Be a traveler, not a tourist

October 31, 2018

Be a traveler, not a tourist

By Kenza Coubrough, ’17

My name is Kenza and I am an Honors Program alum (graduated in June 2017) and previous Bonderman Fellowship applicant.

I applied to the Bonderman Fellowship my senior year at UW, and made it to the interview stage. The application and interview process really taught me a lot about myself and forced me to reflect on why I wanted, and really needed, this kind of experience before delving into a career. To my dismay at the time, my interview didn’t go very well and I was not the candidate the decision board was looking for. I specifically remember my response to a question in the interview about what I was going to do if I wasn’t offered the fellowship — I said, “I am going to go on this trip anyway.” Whether or not this was a suitable answer at the time, it surely was an honest one.

After I graduated in June 2017, I pursued some opportunities in the healthcare field, doing some engineering work for startups and saving money. I liked the work I was doing, but something was amiss. I felt like I had missed out on an opportunity that would have a deep impact on my worldview and the future direction of my life. I decided I was going to save up money and go on this trip, whatever it took, as I knew I would come to regret not taking this opportunity for growth when I was young and not “tied down.”

Over the course of the 2017 school year, I managed to save about $10,000. It was intimidating trying to approach this trip completely independently. I had student loan repayments to budget for, travel insurance, plane tickets etc. I couldn’t quite put away $20,000 while living in Seattle, but managed to save money where I could by moving in with more roommates and putting off buying a car. 

I am now about 2 months into what will end up being about a 6 month trip. I’ve had to make some sacrifices, cut some prohibitively expensive countries out of my Bonderman itinerary, planned for 6 months instead of 12, but I am here having a solo travel experience, and it’s been everything I hoped it would be. I’ve traveled up the west coast of Ireland, visited small towns in Spain and Portugal, and am currently traveling around SE Asia. Thailand has been a favorite of mine, and my next stop is Nepal.

Traveling has allowed me to live in the moment, meet many from around the world, and meet them where they are in life and in their travels. Some are digital nomads, some have been traveling for 5 years, some are living as locals far displaced from home to pursue economic opportunity; all lead different lives than I do. However, it’s amazing to find how much in common you have with someone when you are both sitting in a remote country, thousands of miles from your respective homes.

If you come across any students who don’t get chosen for the Bonderman and are discouraged, please tell them to not become disheartened and to continue their pursuit of long-term international travel. It’s possible to make an opportunity like this happen if it’s what they truly desire and need. 

Kenza rice paddies Indonesia
Rice paddies near Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

My trip has already been rewarding and transformational, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I want to thank the Bonderman board for causing me to question and reflect on why pursuing this kind of experience was important to me. Being a traveler instead of a tourist has enabled me to travel through the backstreets of old town Bangkok and visit monasteries, temples and night markets; to walk two miles at low tide to a small village in Thailand; to ask a local if she can show me how to make Pad Thai; to talk with sheep farmers in Ireland and see how they live. I think pursuing travel in this way is something anyone can choose to do if they wish to open their eyes and mind to the big world outside of their comfort zone.

Thank you again to the Bonderman board for being an important stepping stone on this journey. My life will truly never be the same.

Kenza Coubrough (’17)