The trip of a lifetime

Still reveling in the excitement of the more than 200 events he attended through the summer, Erath County native and Senior Aggie Yell Leader, Reagan Thompson, contacted his father Erath County Judge Tab Thompson and mother Debbie with news that he had been chosen to embark on a journey, which would take him 16 hours by plane to a world far from his hometown of Stephenville, and current residence at College Station, where he attends Texas A&M University.

“At that point, the farthest I had ever been on a plane was a 40 minute flight to South Texas to visit family,” Thompson said. “My parents were like, ‘Really?’ Of course, mom was a little nervous but they were both behind me 110 percent. They knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Every other year, A&M sends one of its Senior Yell Leaders to Education City, which was established by the Development, and located on the outskirts of Doha, the capital of Qatar, on the Persian Gulf. Education City spans more than five square miles and houses educational facilities and branch campuses of some of the world’s leading universities, six of which are American-based institutions, including Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ.) The A&M campus was established in 2003 and offers undergraduate degrees in chemical, electrical, mechanical and petroleum engineering. TAMUQ added masters programs in engineering and science in 2007.

As yell leader, Thompson’s job in the Middle East was to spread Aggie traditions through freshman orientation. This year, more than 100 incoming freshmen dove into the Texas tradition and quickly found themselves filled with the spirit of Aggieland.

“It was neat to see the Aggie Spirit alive all the way across the world,” Thompson said. 

Everything is not as it may seem

He admits he departed from the Lone Star State with preconceived notions of life in the Middle East, but left those notions behind minutes after reaching his destination. Getting to know his fellow Aggies, Thompson heard stories of families fleeing their war torn countries and living their lives as refugees. He quickly realized theirs were nothing like his seemingly sheltered upbringing in Erath County. He also admits he was nervous about the idea of how an American and Texan from The Cowboy Capital of the World would be accepted by his colleagues in Qatar. Those ideas were also quickly put to rest, along with the idea that he would be entering a land of poverty and discontent.

“I have never in my life been treated so well,” Thompson said. “Everyone was caring, courteous and always kind. I was greeted with smiles and welcomed with open arms. One glimpse into their lives and their world changed my mind.”

The slight fear that he would not be understood or be able to understand his fellow Aggies was an unfounded fear. Thompson said not only did everyone speak fluent English, most spoke several languages and even helped him pick up on a little Arabic.

Adjusting to a world far from home

As an ambassador for A&M, Thompson was treated to the finest accommodations and the university footed the bill. He stayed at The Ritz-Carlton, Doha, which is situated on its own exclusive island. The resort offered the comforts of home. 

While he was in for the Aggie adventure more than 8,000 miles from home, Thompson admitted his angst when faced with the local cuisine.

“I tried some bizarre foods,” Thompson said. “The have something like Subway (sandwiches) but they don’t eat red meat, so the sandwiches were made with things like raw salmon and ground chicken.”

Luckily, the Ritz offered selections more pleasing to Thompson’s pallet.

“One night when I got back to my room, I called room service and ordered a pizza,” Thompson said. “Another night, I ordered a steak.”

Even for a man born and raised in Texas, where the weather is known to exceed the triple digit mark in the summer, Thompson said the weather was more than he expected, with lows resting at 110 degrees and highs nearing 130. And, to Thompson’s surprise, even the moon looked different in the Middle East.

“Here, when we look at a crest moon, it is vertical,” Thompson said, “Over there a crescent moon appears horizontal. That first night, I thought something was wrong with my eyes. I thought the jet lag had really gotten to me.”

While he embarked on the journey alone, he said he found willing guides in two students who were born in Doha and attended Texas A&M in College Station on a one year exchange program.

“They took me out into the streets of Doha and to the suk, or local market,” Thompson said.

Since his return to the United States on Aug. 20, Thompson said he is still working to adjust to his prior schedule but still finds himself awake in the wee hours of the morning, ready to begin his day.

“The sun rises above the Persian Gulf at about 4:45 a.m.,” Thompson said. “I would wake up every morning at sunrise, expecting it was already seven or eight in the morning.”

Being named an Aggie Yell Leader

The A&M student body elected Reagan in April as one of three Senior Aggie Yell Leaders for the 2009-10 school year. Only five yell leaders are chosen each year, three seniors and two juniors.

At a university overflowing with school spirit, choosing a yell leader is serious business; the most recent election was the largest ever, with more than 14,000 votes submitted.

The nomination was an exciting honor for an Aggie, no doubt, and an even bigger boasting point for a family that bleeds maroon, according to Tab.

Reagan is not the first in the family to be nominated yell leader. His uncle, Joe Reagan, was elected yell leader during his junior and senior years at the university and was also the head of the squad in 1978.

On his campaign Web site, www.reloadwithreagan.com, Reagan showed his Aggie spirit.

“I truly bleed maroon, and I am full of a never say die Aggie Spirit,” Reagan said. “I want to help instill the Aggie Spirit within new students, and current students as well. There is a Spirit can ‘ner be told and it is the Spirit of Aggieland!”

The “Yell” tradition started in 1907 when A&M was an all-male military college and the squad replaces typical cheerleaders at sporting and other university events. For a complete history see www.yell.tamu.edu.