By Ainsley Trunkhill / Staff writer
The saying goes: “When one door shuts, a window opens.”
Felipe Oliveira Trautmann, an international Hutchinson Community College student, watched the last bus to Hutchinson close its doors on him after a 5,000-mile flight, but he didn’t wait for a window to open — he forced one open himself.
Walking from the Eisenhower National Airport in Wichita to a nearby Walmart, Trautmann purchased a bicycle. He began trekking through dirt roads and corn fields for 13 hours before arriving in Hutchinson. From a life of migration that began at age 6 to a visa program that seemed predestined for failure, Trautmann has been breaking through windows and breaking down barriers, inspiring countless people along his path.
Felipe Trautmann grew up in a small farm town, not unlike Hutchinson, in Parana, Brazil. He became an international traveler, however, much before the journey to HutchCC, making “home” a subjective term.
“Home is where I make it,” Trautmann said. “I settle down and I just … live.”
At age 6, he moved to Madrid, at 15 to London, and at 17, back to Madrid.
In Madrid, he saw the emergence of a lasting home, as he enrolled in engineering school. With the Covid-19 pandemic, however, another door shut on Trautmann, on a major scale. Forced to realign his future, and influenced by seven surgeries performed on his father, Trautmann opened the window of surgical technology, a pathway that would ultimately bring him to Hutchinson. “I’m not the most comfortable with blood, so (I thought) the medical field wasn’t for me,” Trautmann said. “But I told myself, ‘I’m going to put all that aside.’ I really wanted to pursue this.”
The path to studying surgical technology, however, presented yet another challenge. A waitlist for a visa interview placed Trautmann below 250 other applicants trying to leave the country, a process that would take much too long for a student starting classes in just a few months.
“After looking into at least 200 different countries where I could do the interview, I found out about Moldova,” Trautmann said.
Different embassies present different requirements, so a risky trip across Europe couldn’t guarantee Trautmann a visa.
“I said ‘let’s pray, let’s believe’ … and I went to Moldova,” Trautmann said.
Although the trip resulted in success, Trautmann still faced several hurdles. To get sponsored, he had to possess $13,000 in a bank account, as well as a certificate to prove this amount. The challenge, however, was that these certificates were required to be in English, a problem exacerbated by the fact that Madrid’s largest bank did not provide that service. Trautmann opened a window by producing a DIY-document, crafted by him and his father.
“We had to find stencils and go up to a bank manager, and make him write the stuff. We had to come up with the documentation ourselves,” Trautmann said.
In September 2021, Trautmann’s plans came to fruition as he flew into the Wichita airport, ready for the fall semester at HutchCC. Limited by international-only cash in a U.S. cash-only bus system, however, Trautmann led a defiant Tour de Kansas across the plains to Hutchinson.
“(It) made me super mad, so I went to Walmart, and I bought a bicycle,” Trautmann said.
For two nights, he slept in a motel before finding a place to rent through a Facebook advertisement. Carrying out his own ideology about home, Trautmann immediately settled into a new life amidst a culture shock. He became involved in the Hutch First Naz church and found a job at the Sports Arena as a janitor, all while participating in the rigorous surgical technology program.
“Upon meeting Felipe, it was kind of just fun from there,” Brandon Conrad, a youth pastor at the Hutch First Naz, said.
Conrad, like many others, described a contagious vitality that Trautmann possesses, which he uses to connect with others.
“There’s a level of energy he brings,” Conrad said. “He is very genuine.”
Stony Wilson, the Coordinator of Custodial Services at HutchCC, which oversees Trautmann’s work, echoed the same beliefs.
“Felipe is very personable, nice, (and) polite,” Wilson said. “I have never heard anybody complain that they had to work with Felipe.”
Wilson also experienced, on a personal level, the extent of Trautmann’s humanity. Wilson’s high school son, Jeremiah, has special needs and frequently accompanies his dad to the Sports Arena. “My son can be a challenge, demanding of your time … Felipe has been more than gracious with him,” Wilson said, impressed by Trautmann’s level of understanding and maturity. The personal impacts that he makes, however, go above and beyond general courtesies. “Even to the point that Jeremiah asked if we could take Felipe to watch a movie in the theater one night, so we did that.”
Trautmann’s familiarity with moving has allowed him to make friends, like Jeremiah, at each stop of life. Adapting to a life of migration, he learned to welcome any scenario placed in front of him.
“You get comfortable with moving, even the way your friendships work,” Trautmann said.
For some, the dynamic of friendships while moving could equate to a lack of meaningful relationships. Trautmann, however, leaves this window open as well.
“I consider all the friends I’ve gained throughout these years, in every country, good friends, even though we might not talk for months,” Trautmann said.
Trautmann continues to develop relationships and overcome barriers as he advances into some of the final stages of the surgical technology program at HutchCC with clinicals. Though he can fit his life into a backpack, he carries an optimistic and persevering attitude as he decides where his future lies. His habit of creating opportunities when doors shut on him can serve as an inspiration for those passive in their own lives.
“You’re allowed to do crazy stuff, maybe make some mistakes,” Trautmann said. “But you will never know if you don’t go.”
Managing Editor-Content Laci Sutton contributed to this story