Olympic Athlete Turned Linguistics Major to Graduate with 4.0 GPA

Alexander Gamelin began his time at MSU after competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics. In the same impressive fashion, he now finishes his undergraduate career with a 4.0 GPA.

A Linguistics major, Gamelin started ice skating with his twin sister when they were 7 years old and has competed all over the world in countries like Austria, Belarus, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Taiwan, and Slovakia.

Alexander Gamelin and ice dancing partner Yura Min competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

“I like the feeling of freedom skating brings,” said Gamelin, whose ice dancing career spans 20 years. “When you’re skating fast and there’s the wind in your face, you feel very free to express yourself through the music and through dance. Figure skating has taught me a lot about myself and about life.”

Gamelin reached the pinnacle of his ice dancing career when he qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeong Chang, South Korea, where he competed in ice dance representing South Korea with his partner, Yura Min. The duo placed 18th in the individual event, while South Korea placed 8th in the team event. 

“Skating in the Winter Olympics was the culmination of my entire life’s work and once we qualified it didn’t really hit me. I was literally in the bathroom in my dorm room at the Olympics and that’s when it hit me like, ‘Wow, I’m really at the Olympics,’” he said.

Alexander Gamelin with ice dancing partner Yura Min.

In order to compete for South Korea, Gamelin became a dual citizen and took a citizenship test for South Korea, which was no easy task.

“It was a lot of studying. I had to go through the whole process of becoming a citizen, like learning the language, which actually was really fun given my interest in linguistics,” he said. “I got to learn South Korea’s history, important dates, figures, facts, and monuments. I had to learn the national anthem, which is about four minutes long and is all poetic Korean. However, when I did the citizenship interview, they only asked me to sing the first stanza, but I asked to sing the whole song because I had spent so much time learning it.” 

4.0 Student

In order to focus fully on his academics, Gamelin began his time at MSU after he retired from ice dancing. Having first completed pre-requisite courses at Oakland Community College, Gamelin started at MSU ready to pursue a pre-med degree, but quickly changed his major to Linguistics.

“Ever since middle school, I always really enjoyed foreign language classes,” he said. “I was originally going on a pre-med track at MSU, but it wasn’t as fulfilling to me, so I switched to Linguistics, which has been more fulfilling. Linguistics has taught me that there is really no right way to do things or say things or speak a language, which has been really interesting for me.”

One aspect of linguistics that intrigues Gamelin is sociolinguistics, which he chose to focus on for his senior thesis as a literature review on language shift, endangerment, maintenance, and revitalization.

Alexander Gamelin in Belize during a service-learning trip.

“A big part of language shift and language endangerment today started with colonialism and Eurocentric thinking,” he said. “Language shift in general happens when more than one language community comes into contact with one another. Usually the minority or non-dominating group will tend to shift their language use toward the language of the dominating group.

“The reason languages in Africa have died is because there were laws passed that prevented people from speaking their languages. There has to be some form of institutional support to revitalize an endangered language, like government programs and even just recognition. There’s also a ton of work necessary to get people to view the language and community positively and to get them to speak the language at home and learning it if they don’t know it at all.” 

“Linguistics has taught me that there is really no right way to do things or say things or speak a language, which has been really interesting for me.”

Alexander Gamelin

To further explore his interest in linguistics, this past spring, prior to the COVID-19 restrictions, Gamelin participated in a service-learning trip to Belize, where he and other MSU students worked in elementary schools helping children with their English language skills. 

“I really felt comfortable around the kids and it was really fulfilling,” he said. “I really enjoyed, more than I thought I would, working with the kids in the schools.” 

Figure Skating Coach

Gamelin also works with kids as a figure skating coach in the Lansing and Novi areas in Michigan, and he used to coach the MSU figure skating team.

“I like solving problems, like if a move isn’t working and there’s not an obvious reason. I like walking through it with the students to see what might be happening that is blocking them from doing something,” Gamelin said. “I like working with people too, so it’s nice to be able to interact with people daily. I grew up in this sport, so I love that I can pass that onto the next generation.” 

Alexander Gamelin teaching figure skating.

After graduation, Gamelin plans to continue coaching figure skating and stay involved in the sport that has been such a big part of his life. 

“It’s important to take the time to know what you want in life because if you’re doing something because you’re told that’s what you should do, it won’t make you happy,” he said. “I think my biggest lesson from MSU was to do what makes you happy.”