How many people can say they have tasted snake heart, spent the night with monks in a Zen Buddhist temple, or gone scuba diving in the Indian Ocean?
Sam Sudar, a 2004 Mark Morris High School graduate, did all those things and more last year during an eight-month trip to 12 countries he took as part of the Bonderman Travel Fellowship, a $20,000 grant from the University of Washington.
Sudar, 23, who graduated from Washington in 2009 with a triple major (Neurobiology, Philosophy and English), had the pleasant choice of deciding between the Bonderman Fellowship and a Gates Cambridge Scholarship as a next step.
He chose to do both, delaying his studies at Cambridge in order to take advantage of the travel grant, which he regarded as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"I knew about the (travel) scholarship for a while, so I applied," Sudar said. "I knew it was impossible to pass up."
The Bonderman program's purpose is to offer graduate and undergraduate students an opportunity to travel alone and explore the world. The goal is to encourage independence and introduce students to cultures, peoples, and areas of the world that are unfamiliar to them. Sudar traveled to Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Australia, Japan, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and China.
Students who apply can't have extensive experience abroad (Sudar had never been outside of the country before), nor can they participate in other programs, organizations, or engage in formal study or research at foreign universities. Sudar's only obligation was to completely immerse himself into his surroundings, but that didn't mean it would be easy. For one thing, his $20,000 didn't stretch as far as he thought it might.
Fluctuations in the exchange rate did not tend to work in his favor.
"For my budget at the time, I couldn't really relax," he said. "I'd like to go back when I have travel money, not backpacker money."
Sudar quickly learned how to travel and live cheaply. In Cambodia, he found locals renting a mattress for $1 per day and traded a dollar for a good night's sleep.
Sudar did splurge a little, he admits, but only for big-ticket items, such as scuba diving in several countries and hang-gliding in South America. Although the trip began with most of his activities well planned, Sudar said it often veered into unexpected territory.
In China, he admired a hard-to-reach cave, where the founder of the Zen movement lived centuries ago. This adventure led him to a Zen temple, where he said the monks were so welcoming that they invited him to dinner.
The biggest lesson Sudar said he learned during his world tour is that all cities are generally the same, no matter where they are.
All cities felt more or less the same he said, "And the more I traveled, the more it became about the people and the culture."
Sudar has packed his bags again and will leave Tuesday to begin his studies at Cambridge. For a year, he will immerse himself in stem cell research and will return home with a master's degree. He realizes that his travels may have put him a bit behind the curve with his peers in the classroom, but he said the memories he's made while traveling are priceless.
"I was happy to have the opportunity," Sudar said of his trip around of the world.
Read Sam Sudar's travel blog at www.wherehewasgoing.blogspot.com