For one small group of Yalies, Monday dinners now come with an occasional side of, perhaps, Ecuadorean economics.
International Conversations, an international issues discussion series, was revived this year by Julia Tobias ’04 and Nils-Bertil Wallin ’04. Their first dinnertime discussion on Oct. 7 featured speaker Alonso Perez-Kakabadse, one of the Yale World Fellows, who is also the Ecuadorean vice minister of economy.
“[Perez-Kakabadse] was very happy to talk to us, and obviously very knowledgeable [and] very patient,” Wallin said.
The dinner was attended by a small group of undergraduates who heard about it by e-mail and word of mouth, Wallin said. Although International Conversations is affiliated with the Globalist magazine, all students are invited to attend.
“I think Alonso was happy to have done it — on all accounts we were all pretty happy,” said Wallin, who is also the publisher of the Globalist.
Perez-Kakabadse could not be reached for comment. He is one of 17 World Fellows, professionals selected to attend Yale and offer presentations on their areas of expertise this semester. The World Fellows program began this year and organizers have said they hope it will one day grow into an American equivalent of the Rhodes Scholarship.
The discussion series began during the 2000-01 school year but became inactive last year after the previous head of the program became a senior. This year, Tobias and Wallin plan to hold dinner talks, followed by discussion and questions by students, about once every two weeks.
The next International Conversations speaker will be diplomat-in-residence Charles Hill, who will speak on the current U.S. policy toward Iraq, as well as prospects for nation-building. Tobias said that the lineup of future speakers will consist of professors as well as World Fellows.
“Some of our topics will be related big current event issues,” Tobias said in an e-mail, “while others may focus on more specific issues of regions according to the speaker’s area of expertise.”
The emphasis, both Tobias and Wallin said, is on maintaining an informal, discussion-oriented setting.
“It’s a chance for people to get together in an informal atmosphere and just learn about something you didn’t know before,” said Wallin.
Tobias said that although many Yale students may be interested in international issues, they may be too busy to keep up with the news or attend on-campus events related to international affairs.
“International Conversations fits conveniently into our busy schedules at Yale — we all have to eat dinner anyway, so this is an opportunity to spend that hour learning about interesting world issues,” she said.
Haynie Wheeler, associate director of the globalization center, said that she had not heard much about the International Conversations program but that it “would be an interesting way to use the World Fellows.”
Peruvian attorney Beatriz Boza GRD ’88, a World Fellow, said she would also like to see the World Fellows as a resource more fully tapped by the Yale community.
“[The World Fellows program] is a complement to the academic theories,” said Boza. “It’s here — you don’t need to pay for it. It would even be an honor to share what we can offer.”
“The world is already here. The challenge is to understand all these other individuals who are from different cultures,” Boza added. “How can you make the best of your education by understanding all of us?”
Wallin said the conversations offered an interesting alternative to watching the news or reading newspapers.
“There are so many different ways of finding out about the world,” Wallin said. “Sometimes it’s good to talk to someone face to face, getting their perspective on an issue. You’re not just sitting there with a talking head.”