B.A. Languages ’03B.B.A. Logistics ’03
M.S. Global Supply Chain Management ’07
Adjunct Professor of Japanese
Hometown: Khabarovsk, Russia
Fun Fact: Has over 500 e-books in three languages in his iBook library
Pop quiz: What do Russia, Japan and Alaska all have in common?
Sure, Russia and Alaska share similar climate and natural environment as well as thousands of years of native and colonial settlement. Japan, to the south, has been a major market for Alaska’s seafood industry. And Alaska boasts language immersion programs in Russian and Japanese through the Anchorage School District. Each unique place has crossed paths in history and in modern times, in good times and in bad.
For UAA alum Alex Salov, Russia, Japan and Alaska are all part of his identity. And he’s an ambassador of each. His connections with UAA can help us connect those dots.
Alex originally came to Alaska in 2000 with a logistics program through Far Eastern State Transport University (FESTU) in his native city of Khabarovsk in Russia. UAA and FESTU have long had a student exchange partnership, so after three years of undergraduate work at FESTU, Alex came to UAA to finish up his degree in logistics.
“When I came here for the first time, I never intended to stay,” admits Alex. “I had my life preplanned in Russia. With me staying in Alaska, life turned around this way. You can see what plans are worth!”
He laughs a hearty laugh as he recollects how his path changed, but it’s not an uncommon story for Alaska transplants. And the more we learn about Alex the more it makes sense.
His mother is a professor of English back in Russia. Her program had a relationship with an English program in Japan. Guilty by association, Alex started studying Japanese in middle school.
“It was sort of being rebellious because my mother was an English teacher,” he kids. But the real reason actually harkened back to business and logistics. “Japan kind of fascinated me; there was a lot of business going on with Japan at the time. They were quite an example of business and economics.”
As Alex started university and continued his studies in Japanese, though, he couldn’t see himself becoming an interpreter for a living. He says, “Your personality is not very visible, you know; you’re interpreting what the other person is saying.” So he settled on a major in logistics with his interest in business. Once he got to UAA, he found himself with some extra time and money so he explored a second degree through the Japanese program here.
Shortly after graduation in 2003, with two degrees in tow, Alex landed a job at World Trade Center Alaska (WTCAK) as well as an adjunct teaching position at UAA. On top of two jobs, he started studying for his master’s degree at UAA as well.
“All at the same time—that was a pretty intense part of life,” he laughs.
Since graduating with his master’s five years ago, that part of his workload has at least let up. But he’s worked his way up from bookkeeper to business operations manager at WTCAK over the last eight years and continues to teach Japanese at UAA.
Alex says it’s interesting how the motives behind learning Japanese have changed quite a bit over the years for his students. Taking an informal survey with each class, he’s witnessed the shift of learning the language in order to position oneself in business to simply having an interest in the culture and customs of Japan.
“For a long time Japan was our biggest trading partner,” Alex says, remembering again one of his own motives for learning the language and his capacity for working with colleagues in Japan through WTCAK. “However, for the past couple of years, China has become the major partner and what people are more concerned about now is China and emerging markets.” That’s a trend he’s found himself following more and more as he writes articles for Alaska Business Monthly and plans events like the Alaska-China Business Conference that happens every year in Anchorage (this will be the 8th annual).
On a personal level, Alex is admittedly more involved in the local Japanese community in Anchorage than the Russian community, which he says is centered a lot around church and/or folk music: “It’s like if you lived in China and the only American culture was a country music club. If you like country music, you’d probably enjoy it! But maybe not.”
He talks about his dear Russian friends, but says he is more often participating in Japanese cultural events. And, of course, he’s also a huge fan of the Alaska living.
“Living in Alaska, you cannot not go outdoors,” he says. “It’s the lifestyle. The beauty of the nature. I definitely fish and hike and all those things. It’s been very rewarding.”
He adds: “What I really like about Anchorage is UAA, because we’re like an island of liberal arts and sciences, bringing light around ourselves.”
Passionate about languages, in general, Alex has thrived in his varying job roles.
“By learning languages it’s not only you remember the words,” he says, “but you also learn the culture and you learn the people.”
He has lots of advice for students learning a new language (the strategy is to try not to think in your native language; try not to translate). Songs as a young boy also helped him learn English. And, he points out, there is a huge range on the spectrum of being fluent in a language.
“Languages are very interesting developing systems,” he explains. “My Russian, for example, I can read, I can speak, I can write. But can I write poetry in Russian? No. Did I write “War and Peace” like Tolstoy? Not yet!
“Same thing with English. Can I get rid of this horrible accent? No, it’s with me. And it’s the same thing with Japanese. My Japanese colleagues call my Japanese an Alaskan dialect.”
So which language does he feel most fluent in?
“Depends on what I’m doing,” he says, matter-of-factly.
Maybe he’s playing the Russian balalaika in a folk orchestra while on tour in Japan. Maybe he’s standing in front of a class of Japanese language learners at UAA. Maybe he’s conducting business in English with colleagues in China. Maybe he’s reading a Russian classic on his iPad or hunting down a Japanese textbook to add to his collection.
He says he’d like to learn French someday. “It’s the renaissance language. The language of diplomacy.”
Alex is already an international and cultural diplomat in our eyes.