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Bon voyage! Allen School Ph.D. student Gus Smith awarded 2023 Bonderman Fellowship for independent travel

Portrait of Gus Smith wearing a pale aqua button-down shirt and seated in a teal upholstered chair against a textured concrete wall.

After a two-year hiatus, the University of Washington’s Bonderman Travel Fellows are back, independently traveling the world and benefitting from the monumental growth that comes with immersing oneself in unfamiliar spaces. Since its inception in 1995, the fellowship has supported over 300 UW students on their travels based on their curiosity, openness, resilience and creativity. 

Soon, it will be Allen School Ph.D. student Gus Smith’s turn to hit the road, along with seven other graduate students who were named 2023 Bonderman Fellows. Smith, who is in his fifth year at the Allen School co-advised by professors Luis Ceze and Zach Tatlock, focuses his research on using programming language tools to automatically generate compilers for custom hardware.

With support from the fellowship, he will have an opportunity to explore a different kind of language, far from the computing lab.

“I will use my Bonderman journey to bridge gaps between myself and my international friends and colleagues, not only by experiencing their home countries directly, but by challenging myself to experience the feeling of being an outsider in new and unfamiliar countries,” explained Smith. “In the process, I hope to gain more empathy for what it is like to live so far from your country of origin.”

Inspired by the international and first-generation American friends and colleagues he has encountered during his time at UW, Smith proposed to visit at least six countries over a period of five months following graduation. His itinerary — which is still taking shape — will span the continent of Asia from Taiwan in the east to Israel and Jordan in the west. Other highlights will include two months in India, a brief stay in Singapore and an exploration of Chiang Mai and Bangkok in Thailand. 

Along the way Smith hopes to connect with the cultures of the people he has known to develop a better understanding of their backgrounds. He also anticipates personal growth that will facilitate deeper connections with his friends, fellow computer scientists and other people he meets throughout his life.

“During my travels, I’ll seek to understand how people across the world engage with the search for happiness and how they cope with the knowledge that what they seek may be elusive or impermanent,” said Smith. “If I meet a thousand people, I’ll find a thousand different answers to that question.”

Learn more about the Bonderman Fellowship here.