on the Horn of Africa or in the Middle East.