Fulbright Scholar, La Paz Native Hopes to Restore Peace

By schwartzsa | October 1, 2012

Equal parts diplomat, anthropologist, social worker and mediator, the role of peace negotiator is both administrative and creative. It takes more than an excellent education, it requires an extraordinary person. Alejandro Fernandez Gutierrez ’13M, a Fulbright Scholar in Arcadia University’s International Peace and Conflict Resolution master’s program, has overcome the disruptive conflict and walls –both real or abstract—of the ongoing Bolivian protests. With a contagious smile and a warm demeanor, the La Paz native is determined to return to his hometown to help bridge the divide between the Bolivian citizens the government.

“My country has a lot of problems between the government and its citizens. We have ethnic and labor conflict too,” says Gutierrez. “I wanted to find ways to solve this problem,” he says. “The [Bolivian] protests create psychological fear in the city. Citizens try to go about their daily lives as normal, but they don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. My education was often disrupted—many days I woke up not knowing whether or not I could go to school that day because of the protests—you don’t know if you can safely commute to school.”

Learning English led the way to a brighter future. Gutierrez’s easy, conversational proficiency suggests that he was raised in a bilingual household. But, he explains, in Bolivia foreign language courses come at a premium. While studying Social Science at the University of San Andres in La Paz, Bolivia, it was only through the Martin Luther King/College Horizons English language scholarship program, granted by the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia, that Gutierrez was able to study English.

With these newfound skills, he applied for a Fulbright Scholarship. He was one of only seven grant recipients selected to start a new journey in the U.S. He perfected his English language skills at the University of California, Davis from 2010-11, before ultimately landing at Arcadia University.

Today, far away from the disruption of Bolivia’s daily protests, Gutierrez is thankful for the opportunities with the IPCR program, which he says have allowed him to synthesize previous areas of his own academic inquiry.

During the fall 2011 semester, Gutierrez participated in International Experience: Peace & Reconciliation in Ireland, a course that serves as an introduction to the IPCR program through a survey of the conflict in Ireland and application of the typology of peace and conflict studies.

“We did a lot of reflection about the issues of conflict,” he says. “It is such an interesting discussion because in studying about the country from books, you have some idea about the conflict, but it’s hard to [conceptualize] how huge the problem is. But when you’re in Ireland, you can see it—there are literally walls dividing the city. And you realize this is the conflict that you have to solve in your coursework.  Conflict isn’t always between governments and citizens: it’s often between citizens.” The experience helped him understand political conflicts other than the ones he’s experienced in La Paz.

Currently in Glenside, Gutierrez  enjoys participating in Arcadia’s clubs and associations, which, he explains, have made the cultural  transition a little easier. He is a member of the International Club, and active in Arcadia’s Chapter of IMPACT (Intelligent Men of Color Purposefully Accomplishing College Together), a multicultural men’s organization working to mentor youth toward a path of college success.

“I appreciate the community atmosphere where students can come together to discuss issues of gender, race and identity in an open forum. I just want to thank Arcadia,” he adds. “ It’s such a great place to learn.”