Alexander Allison (B.A., history, ’15) was recently awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant scholarship for the 2016–17 academic year. The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. Fulbright scholarships are highly competitive; only 17% of applicants for Fulbright awards to Columbia have been successful in the last three years. Fulbright recipients spend an all-expenses-paid year abroad to research, teach, or study. Allison is one of only three students in IPFW history to receive a Fulbright scholarship. He is currently teaching English in Barcelona, Spain, which he will also do on his Fulbright Scholarship in Quibdó, Colombia.
Jamie Toole, associate professor of political science and director of major scholarships, commented on the importance of this award for Allison, IPFW, and the College of Arts and Sciences, “It says a lot about IPFW, and about the College, that Alex has won this award. A Fulbright is one of the country’s top scholarships, and winning one is a mark of national distinction. A number of IPFW faculty have won Fulbright awards, but only three IPFW students have done so. All three of them have done so in the past eight years, and all have been College of Arts and Sciences majors. Brandon Gearhart, a political science major, was a Fulbright student in South Korea in 2008; and Eldin Hasic, also a political science major, was a Fulbright student in Ukraine in 2010. Alex, of course, is a history major.”
Allison’s scholarship has also received media attention. The Journal Gazette published an article, “IPFW Grad to Spend Year in Colombia,” in which Allison credited Toole, Ann Livschiz, associate professor of history and director of IPFW’s Honors Program, and Richard Weiner, professor of history, for his successful application. IPFW also released a press release, further emphasizing the significance of a student receiving such a prestigious award.
To learn more about Allison and his plans, we contacted him in Spain and asked a few questions.
Tell us about the Fulbright scholarship. What is its importance, and how are you going to utilize it?
Fulbright scholarships are awarded to people who are interested in conducting some form of independent research or who are interested in teaching English (I will teach English). One of the primary reasons the program exists is to promote positive relations between the United States and foreign countries. If you win a Fulbright scholarship you not only engage in academic work, you also engage in volunteer work. It is very important that the awardees engage their local communities on a regular basis and portray America in a positive light.
I intend to utilize my award by teaching English and getting to know the people and culture of Quibdó, Colombia. I intend to portray the United States in a positive manner and hope to disprove the “gringo” stereotype. I hope to build positive relationships with the residents of Quibdó, and I hope to give something to their community. I also aspire to have a lot of fun, and to make the most of this really unique opportunity. Finally, I hope to better understand Colombian history.
Many IPFW students imagine scholarships like the Fulbright are out of their reach. What was the process like for getting the Fulbright? And what advice do you have for students who are thinking about starting the application process?
The application process was tough. I had to write two very difficult essays, and I had to be interviewed by IPFW’s Fulbright Committee and the Colombian Fulbright Committee (the second interview is only for semifinalists). In addition to that, I had to fill out a lot of paperwork. It may not sound very difficult, but everything had to be done at a very high academic level. Furthermore, I was going through the entire application process from Barcelona. [Associate Professor and Director of Major Scholarships] Jamie Toole helped edit my essays and prepare for my interviews, but we could only communicate through email and Skype, which was very difficult.
I think that if someone aspires to win a Fulbright scholarship, or any other major scholarship, they have to make the most of their undergraduate career. They should try to work with their professors to get their research published. They should take advantage of whatever opportunities they have to present their research. They should constantly strive to be the best academic they can be.
Tell us a little about your experiences at IPFW. Why did you decide to study history? And what other activities or programs helped in your academic career?
I chose history as a major because IPFW has an outstanding history department and because I am very passionate about history. Throughout my undergraduate career I really benefited from IPFW’s small class sizes and from the personal attention I received from the professors in the history department. I think it is really incredible that, no matter how busy they are, the history department staff always makes time to work with students individually. They really care about helping students develop academically. I could not have won a Fulbright had it not been for the help I received from the professors in the history department.
I also benefited from participating in the Honors Program. It gave me a really unique opportunity to pursue really high academic standards.
Finally, I studied abroad twice while I was at IPFW. I went to Salamanca, Spain, through an IPFW program, and I went to Valparaíso, Chile through an independent study abroad program. I had an absolutely stellar time studying abroad, and I encourage every IPFW student to consider doing it.
What are you doing currently in Barcelona, Spain? Why did you decide to move there?
Last June I took an intensive course to become Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certified. So now I am a freelance English teacher in Spain. I teach private English courses to a really diverse group of students. I decided to teach English because it allows me to engage in academic work and also because it is one of the best forms of employment a 25-year-old American can secure in Catalonia (the unemployment rate in Catalonia is very high, especially amongst young people).
I moved to Spain with my girlfriend, Becky Gonzalez (she is an IPFW alumna and a co-owner of Bravas). Becky has a lot of family in Spain, and it just so happened they had extra room for us, so we decided to move to Barcelona. It has really improved my Spanish as well. We both work hard, but we also have a lot of fun. We have traveled a lot both inside of Spain and around Europe, and we spend a lot of time at the beach. It has been an awesome year.
What are your plans for the future?
I will be in Barcelona until mid-June, and then I will go back to Fort Wayne for a month or so before I head to Colombia. I will be in Colombia from August until next June. Upon completing my time in Colombia, I hope to be able to visit Chile (a land that is dear to my heart) and maybe Uruguay as well. Following that, I will enroll in a Ph.D. program with a specialization in Latin American history, focusing on modern Cuba.