Commencement Spotlight: Nathan Sowell, MPA
MPA student Nathan Sowell was nearly done with his time at the nation’s top accounting program, just two semesters away from earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees and near-guaranteed employment. He completed a finance internship for Nestle in Denver.
Then one-and-a-half months later he escaped the country.
Sowell put everything on hold and left for an around-the-world globe trot with his brother Derek, visiting 21 countries in one year. New Zealand and Australia during football season, South Korea for Thanksgiving, Argentina during Spring Break, Peru while his classmates were taking finals, and Egypt just days before registration for fall classes.
“It’s always tough deviating off the path to a secure future,” Sowell says about his decision to delay graduation. “But we only get one chance to live life.”
And live he did. The Sowell brothers experienced fire-spitting-rocks, rebuilding their broken car engine in a tiny Peruvian village, Patagonian ice-block jumping, hitchhiking, Himalayan epiphanies, and canoeing with dolphins.
Every country held a surprise. In New Zealand, you can rent a camper van for less than a hostel room. In Chile, “waterproof tent” doesn’t always mean waterproof. Synthetic clothing, comfortable shoes, and a journal were essential travel gear. Sleeping on the beach isn’t as glamorous as it sounds.
After a year of his only responsibility being deciding where to sleep each night and how long to stay in that week’s exotic locale, Sowell says he was excited to return to school and feel productive again. After commencement he’ll join KPMG’s transaction services group in Dallas. He’s graduating with practical, highly employable degrees and the accompanying knowledge and skills.
But he’s also graduating with a new appreciation for other cultures.
“Our way of living in America is not the only way to live,” Sowell says. “It's not better or worse. It's just different. If a person feels like she doesn't fit in, there's probably a culture out there that suits her better.”
And, he says, getting away from his normal environment allowed him personal growth he might not otherwise have experienced.
“When traveling, I am away from others' expectations of me,” he says. “I feel free to experiment without the fear of judgment. For me, I felt free to be boring. I started writing more. I listened to others instead of trying to outshine other people. I stopped competing with people. I stopped trying to be cool. I felt free to be me.”
Snapshots and Stories from an Around-the-World Adventure
One of the more cost-efficient destinations, the Sowell brothers (Nathan is on the right) rented motor bikes for $3 each, went on a sunrise dolphin tour for $7, ate an unusually filling dinner for $5 a plate, and found a room for $3 a night. Sowell tried driving a motor bike for the first time ever, braving Indonesia’s largely ignored driving rules. On the way to the beach town of Lovina, they passed green rice paddies and lakes surrounded by volcanoes. Their dolphin tour boat was a canoe with an engine tied to it, which “seemed normal for some reason,” Sowell says.
Trekking to what’s often called “the bottom of the earth,” Nathan and Derek embarked on a nine-day, 61-mile hike through the Torres Del Paine national park. The decision was made somewhat on a whim, and their gear consisted of tennis shoes and a $14 waterproof tent that turned out not to be waterproof at all (below, next to campers more adequately prepared). But the flooded tent, surprise snowstorm and 70-mph-wind were worth it, delivering what Sowell calls the “single most magnificent view I’ve ever seen” at The Pass, overlooking Glacier Grety, set between two mountain ranges.
Wadi Musa, Jordan
Nathan (above, left) and Derek traveled to Petra, a historic Bedouin site with ancient buildings and tombs that is still home to some 40 Bedouin families. You may recognize its cavern walls from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” On the trip, the brothers liked to tell people they were Texas cowboys, but this was only the second time Nathan had ever ridden a horse. They shared hummus, tea, and bread with locals and practiced a little Arabic.
Olympus “has the untouched raw beauty of a natural park with overgrown Roman ruins scattered throughout,” Sowell says. “It is located on the coast with the backdrop of mountains. If that’s not enough, fires naturally spit out of the rocks on one of these mountains.” They watched the sunset while roasting sausages over the fire (caused by a massive store of natural gas seeping up through the rocks), slept on the beach, and woke up to a giant sea turtle burying its eggs nearby.