Sammamish woman uses fellowship to travel, study

July 18, 2010

By Tara Sackman

New: July 18, 6:42 p.m.

Twenty thousand dollars, eight months, six countries and two world regions all add up to one big trip. These are the stipulations that Autumn Cutter, of Sammamish, was given for the Bonderman Travel Fellowship. Starting in January 2011, recent University of Washington graduate Cutter will spend at least eight months traveling the world.

Autumn Cutter (right) works with a couple kids from India where she spent three months last year. That trip inspired her to continue traveling around the world. Contributed

“I think this is a real life-changing experience,” Stewart Tolnay professor at University of Washington said. Tolnay was one of Cutter’s honors professors and took a two-quarter long class from him.

David Bonderman, a 1963 University of Washington alumnus traveled internationally after graduation with a fellowship he received. This helped him see that there was great value in international travel for students. He then established the Bonderman Travel Fellowship to ensure the opportunity for students in the future.

Cutter will spend eight or more months traveling the world by herself to at least 15 or 20 countries. While her itinerary is not final yet, Cutter said that she is especially looking forward to going to South Africa. She will be going to less developed countries as students are discouraged from visiting extremely westernized countries.

“It’s scary but exciting,” Cutter said.

Cutter graduated from the University of Washington with sociology degree and a minor in women’s studies. She hopes to attend graduate school for public health and is particularly interested in women’s reproductive health.

On the trip, students are not allowed to take classes, pursue internships or do any sort of work that will tie them down to one particular place for a long time. As such they are encouraged to go as many places as they can before the money runs out.

“ I want to do home stays and get to know the culture,” Cutter said.

Cutter has decided to spend time researching and understanding other cultures with a particular focus on mothers and their children.

“Birth is the theme of my travels,” Cutter said.

Cutter will devise interview questions and talk to as many new and expecting mothers around the world as possible to gain a broader perspective on the childbirth process.

Cutter was first inspired to this topic after taking a class on women’s reproductive health. Last year, she spent three months traveling in rural India. She encountered an attitude toward the childbirth process that she had never been presented with before. She talked with women in rural India who wanted to give birth in a hospital but could not afford it.

This was different than the westernized perspective she had been presented with in her class where she had begun to think that an at home birth was more natural and therefore better. Her travels to India gave her a fresh perspective and that process will only continue on her trip.

“It really inspired me to keep traveling,” Cutter said.

Applicants for the Bonderman fellowship had to submit a personal statement describing why they wanted the fellowship, and undergo an interview. Cutter said that there were about 200 applicants and the fellowship was given to 14 people.

Tolnay encouraged Cutter to apply for the fellowship because her writing ability had stood out to him.

“I was so impressed by Autumn during the one-year interaction I had with her. She’s a very mature, intelligent person,” Tolnay said. “She’s quiet, she doesn’t speak much, but when she does, it’s respected and people listen.”

“After I applied, he (Tolnay) kept dropping hints that they liked my application,” Cutter said.

Cutter will leave in January and will return sometime towards the end of the year. She will continue traveling after the first eight months if she still has money left to spare.

“I’m just so excited about everything,” Cutter said.

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