September 20, 2010
May Akl, the World Fellow from Lebanon (far right), speaks with visitors at World Fellows Night at Betts House, September 15, 2010. All photos courtesy of Abraar Karan ES’11.
On the third floor of Betts House, at the far end of the “Europe” conference room, Alexey Navalny commands the floor in front of a black tri-fold display of “Wanted” posters. He speaks swiftly, cracking jokes even in the middle of intense story-telling. Our group of nine people, including three Coast Guard cadets, listens quietly. Then a middle-aged woman, joining the group and spying the posters, interrupts to ask, “Do you work for the government? Are these people wanted by the government?”
Navalny is immediately serious but responds calmly, “No, I work against government.” The posters show the faces of some of Russia’s top billionaires, plutocrats and CEOs, a bold symbol of Navalny’s many-years-long effort to expose and battle corruption in his home country.
Held this year on September 15, World Fellows Night, the kickoff event for the World Fellows Program, is full of these revealing, exciting moments. Over the course of an evening, between 200-300 Yale undergraduates, graduate and professional students, faculty members, alumni, and community members hear presentations of the Fellows’ work. They sip wine or water, or nibble on food from the Fellows’ home countries. They chat among themselves, but the focus, always, is on the Fellows.
World Fellows Night visitors mingle in the Betts House first-floor reception room, where the Fellows from Africa gave their presentations.
The 15 World Fellows of 2010 have come to Yale from all over the world (their home countries include Mexico, Germany, South Africa, Australia and Indonesia). At Yale, they will take seminars with Yale professors, discuss ideas and policy, collaborate with each other, talk to students, and learn from the confluence of bright minds. Although only at Yale for the fall semester, the Fellows maintain a dizzying schedule that corresponds with the Yale community’s enthusiasm to engage them.
Tasnim Motala ’12 describes the attraction of the Fellows program as simple: “You get to meet really cool people.” And everyone, it appears, wants a chance to ask a question.
Aziz Royesh, the Fellow from Afghanistan, never seems to stop answering questions during his World Fellows Night appearance. Royesh turns from one person to another, only pausing to adjust elements of his presentation on the Marefat School, which he founded (first in Islamabad and then in Kabul) in 1994. Jaclyn Delligatti ’11, Royesh’s undergraduate liaison, tells me that he’s one of the most popular Fellows at the event. Royesh estimates that over the course of the night, he speaks with between 30-35 people, with more passing in and out of conversation or circling at the outskirts of his group.
He maintains enthusiasm throughout, telling me, “The World Fellows are offering another part of the story. Often you are getting pictures from the top down but we are introducing other pictures.” These pictures include one of a changing Afghanistan, an Afghanistan in which “people are responding to their own needs on the ground.”
Arif Zamhari, the World Fellow from Indonesia (left), speaks at World Fellows Night.
On the opposite side of the crowded room from Navalny, Marvin Rees, the Fellow from the United Kingdom, is speaking to another group. Rees, whose professional and academic interests are in race relations and race equality, is telling a story involving shifting national borders. The last sentence seems suited not only for the story but for the Fellows themselves: “As they say, ‘We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us!’”
For the Yale World Fellows, any story involves many borders and many crossings. Internationalization, a dream many share for Yale, is embodied in their presence here on campus. As Susan Bianconi (GRD ’86 and associate editor of the Yale Review), a repeated visitor at World Fellows Night, describes it, “It feels like at least a glimpse of how the world is working, or will work.”
This story was written and reported by Elisa Gonzalez ’11. A senior in Pierson College, Elisa is an English major in the Writing Concentration.
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