She loves immersing herself in diverse settings and learning foreign languages. Alexandra Gray epitomizes News Decoder’s global mission.
Alexandra Gray in Rome in May 2022.
Alexandra Gray joined our team in early 2019 in the role of Community Engagement and Business Development Manager, directly after receiving a master’s degree in Marketing at the University of Edinburgh. It was her first job after completing her studies.
Before her postgraduate studies, Gray had pursued her love of languages and travel by enrolling in School Year Abroad Italy, which later became a News Decoder partner school. She followed this with an undergraduate degree in Art History at the American University of Paris (AUP).
Since leaving News Decoder, she has continued to build a career in marketing and communications and is now back in the United States working remotely as a marketing manager for a finance company based in Boston.
We spoke with Gray, who was at home in North Carolina, to find out more about her career goals, interests and influences. (Transcript edited for length and clarity.)
ND: What aspects of your time at News Decoder stand out for you? Have any of those experiences had an impact on what you do today?
Gray: A lot of examples come to mind. I joined News Decoder in February 2019, which was the middle of the school year. Over the summer, I was involved in planning the 2019-2020 academic programme including developing content for engaging with students throughout the year. Being fresh out of university, I really enjoyed the experience of collaborating with the leaders of the organisation and having a line of sight into the full vision of the company. I loved being part of a small team and gaining a wide range of transferable skills. It has definitely helped me with my career and the work I do today.
I also appreciated being able to engage with the academic partners, being included in all the meetings and having the chance to build relationships with Student Ambassadors and teachers all over the world. None of us knew, of course, that COVID was approaching and that we would soon all be presenting ourselves virtually online. However, it was great to have the chance to hone these skills at News Decoder before the pandemic hit.
‘I appreciated the chance to build relationships with Student Ambassadors and teachers all over the world.’
I particularly enjoyed working on the student podcast. I sourced speakers for the second season and worked with students to develop their interview guides and prepare their research. It was a project that made me feel very connected to students, enabled me to learn what they are interested in and help them develop their research skills.
ND: How did your own experience as an exchange student compare to those of the News Decoder students you worked with?
Gray: When I was in Italy in 2012, platforms like Instagram were still relatively new and nothing like the scale of today. Without social media, I was very present in immersing myself in this foreign country and learning the language. I was not constantly in touch with people back home.
I think one of the greatest benefits for the students I worked with at News Decoder is the digital interconnectedness that we now have. It means that those who can’t travel abroad can still have a global education in a digital way, connect with others around the world and have their work published through News Decoder’s global platform.
The students I worked with are all terrific. I still remember all their names and are connected to them on LinkedIn. I definitely want to see what they do in the world after their experiences with News Decoder.
ND: What are you passionate about?
As a student, I loved learning foreign languages. Language immersion is really important to me. I enjoy using that bit of my brain and being able to communicate with other cultures in their own language.
I feel passionate about experiencing things in real life. I studied art history and was able to do this in Italy: visiting the Colosseum and galleries, not just reading about it in a textbook. This has set a high bar for me. I feel if you’re going to do something, you need to go to where the source is.
When I chose my place of study, it was really important for me to be in a diverse setting. I don’t think I would ever select a school or company that didn’t have a global presence or a diverse employee base. These are things I value and have shaped how I’ve progressed in my career.
ND: Who or what have been your key influences?
Gray: One thing that stands out is a class I took while at AUP on the anthropology of food. It looked at how we consume food, the rituals behind it, how it relates to cultural norms and family dynamics, among other things.
While I was working at News Decoder, I was asked to go back to AUP to speak to the class because I had done my master’s dissertation on food and its connection to the world of marketing. That class still stands out for me today because of the way it was so interdisciplinary, blending marketing, sociology and politics. I’m still interested in that type of work today.
ND: If you could have dinner with a famous person – dead or alive – who would you choose?
Gray: I would choose Alice Waters, who founded the restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, 50 years ago. I think she’s an absolute American hero. She shaped the whole way we think about food and our relationship with it. I haven’t yet been to her restaurant, but I’d love to go.
ND: What do you do in your spare time?
Gray: I love to cook. It’s one of my main hobbies. Living near the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville, North Carolina, I love walking in the mountains and try to get out there as often as I can. Quite often, you’ll find me just sitting in a café, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying my weekend.
Alexandra Gray when she was News Decoder Community Engagement and Business Development Manager, with founder Nelson Graves
Thea Lacey is News Decoder's Director of Development. She has 15 years of experience managing fundraising and programmes for mostly humanitarian and development NGOs, both small and large, including five years based in West and Central Africa. She holds an undergraduate degree in Politics from the University of Edinburgh and a postgraduate degree in International Development from SOAS University of London.