1.) What brought you to Williams? (I.e. How did you find out about Williams and what made you decide to attend?)
I only decided to apply to colleges in the US the summer before my senior year of high school. At that point, I had never set foot outside Pakistan, let alone having visited any of the schools I was applying to. So, not unlike a lot of other international students, my decision to apply to Williams was based on US News rankings and a few things I read online about the colleges. Once the decisions came in and I was actually in a position to choose, I narrowed things down to Williams and Amherst. I had an acquaintance studying at Amherst who tried to convince me to go to Amherst but I ended up choosing Williams over Amherst more on an impulse than anything else. I dare say I made the right decision.
2.) What were you expecting before arriving?
I thought I would not face any significant culture shock. I expected to have no problems dealing with academics at Williams and that living away from home (for the first time) would be easy to get used to. I was wrong on all three counts. The culture shock came slowly but surely, it was tough getting used to working so hard and being away from home for a full nine months was painful.
3.) What were your first impressions upon arriving?
When I arrived here in late August, Williams looked very much like a small town in northern Pakistan would (with a lot of churches). I was struck by the friendliness of people at Williams, and by how accessible the professors were. I also thought I would have the time to do all sorts of things here.
4.) How have these impressions changed?
I soon realized how snow and 4.30 pm sunsets make one forget how beautiful the place can be. I still think people at Williams are generally incredibly friendly. Time management, however, turned out to be probably the toughest part of life at Williams.
5.) Do you think Williams did a good job helping you and other international students adjust? Was there anything Williams could do better in this regard?
I think Williams did a good job with the international student orientation and by giving JA’s tips on how to deal with international students. Sometimes, though, I got the feeling that by constantly reminding everyone of the ‘otherness’ of international students, Williams might be making it harder for international students to become ‘normal’ members of the Williams community.
There are some cases in which ‘cultural understanding’ just goes wrong. My JA’s got a handbook on the local customs of international students as part of their training. For students from Pakistan, the handbook said something like: “check to see if the student is wearing shoes. If not, remove your own shoes immediately”. I have no idea what that was about. I don’t know any people in Pakistan who walk around barefoot as a custom, and I don’t know why anyone in Pakistan would find people walking around in shoes offensive any more than any American would find it offensive if you ruin a nice rug of theirs with your muddy shoes. My entry had a good laugh about this when my JA’s eventually asked me what was up with me wearing shoes all the time, but there must have been a few days when my ‘otherness’ was unnecessarily magnified in their minds.
6.) Was there anything you missed about your home when you arrived in Williamstown? Is there anything you still miss?
The ability to take a stroll outdoors any time of the year without freezing your nose off.
7.) How did you decide on your major?
Like most Williams students, I switched prospective majors a number of times. I would never have imagined I would be a philosophy major at the start of my first semester here, but I just kept on taking and loving philosophy classes, and by the end of sophomore year I was in too deep to get out.
I actually switched my other major from economics to political economy in the middle of junior year. I did this because I was beginning to get very interested in public policy issues – which is precisely what the senior year coursework in public policy focuses on.
8.) What are you up to post-graduation? Or, what are you hoping to do next?
I have moved back to Pakistan where I’m working on a couple of field research projects; one relating to education and the other to political accountability. My work is divided between that of a research institute (Center for Economic Research Pakistan) and that of an NGO (Children’s Global Network – Pakistan) that actually undertakes educational interventions in different parts of Pakistan. It’s very exciting work and for the moment I’m avoiding the thought of graduate school.