B.A. Languages ’12, minor in English
Hometown: Cooper Landing, Alaska
Fun Fact: Studied abroad in Argentina and later taught abroad in Spain as a U.S. Fulbright Teaching Assistant.
Erick Romig’s route to school as a kid is very nearly an “uphill both ways, in the snow” tale. Even if you love school, languishing for an hour and a half each way in a pleather bus seat could take some of the pep out of your step. With no high school in his Kenai Peninsula hometown, Cooper Landing, Erick had a long trek to Skyview High School in Soldotna each day. And he’s quick to admit he didn’t love school.
“I’ll be honest. I was not a very good student,” he said.
So how is it that the last few months have found him sorting through fellowship offers and acceptances from elite doctoral programs—Cambridge, University of Virginia, Ohio State, University of North Carolina and the list goes on—to find the best place to pursue a Ph.D.?
“When I got to UAA, I really turned it around,” he said. “I started to take school much more seriously.”
In early May, the University of Virginia issued a press release announcing Erick, along with 16 other U.Va. doctoral students, as the recipient of “one of the most highly selective merit graduate fellowships in the nation,” the Jefferson Fellowship.
He’ll begin his Ph.D. program in Spanish, specializing in medieval literature, in August. The fellowship includes a tuition waiver, health insurance, a generous stipend and access to $7,500 in research funds to use during his course of study.
Learning to love literature through language
It wasn’t a straight shot from Anchorage to Virginia, though. There were some important layovers in Argentina and Spain.
After hearing about study abroad programs his freshman year at UAA, Erick knew he wanted the experience of studying in another country. That decision steered him toward Spanish class in preparation.
“When I left for Argentina, I was taking Spanish 102,” Erick said. “When I came back, I enrolled in Spanish 432.” Living for six months in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a host family and going to school in the bustling city helped him leapfrog ahead after the initial shock of big-city living wore off.
His first Spanish class at UAA upon his return forged two pivotal connections, the first with professor and mentor Patricia Fagan and the second with Latin American literature. The following year he took another literature class, Medieval Spanish Literature, again studying under Dr. Fagan. It was a revelation.
“I felt like I found a gold mine,” he said. “I didn’t want to stop studying it.” So, he hasn’t.
The rain in Spain
During the summer between his junior and senior year at UAA, Fagan urged Erick to work on an application for a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship to Spain.
He received notification that he’d won the Fulbright a month before graduating from UAA with his bachelor’s in languages and a minor in English.
He was the first UAA graduate to earn a Fulbright award to Spain, though the Department of Languages has sent seven scholars to Germany and one to Ecuador through the Fulbright program. They’ve also wished eight other students “gute reise” when they left for Germany as Congress-Bundestag scholars.
Erick spent the next year teaching English in Santander, on the coast of Spain’s northern province, Cantabria, which is not as sunny as it sounds.
“The year I was there, it rained more than it had in like 100 years,” Erick explained. “More than Paris and London combined. And no one has a clothes dryer. I was damp for a year. I feel like I’ve just sort of dried out.”
In spite of the gray days, he enjoyed teaching high school students there. Erick directed a program called Global Classrooms, which is similar to Model U.N. He also got to travel throughout Spain and Europe.
The one thing he missed in Spain (in addition to sunshine), was the life of an academic.
“I missed waking up early and studying and reading,” he said. “That’s when it became clear I wanted to pursue graduate school.”
Running the gauntlet
Even in the days when he wasn’t a stand out student, Erick was still pushing himself. He’s been a runner since the age of 10 and competing in races since he was 14.
It’s something he admires in his dad, too. Together they’ve been Alaska mountain running for years, racing up and, more treacherously, down Mt. Marathon. His dad competed in the Boston Marathon at 55 and came in sixth among Alaska competitors. Erick is currently training for a marathon.
“I work really hard. It’s a lifestyle I’ve maintained,” he said. And it’s a quality he’s counting on to help him thrive in the medieval studies program at U.Va.
“Classical and medieval study, it’s rich. There’s still a lot of work to be done. So much room for further academic exploration,” he said. “I’m going to need to do a few years of Latin coming up and I’m going to have to be able to read Arabic. I’ll have to be able to read romance languages—French, Italian—and German.”
For some, that’s akin to uphill both ways in the snow, but not Erick.
“It excites me!” he said.
Written by Jamie Gonzales, UAA Office of University Advancement