Williams’ little-known graduate school: international students live, study in seclusion at the edge

There is a large, stone building all the way at one end of campus, past Wood and across South Street. Many Williams students don’t even know that the building is part of campus (Greylock isn’t the edge of the universe?) much less that it houses the Center for Development Economics.

The Center for Development Economics (CDE) is a graduate program that offers a one-year master’s degree in economics. The program is designed for people who may already be economists in low- and middle-income countries and who are interested in learning about how to establish policies in their own countries by studying development economics. CDE offers such courses as International Trade and Development, Agriculture and Development Strategy, Population and Labor Force Change, and Public Finance.

This year, the program has approximately 40 students from 10-15 different countries. Thus far, Williams has granted degrees to a total of more than 800 students hailing from 60 different countries. The Center was created in 1960 and is proudly one of the first of its kind in this country. One student said it is important to note that most of the countries represented by CDE students simply don’t offer any programs of the sort they take here.

The students themselves are unequivocally impressed with the program. One student said the best thing about the classes is “learning about actual and current problems.” The professors place a lot of emphasis on trying to deal with practical problems that exist already rather than just theories. The professors who make up the faculty of the CDE are themselves involved in hands-on economics. Some are doing research and others are involved in international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. They also have personal experience consulting in many developing countries.

Aside from academics, the students are also generally happy in their facility. The rooms were described as “better than many hotels at home” by one student. The students do everything in their one building including eating meals, attending lectures, etc. Most of the students appreciate having easy access to everything in their building, but they also appreciate having the College at their fingertips for social contact. “They usually attend campus events such as films, lectures, and sporting events pretty regularly, and the Center usually fields an intramural soccer team,” Professor Peter Montiel, the chair of CDE, said.

Another aspect of their social lives is their host family. Because they are so far from home, the students are assigned host families in the area with whom they spend time regularly. “I go over to their house about two days a week and spend the day with them,” one student said. “We make meals and go out. It is very nice.” A few of the students fear that despite their host families’ efforts, they still don’t get enough American culture.

What all the CDE students fear even more is that they don’t get enough Williams College culture. “Because of where we are located, we are not aware of what’s happening on the other side of campus,” Sylvesta Kamwi of Namibia said. Most agree that because of the building’s self-sufficiency and location, they feel very isolated from the undergraduates.

Kagume Mari of Kenya has been to a few undergrad parties with people he met on the soccer team, but he seems to be the exception to the rule and he believes that he knows why. Every week, the Center prints up a yellow pamphlet that has social events on it, but it isn’t complete, according to the students. It is too formal and never includes any kind of more casual undergrad parties. “When I go to Jesup, I see flyers on the wall for parties and such, but those parties are never in the pamphlet,” Mari said. “Because we aren’t informed, we feel like we aren’t invited.”

Kamwi agrees and also insists that the Center should make itself responsible for inviting undergraduate students to its functions too. “We have a lot of people from different cultures so there is good music and people really like to dance,” one student said. “The parties are good.” They also give presentations on their respective countries that are very interesting but only other CDE students come to them.

Undergrads don’t seem to have any problems with the idea of socializing with graduate students. Many just don’t even know that the CDE students are there.

Montiel agrees that the Center is somewhat isolated. “That is something we are working to change,” he said. According to him, interaction is better this year than in the past, though not perfect. In particular the Center is planning events with the undergrad international group. “It would be good for both the Fellows [CDE students] and the undergrads if there could be more interaction between the groups,” he said. Both student groups and the CDE administration are interested in more interaction. Distance and ignorance seem to be the central problems and initiative would be a relatively simple solution.