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Madison Cuthbertson: Storytelling Artisan and #BossLady

The Details

  • Name: Madison Cuthbertson
  • Year: Sophomore
  • School and Major: CAS for Economics, Business Studies Minor
  • Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee

HC NYU: You launched your own website, From Madison in June of 2015. Can you tell us more about your blog?

MC: I started my blog as an offshoot off of my AP Language class when I was having struggles writing under a timed parameter. It essentially started with personal diary entries, writing my feelings down and getting comfortable with my own words. As I eased into it, I started writing more about the people, cultures, and places I encountered especially when I studied abroad in Paris last year. I truly enjoy meeting new faces and exploring new places, and I think that is really the basis of my blog and my posts today.

I mainly identify as a travel blogger, but ever since arriving in New York I’ve kind of split up my blog posts into travel and New York. I write my posts and have photoshoots mainly based on places I’ve traveled in New York. Some of the places I’ve traveled to include Bushwick, Chinatown, and San Gennaro. Through photography and writing I’ve found a great platform to explore cultures and social issues.

HC NYU: You’re also an avid photographer. How did you get started?

MC: When I lived at home, my dad had a camera that he never used. I sort of grabbed it one day and just started photographing places we went. The camera just became mine. For graduation, he got me a very nice Canon 70D which I still use today and a crazy lens that I don’t know the name of. We traveled a lot the summer before I studied abroad, and during my year abroad I ran all around Europe and photographed lots of places. Right now at Tisch, I’m taking a Photojournalism course taught by Jeffrey Scales who is the curator of Exposures at The New York Times.

My assignment for last week was to do portrait sessions with random strangers about the Chelsea bombings. So first, I went up to two people in Gramercy Hall, interviewed them and photographed them. Then for my next stop, I decided to go to Madison Square Park; I wanted to get a wide variety of ages, genders, and races. So, I ended up going up to these kids with their mom. I asked their mother if I could take a few pictures of them, and she looked a bit confused and told me that she only spoke French. I told her I could speak French too, so I ended up telling her about the Chelsea bombings. To my surprise, she wasn’t aware the bombings even occurred. I transformed this photo session into a chance to talk about how foreigners living in New York may not be aware of certain events that are going on and how difficult it may be for them to be impacted by events that target a specific population when they’re not technically part of that population. I could relate to this because when I was studying in Paris and the Paris attacks occurred, I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it because I’m not Parisian and it wasn’t an attack on my immediate culture.

HC NYU: What advice would you give to novice bloggers?

MC: I think the most fundamental rule would be to write about and photograph what interests you, because even if it doesn’t interest anyone else, if you can approach it with a passion and really create a certain art, people will ultimately come to appreciate it. I think that the emotions you put forth in your work will really translate no matter what somebody else’s interests are. It’s similar to art. A fantastic work of art is considered good because everyone can relate to it. So, your blog posts may reflect your personal feelings or interpretations of what is beautiful, but to a certain extent, everyone can relate because what you create is human, whether that is photography or writing.

Another thing I would add is to never try to force what you are writing. I tried to be a fashion blogger for two posts, and that didn’t work. You can’t lie to yourself.

HC NYU: This question might be difficult given your diverse travel experience, but of all the places you’ve ventured to, what is your ultimate favorite and why?

MC: Morocco. I am obsessed with the Middle East. I took a boat from Spain to the northern coast of Morocco last March. I was in Europe for a whole year and you get really used to i – the lifestyle, the culture. Italy, Spain, France, and Greece are all relatively different, but generally Western European principles align. But when I arrived in Morocco I remember being shocked at how the women there were treated so entirely differently. I will most likely never go back to Chefchaouen which is a small (very blue) touristy city, because when walking the streets alone, I could not go for more than two seconds without a man following me or cat-calling. To a certain extent, I felt uncomfortable being a woman there, but that’s what I want to explore in my writing and future endeavors focusing on women’s rights and the Middle East. I’ve just recently started to realize how Westernized I actually am, so I really appreciated my experience in Morocco.  

HC NYU: So would you say you are a solo traveler?

MC: I’m totally a solo traveler. For me, the experience is about really absorbing everything I can. If someone is there with me, I might end up doing things I don’t really want to do. But if I’m by myself I can really be reflective and just sit, thinking about what is around me and what it means. This isn’t always the case, if you find the right travel partner.

I traveled solo the entirety of last year and on one of my last trips, to Budapest, I was so sick of being alone. In fact I remember sitting by myself at this bathhouse, surrounded by hundreds of couples and families, and I was just sitting on the perimeter observing everyone else. After a while, this old, Hungarian man came up to me and started blurbing something at me that I couldn’t understand, and I just burst into tears. I felt so completely isolated in the middle of all these people. I remember thinking, ‘I wish I had a boyfriend to just…fight with or something!’. Although I do travel alone, I also want to start traveling with other people, maybe find the perfect traveling companion.

HC NYU: Can you describe this perfect traveling companion?

MC: Someone who is deeply open to a wide variety of experiences, respectful of differences in us and the people we encounter in various environments, reflective and able to think about what each individual experience means to them and to me as well – of collaborative spirit. I also hope that my travel partner has some similarity to me, especially in philosophy of life.

HC NYU: You had the opportunity to give a TedX talk on studying abroad. Can you tell us more about this experience?

MC: When I first went abroad, I thought long on how I could try to make the most of my time and absorb everything the worldl had to offer. I came across a French word, flâner, which means not just to walk but to really absorb what you are surrounded by, to be an observer, a wanderer.

A flâneuse is what I would encourage any female traveler to be. To be operative and to take in any culture that she is exposed to. My Tedx talk was essentially about being a flâneuse and how to take in a culture for what it really is. Instead of obsessing over taking the perfect selfie or posting a cute picture of ice cream, we need to go out and explore, really see what the citizens of Prague, Vienna, or Paris are like. The idea is to go get a different perspective and immerse yourself entirely.

HC NYU: And now for fun…

Best Bubble Tea: Vivi Bubble Tea offers the highest quality bubbles in New York, my favorite flavor being Kumquat Lemon. Gong Cha is also one of my go-to places.

Fun Fact: I can understand five languages: English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian. On a side note, for those trying to learn a new language, I would recommend an app called Duolingo, which really served as a foundational base for my learning.  

Favorite Hideaway: Green Point in Brooklyn is a very detached area that not many people venture to. If you want more of a homey feel, I would suggest wandering around Brooklyn Heights in the fall when all the leaves are changing.

Dream Job: To be the CEO of my own company that changes the way people think about the world and how they approach different social groups, especially minorities.

Travel Philosophy: It doesn’t matter where you go as long as you immerse yourself in the culture.

Follow Madison on social media:

Grace is currently a senior at New York University majoring in Journalism and Media Studies. Although born in California and raised in Dallas, Texas, Grace considers Seoul, South Korea to be her home sweet home. At school, Grace serves as the Editor-In-Chief at Her Campus NYU, President at Freedom for North Korea (an issue very personal to her), and Engagement Director of the Coalition of Minority Journalists. She is currently interning at Turner's Strategic Communications team while serving as a PA at CNN. In her free time, Grace loves to sing jazz, run outside, read the news, go on photography excursions, and get to know people around her-- hence, her passion for conducting Her Campus profiles. She can be reached at: gracemoon@hercampus.com
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