Alumnus Interview: Alec Smith

April 15, 2024

Alec Smith came to AIS-Salzburg in 2012 as a junior-high student, moving far away from his home in Martinez, U.S.A, a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area. Alec spent his entire high school career at our school, graduating in 2016. After college abroad, Alec has returned to the U.S. and now lives in San Ramon, not far from where he was born. Alec has accomplished a lot during his time since graduating from our school, and in this interview below shares his post-high school story thus far. 

AIS-Salzburg: What were the major factors in your decision to attend a small private boarding school in Austria?

Alec Smith: My parents wanted the best education possible for me. My mother is Bulgarian and felt that certain academic standards in our local school district were lacking. Both my parents wanted to give me the best possible chance at being accepted into a prestigious school. 

AIS-Salzburg: What is your fondest memory of attending AIS-Salzburg?

Alec Smith: My fondest memory from my time at AIS-Salzburg is hard to distill into a single moment. I remember one late afternoon in early spring, walking back to the school with my friends, I went along the pathways near the bakery. The sun was just beginning to dip in the sky over the Untersberg and the day’s heat was beginning to dissipate with a pleasant breeze. I remember the scent of the grass, the light of sunset, and how peaceful and simple everything was. I remember it as a uniquely serene feeling. It’s not a moment that comes often in life. 

Photo: Alec was involved in numerous weekend activities during his time at AIS-Salzburg.

AIS-Salzburg: What did you like about going to such a small and intimate international school?

Alec Smith: I liked that you knew everyone and perhaps even too much about them. Even if you didn’t particularly like someone, the fact that you lived in close proximity to them meant that you needed to learn how to get along. Living in a small boarding school socializes you very rapidly. 

AIS-Salzburg: Were there any teachers who stood out as making a substantial positive impact on your life?

Alec Smith: Paul McLean was the single greatest influence on my life today and the person I became. It is because of him that I have a genuine curiosity about the world, and that I demand of myself perfection in my professional career. And more importantly, he instilled in me a sense of wonder and amazement for all that could be learned and everything there has yet to be learned.

Photo: Alec (top) receives his high school diploma from Headmaster McLean.

AIS-Salzburg: What have you done academically and professionally since graduating from AIS-Salzburg?

Alec Smith: After I graduated from AIS-Salzburg, I attended Tilburg Law School at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands. After I obtained my LLB, I went to the University of Aberdeen in Scotland where I obtained an MSC in International Relations. I lived in Aberdeen and Glasgow for some years after but moved back to the US mostly for the high-paying jobs (compared to Scotland). Since then, I worked as a risk management and crisis response analyst for a major Fortune 500 company. I worked briefly as a surveillance investigator, investigating mostly insurance fraud, I have also worked in the financial services industry as a security contractor. My current position is with a small private intelligence company as a geospatial intelligence analyst, in my spare time I put together articles about current geopolitical trends and developments in military technology. 

AIS-Salzburg: Are there any personal, academic, or professional accomplishments since graduating that you want to share?

Alec Smith: I think the high point of my career so far was working with CBS News on an investigative report about Russian mercenary group Wagner and their illicit activities in the Central African Republic. Maps which I made even made it onto the CBS morning news. Another high point was when a quarterly magazine published by the Department of Defense’s U.S. Africa Command, contacted me for an interview about counterinsurgency aircraft and listed me down as a subject matter expert. Other than that, it was also nice to have some work I’ve done get shared by NATO on occasion.

AIS-Salzburg: What aspects of your education at AIS-Salzburg best assisted you in further academics, your professional life, and/or life in general?

Alec Smith: AIS-Salzburg prepared me exceptionally well for university. In university, I often found many classes easy, and I saw my classmates struggle to put together essays, study for exams and grasp subject material. I realized the reason it went so easily for me is because I had done it before at AIS-Salzburg and I had learned subjects at a university level before even setting foot in a university. More importantly, living at a college preparatory boarding school taught me a certain degree of stoicism, and how to face adversity and hardship without letting it best you.

Photo: Alec integrated well into our community, befriending students all all cultures and backgrounds.

AIS-Salzburg: Do you have any advice for students at AIS-Salzburg or applicants to the school?

Alec Smith: My advice to students would be the following: Don’t dismiss what you learn as useless just because you can’t imagine yourself using it in the future. You are all comparatively young, and you cannot possibly know what will be useful to you later on in life. I failed Mr. Burns’ Algebra I and II twice simply because I did not care enough to imagine myself ever using it. But I use algebra every day without even realizing it. Finally, more crucial than anything else, be grateful for your time at AIS-Salzburg, capture every single moment and live it to its fullest potential. One day, it will only be a fleeting memory, a memory that you wish to relive with all your being. And if you live in room 16, don’t pop the screen out of the window, it sticks and is nearly impossible to get back in. 

Alec is planning to relocate to Europe for work in the next year.