Grooving to salsa beats, grubbing Pad Thai and sipping wine, more than 100 students and faculty mingled with this year’s class of Yale World Fellows at Betts House Thursday night.
The event introduced the 2004 class of World Fellows, a group of 17 distinguished international leaders who have come to study at the University for 13 weeks. The program, now in its third year, is designed to further internationalize Yale, and Thursday’s events, which included four panel discussions on issues such as democracy and corporate leadership and concluded with an international banquet dinner, were intended to introduce the fellows to the undergraduate community.
Program director Daniel Esty, a law professor, said the program gives international leaders a chance to have “the Yale experience.”
“We hope that both Yale students and faculty will have greater connections across the world,” Esty said.
One fellow, Nereus Acosta, a congressman from the Philippines, spoke on a panel on the promises, pitfalls and prospects of international democracy, which he called “a very vast topic.”
“It means different things to different people in different contexts,” Acosta said. “In the Philippines we call it sometimes ‘demo-crazy.'”
Tinatin Khidasheli, a fellow who is a leading attorney in the nation of Georgia, said she hopes to use her experience at Yale this year to expand her work in helping rid her country of political corruption and to bring democracy to Georgia, but acknowledged that it takes courage from citizens to bring change.
The night culminated in an international festival and dinner, featuring a live salsa band. Many Yale students and professors spoke with the fellows and said they appreciated the opportunity to hear their personal stories and intellectual pursuits.
Valeria Lopez ’08 said she enjoyed hearing fellow Cecilia Barja-Chamas, a councilwoman in La Paz City, Bolivia, speak on the democracy panel with Acosta.
“I really liked the speech of the woman from Bolivia,” Lopez said. “I found it inspiring because we’re going through the same problems.”
Khidasheli impressed some students with her discussion of political corruption.
“I was born in Romania, so I found a lot of the things she was saying true for myself,” Diana Schawlowski ’08 said.
Each year, the World Fellows Program selects 16 to 18 leaders from around the world who are in the middle of their careers and who demonstrate the potential to continue influencing change on an international level. Each year’s group of fellows is diverse, bringing together world leaders who fight for various causes.
“When you walk on the streets, and 98 percent of the people can recognize you, it is a burden because they have questions,” Khidasheli said of her experiences as a leader at home in Georgia. “The other side of that is better — you feel like you did something.”
The leadership-oriented curriculum distinguishes World Fellows from other university programs. The fellows balance leadership training and academic studies with extracurricular activities and immersion into the Yale community.
“This is no doubt the best university, and all the resources are there,” Khidasheli said. “Everything works for us.”
Esty said the program is growing in prominence.
“There has been a ramp up in intensity of competition for the positions,” Esty said.
The fellows have increased their involvement with both faculty and students over the past three years. Esty said he hopes this increased involvement will “change the conversation of world issues at Yale.”
Acosta said he would like to work closely with students while he is studying at the University.
“It’s giving back to the community because you know you’ve had so much,” Acosta said.