We at API feel very fortunate to be able to touch so many lives through our international programs, but often we find ourselves wondering – where are they now? In this edition of the API alumni profile series, we’ll be speaking with former API Doha and Salamanca student Madi Alexander, about her life after studying abroad.
(API) You studied abroad with API in two very different countries… tell us a bit about why you chose those locations, and what were your favorite things about each.
(MA) I chose to study abroad in both Qatar and Spain, which were radically different and amazing in their own ways. I spent a whole semester in Qatar, which I chose for a multitude of reasons. My mom grew up in Saudi Arabia, so we’ve always had this aspect of Arab culture incorporated into our lives. In college I was studying international affairs and began to look at studying abroad in the Middle East right as all the revolutions were happening. Egypt wasn’t safe, Jordan and Morocco were too expensive, and there weren’t many other established programs in other Middle Eastern countries.
Qatar was inexpensive and safe. Not only that, it was way off the beaten path, which put me at a great advantage for scholarships. It’s an Arabic-speaking country, but also one that not many students study in. It’s not heavily-populated with American students, which is what scholarship committees find attractive. I wouldn’t have been able to finish college, much less study abroad, if it weren’t for scholarships. I went to Qatar with more than enough scholarship money—from Gilman, API, my university and a few other sources. It’s hard to explain my favorite things about Qatar because it’s unlike any other place I’ve been. It’s a massively diverse country, which means the food and events are always stellar. Indian, Pakistani, Arab, Persian, Thai. All the food you could want in a single country. It’s also just a fun place to live. You never really run out of things to do. Arab culture is very communal, so someone’s always having a party or going out to dinner or going camping. A weekend at home was very rare and I really enjoyed that feeling.
I decided to study abroad in Spain because a) I had enough scholarship money to do so and b) wanted the chance to actually practice the Spanish I had been studying for six years. Going to Spain was a spur of the moment decision when I realized I had enough money to do it, but I ended up being able to get a minor in Spanish and got comfortable enough with the language to speak it at a conversational level. Going from Qatar to Spain was some serious culture shock. I went from wearing pants 24/7 and not drinking to seeing people wearing crop tops and drinking beer at noon. That took some adjustment, but again, that’s why you study abroad. You learn that you can handle those situations and you get to have a lot of fun doing it.
(API) How did your study abroad experiences influence your academic / career path?
(MA) I’d really like to do journalism abroad. Whether that be in the Middle East or Asia or wherever they send me, I know that I wouldn’t hesitate to take an opportunity like that. I hear a lot of people who have never lived abroad worry about what it’s like living or working overseas. Adjusting to a new life isn’t easy, but now I know it’s something I can and would do given the opportunity. Qatar has come up a few times since I’ve been at the Times and I get really excited when I know someone’s going to be writing about it.
(API) Why is international travel important to you?
(MA) International travel is the best way to put yourself out of your comfort zone. I’m from the Midwest and public transit absolutely terrifies me. When I first moved to New York for the summer, the subway system scared me, but then I remembered that I packed my bags and moved 8,000 miles away from home to a different country where I knew no one and didn’t speak the language that well. In comparison, my feelings about the subway were laughable. It’s a great growing experience, especially if you’ve never spent much time away from home or your family. You learn to be independent and adjust to the culture around you. There are millions of different perspectives on the world, so getting out there to experience them is crucial to becoming a forward-thinking adult.
(API) Do you have any plans for future international travel? If so, what is on your bucket list?
(MA) Right now I have no plans for international travel. I would really like to go to South America or north Africa, since those are the two places I have yet to do any traveling. Morocco is definitely on my bucket list and I’d like to go to Germany at some point since I have family there. My grandparents are German immigrants, so I’ve always wanted to travel back to their hometown and see the roots of our family.
(API) You’re working on a graduate degree in journalism, and interning at the New York Times…. what is next for you? Will we see you on Al Jazeera America, or as an international correspondent for NYT, Reuters, etc?
(MA) I’m about to finish an internship on the business desk at The New York Times. A major part of what we cover on the business desk is the European Union. In March I spent a week in Brussels on a press visit to the European Union, which was probably one of the things that prepared me the most for this job. Part of being chosen for that trip was having an interest in international politics and having previously traveled or lived abroad. I had both of those qualifications, which is why I was chosen for the visit. Having that week of meetings and informational sessions in Brussels definitely prepared me for what’s happening here on Times business desk.
I go back to Mizzou in the fall and then onto an internship in D.C. at a news organization that has yet to be determined. A lot of people come out of school worrying about getting a job. Yes, I worry, but then I look at my qualifications and all the things I’ve accomplished and experienced and I know that I’ll end up working somewhere great.
My next big adventure will be in September to cover the Pope’s visit to the U.S. for Religion News Service, which is a wire service for places like the Washington Post and NPR.
Madi Alexander is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Missouri, and is currently serving as an intern at the New York Times. Madi studied abroad with API in Doha, Qatar and Salamanca, Spain with API while an undergraduate at Oklahoma City University.