During his time at Yale, senior Alexander Saeedy became enthralled with the study of modern European political and economic history, and believes that those scholarly interests will come in handy for him after he graduates in May.
In June, Saeedy will work as a foreign correspondent for the Reuters bureau in Brussels, Belgium, on an Overseas Press Club Foundation (OPC) Fellowship. He will cover financial and political topics for the news organization.
The Yale student is among 15 aspiring foreign correspondents selected for that honor from a pool of 175 applicants from 50 different colleges and universities. Saeedy is the first-ever winner of the OPC’s Fritz Beebe Fellowship, which was endowed by long-time Newsweek journalist Larry Martz in honor of the former Washington Post executive for whom it is named.
The fellowship will allow Saeedy to write news stories for Reuters for a five-month period. He is the youngest OPC fellowship recipient this year.
“I feel lucky to be given this opportunity at such a young age,” says Saeedy. “It’s awesome that they had such faith in me.”
In his winning essay for the fellowship, Saeedy analyzed the explosive growth of low-cost airline carriers in Europe and other parts of the world, and explored why there has not been a similar growth of these businesses in the United States.
His interest in journalism began at his Michigan high school, when he began writing opinion pieces for the school newspaper.
“My first piece was about the 2008 financial crisis, and so in a way, I feel kind of like I’ve come full circle, as I’ll be writing about a continuing economic disaster in Europe for Reuters,” he remarks.
Saeedy has been a staff writer for the Yale Herald since his freshman year, covering topics ranging from faculty diversity to the dance scene on campus. He also contributed film and music reviews. During two summer breaks and throughout his junior year, he also wrote for the Brooklyn-based technology magazine Kill Screen. Last year, a piece he wrote about the Federal Reserve was published in the University of Pennsylvania’s undergraduate law journal.
“I love the newsroom atmosphere,” says Saeedy, “and have always enjoyed making sense of things, whether current or historical events. I think that has driven my interest in both journalism and history.”
Saeedy, who is graduating with a joint B.A./M.A. in history, says he was initially interested mainly in political and cultural history, but a class he took on communism ignited his curiosity about economic history.
“That’s when I realized that the way in which production is organized, the way in which people have access to goods, and the way in which companies organize and provide goods and services to people has this incredible day-to-day impact on all of us,” he says. “How many times do I use my ATM card? Farmers, doctors, cashiers, waiters: they’re all participants in a greater economic structure. Once I realized the importance of economics to history and to our everyday lives, I learned a whole new way of describing and talking about the world.”
Saeedy is writing his thesis about German re-unification and the beginnings of the European Union. He credits Francesco Trivellato, the Frederick W. Hilles Professor of History, for giving him a good background in early economic history, and history professor Adam Tooze (his thesis adviser) for helping him “make sense out of more recent economic and political history.” His history courses helped him more generally undertake the kind of “sober analysis” that he will be doing as a journalist, but it was Laura Engelstein, professor emerita of Russian history, who most encouraged good writing, Saeedy says.
“She taught me that writing is a craft, one that I will work on for the rest of my life,” he says of Engelstein, who taught Saeedy in the freshman Directed Studies program and later in courses on Russian history. “From her, I learned how to write short sentences, integrate quotes into an essay, and create both strong narrative and deep analysis. My writing improved so much during my time at Yale, in large part because of her.”
Already fluent in French, Saeedy also studied German at Yale, and won a summer grant to study the language intensively in Germany two summers ago. That experience, he notes, will also help to ease him into his new life in Europe.
Additionally, a 10-week Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI) fellowship he won at Yale gave him invaluable experience that will benefit him after he graduates, Saeedy says. He was part of a YEI team that developed play2PREVENT (p2P) Lab, a videogame and mobile research initiative designed to promote healthy behaviors (and reduce risky behaviors) among schoolchildren.
“One of my interests as an undergraduate was consumerism, particularly trends in consumer behavior related to technology. I learned how a technical device like an iPhone starts as an idea, and the person who has the idea has to convince enough people to invest in it so that it eventually becomes something that is ubiquitous in our lives. YEI gave me a toolbox to think about business in a broad sense.”
For Saeedy, one of the most special aspects of winning the OPC fellowship was the time he was able to spend with the other winners and with noted journalists while attending the award ceremony in late February at the Yale Club in New York City. Author and filmmaker Sebastian Junger was the keynote speaker at the event.
“I met the New York bureau chief of the German television station RTL, and we sat and talked for about 15 minutes about German politics and the politics of the European Union,” says Saeedy. “That conversation was wonderful for me because it’s what I’ve done in the classroom for the past few years. Larry Martz took me out to lunch, and we discussed the future of journalism. The whole event just made me feel like I was making a big leap into adulthood, being treated as someone who writes and thinks about the world. It was awesome.”
At some point, Saeedy says, he may want to earn his doctorate in history and eventually teach, but for now, he is eager to begin his career as a foreign correspondent. Knowing where he will next be has helped to prepare him for the bittersweet parting he’ll experience with the good friends he’s made at Yale.
“My Yale friends are the most amazing people, and I’m awed and inspired by them every day,” he says. “I’ve met some incredible people here, and I will miss my musician friends and my computer scientist friends, and so many others. Next summer, I’ll be with journalists a lot. But I leave knowing that I’ll still be engaged with so many of the same subjects that I so loved learning about during my time here.”