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Sonoma Valley High grad Autumn Cecil, ‘16, hit the road last spring


Breaking the social norm of graduating high school and attending college, Sonoma Valley High School graduate Autumn Cecil, ‘06, decided not to go to college, but to Asia instead.

Cecil has wanted to travel for as long as she can remember. Although her family traveled a little, her real inspiration comes from her favorite thing to do besides traveling: reading.

“Now I appreciate Sonoma, but ever since I was younger I wanted to leave because it was a small town and I felt very closed off. I didn’t feel like there was a lot of diversity here or not a lot of new things to experience,” Cecil said. “I’ve read about places all over the world so probably since like fifth grade I’ve been thinking about places I want to travel and live. All the reading I did was like I was traveling, so it got me hooked on the shock of learning something new every day.”

Since her freshman year at SVHS, Cecil has been working toward this goal. Freshman and sophomore year she worked at Basque Boulangerie Café, and then at Shiso Modern Asian Kitchen, while also catering. She’s always had a passion for cooking as well, which was her favorite class in high school.

After graduating last May, Cecil worked over the summer and took off in August for her trip through Asia. What started out as just a small trip to help teach English at a hotel in Indonesia, turned into an almost four month long backpacking trip through Asia. After her time in Indonesia, she got rid of her suitcase, bought a backpack and continued to Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and China.

“I stayed in each country about two weeks and after that I would just look at bus companies and see where they went. I did a little bit of work here and there but it was mostly just for traveling and sightseeing. When you stay in hostels sometimes they have work in trade for housing and meals. I also did a modeling thing for a Korean fashion website,” Cecil said.

Besides a week in Indonesia with a friend, another SVHS graduate, and meeting some friends in Thailand, Cecil did the trip alone. However, she made friends along the way.

“I met amazing people, that was one of my favorite parts,” Cecil said. “I stayed in hostels so I was in situations where you had to make friends with a lot of people. Now when I go on my Snapchat stories, I see videos and pictures from all over the world. These people I met in Asia went home to Australia, Japan, China, Europe, Laos, Cambodia – just this really cool diversity.”

Despite being alone, Cecil said it was very safe compared to what everyone thinks. She had a few scary situations, for example, taking nine to 10 different buses from Laos to Cambodia and at one point being left at the Cambodian border. Another chilling moment was when she visited a region involved in the Laos genocide.

Cecil said almost two-thirds of the population was murdered. She visited the site of an old schoolhouse turned into a prison where there was still blood and chains inside.

Since arriving home, Cecil has taken a three-week class at San Francisco State to be certified in teaching English as a second language. Now she is finishing up 60 hours of online class before she is certified. Then she wants to find a job teaching English in another country.

Looking back on her time away, Cecil got used to not having hot water, clean water, properly prepared food or more than a coupe articles of clothing. When she came home, she experienced reverse culture shock.

“You become a lot less needy; I’m not picky about anything anymore. I came back and saw we have so much excess of everything. It’s crazy and so unnecessary,” Cecil said.

The only time Cecil doubted her decision was at graduation, when everyone else seemed to be following the usual path of college. Instead, she decided to take her own path.

“Everyone thinks you should get a degree first but I think sometimes it can be a waste, and I’m really glad with my decision now. If I do want to go to college or get a degree, that will always be there for me, but right now is the best time to live, explore and try new things,” Cecil said. “Take time for yourself and think about what you want. You have to do what you want instead of listening to everyone around you, so even if it’s not the popular opinion, if you believe in it, then go for it.”