Newly named Watson Fellow Sarah Aubrey ’13 will spend a year traveling across the globe studying how different cultures, religions, and ethnic groups perceive what makes a space a “home.” In conducting her research, Aubrey plans to travel to Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Chile, and Brazil.
“I want to see if people have a sense of privacy about their homes. I am interested in who is included and who is excluded from the home and why that is,” Aubrey says.
Watson Fellows are awarded a $25,000 one-year grant to support independent study and travel outside the United States.
Aubrey’s travels will take her to places where people have migrated or been displaced due to political, economic, or environmental upheavals. She plans to learn from these groups how conceptions of privacy in the home—which were developed prior to displacement—affect their ability to reconstruct a sense of home after displacement.
Aubrey’s interest in different homes from other cultures stems from her own experiences growing up. At 16-years-old, she found herself homeless and out of school after family hardships.
“I left traditional high school after my sophomore year and was homeless for about six months in Boston, where I made friends with vegan/straight-edge/social justice activist types,” recalls Aubrey.
Thanks to the people she met during this time, she soon found a new home. Aubrey began attending the alternative high school Northstar (then Pathfinder) in Amherst, during which time she stayed with families of friends she made through the school.
At Northstar, Aubrey had access to mentors and with them developed an independent-learning plan. This included taking classes taught by Smith students, participating in the Massachusetts Bar Association Mock Trial competition, and forming an independent comedy improv group.
After completing her education with Northstar, Aubrey moved to West Philadelphia to take part in a collective house that prepared and served meals for free to the public, ran a community garden, and operated a collective bike shop that helped neighborhood kids learn to fix up bikes.
She then traveled extensively for several years, funding her travel by working periodically, and staying in collective houses. Audrey’s stops included collective houses in San Fransisco, Austin, Tuscon, and Mexico City.
“All of these spaces have associated projects that work on small-scale community development stuff—gardens, childcare, soup kitchens, art spaces, etc.,” says Aubrey. “While in San Fransisco, I made vegan donuts and handed them out for free every Tuesday. In Tuscon, I worked with a group that fixed up bikes for women in Juarez, Mexico, to use to commute to work. The houses I lived in have also provided spaces for groups with an interest in social justice to meet and discuss politics and organize politically. For example, I have worked with groups addressing local-government level issues surrounding poverty and immigration policy.
“I think that the contrast for me of being raised within a nuclear, American family structure that was really dysfunctional to moving into spaces that were much more open and shared yet very safe allowed me to start thinking about these things. The Watson provides a chance to think about these ideas more thoroughly and intentionally.”
During her time in each country, Aubrey hopes to learn just as much about herself as about each culture.
“A year as a Watson fellow will give me a chance to think about what the home is, and to think critically about the home I want to build for myself, but I also hope to learn where my spots of ignorance lie, which I think is really crucial in my moving forward in my professional career,” she says.
Upon returning to the U.S., Aubrey, a political science major, plans to apply for joint J.D./Ph.D. programs in political theory and legal theory and hopes to work toward becoming a law professor.
The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship offers college graduates of “unusual promise” a year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel—in international settings new to them—to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership, and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community.