Success story from North Lawndale experiences the world - FOX 32 News Chicago

Success story from North Lawndale experiences the world

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

A driven teenager from Chicago’s West Side has seen a lot of the world compared to other teens from his neighborhood.

Cortez Alexander has been from North Lawndale to DePaul University, to Turkey, and now he’s heading off on another journey.

“The thing I’m looking forward to the most is basically seeing the people, interacting with people, using my Arabic finally,” said Alexander.

By now, Alexander is an expert at packing a suitcase. He just returned from a year studying in Turkey, and now the DePaul University senior has been chosen by the U.S. State Department as one of about 500 students America is sending to 13 countries.

He thought it was a long shot.

“But then I got the email that said Cortez Alexander, you've got it, I couldn't believe it, I was stuck, I’m like - what! I got it,” exclaimed Alexander.

What he gets is to spend the summer in Morocco, because the United States is looking for more young people to become fluent in so-called critical languages.

“So we have Russian, Azerbaijani, Hindi, Turkish, Chinese -- Mandarin to be specific -- and Arabic,” added Alexander.

Neighbors on his block in North Lawndale call him, 'that college guy.'

Some might call Alexander a miracle. He was born with serious health issues to parents who were drug addicted and incarcerated at the time. However, they are now healthy and working. They are a united family seeing the world through the eldest son's stories and photos.

“When I was in turkey, I took kind of a secret trip to the northern part of Iraq…a month & a half ago, I could've been going through terrorist territory,” said Alexander.

FOX 32’s Robin Robinson asked Alexander if he felt safer there than in his own neighborhood of North Lawndale.

“Oh, much safer. Since that, in Turkey, in Istanbul specifically, I could walk around at four o’clock in the morning and be perfectly fine,” he said.

Alexander said that the people he met in the Middle East were extremely friendly, and very familiar with American rap music, as well as the rap on his hometown.

“People actually know about Chicago, but what they know is that it's been named "Chi-Raq", and I’m like whoa-whoa-whoa, there’s so much more to the city than just the violence that's inside of it,” he said.

Still, Alexander’s parents are glad to have him far away for the summer.

Even his younger siblings will be sent to relatives out of town, which is a part family visit, part refuge from the hot season in Chicago’s urban war zones.

“I don't believe people should experience bombings on an everyday basis,” Alexander added.

Whether stopping bombs in the Middle East or guns in North Lawndale, Alexander is aiming for a career creating security through diplomacy and seems to be well on his way.

“It feels a bit unreal sometimes because I wake up and go, ok, is this a dream, but this is reality, it is reality and it's stuff that I’ve worked hard for, and it’s coming to fruition,” he said.

Since FOX 32’s interview with Alexander, he has been to Washington D.C. for his orientation and right now he is in Tangier, Morocco.

He is immersed in the local language, culture and -- just as important -- letting Moroccans get to know an American from the West Side of Chicago, which is another goal of the state department -- to build a diplomatic corps that shows American excellence and diversity.

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