Christopher Williams: There and Back Again

Christopher Williams has visited 41 countries, and lived in at least five: The United States, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany–“and Texas.”

A current assistant professor of political science and International Studies at UA Little Rock, Williams’ time teaching and researching in Europe has formed a large part of his career, and had a major impact on how he sees the world.

“American politics is pretty boring. European politics is a lot more fun.” The latter is his specialty, and upon completing his doctorate in 2012 at the University of North Texas, the professor found that there were no jobs concerned with it in the United States.

Williams took a teaching position at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, followed by a university fellowship in Florence, Italy, and subsequently a position in Germany. Williams eventually decided to return to the U.S., finding a job at UA Little Rock that fit his interest and expertise.

However, his European endeavors began long before his professorship. The first trip abroad which Williams took as an adult was to Spain, where he walked a pilgrim’s trail called the Camino de Santiago.

This visit occurred during an interesting time for world politics. A train bombing had occurred in Madrid only a few months prior, and the U.S. was involved with wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

“The conversations . . . that I had with people were incredibly eye-opening . . . I kind of caught this bug,” Williams said. His trip to Spain showed him that “interacting with people, traveling, seeing things that you’re not used to, really is a life-changing experience.”

When asked what job he would want were he not a political scientist, his first response was, “international spy”–perhaps only halfway joking.

Aside from the value he places on travel, Williams’ teaching style is a defining characteristic of his personality.

A native of Long Island, his New York attitude comes out in lectures. Far from soft-spoken, Williams cracks jokes, talks with his arms, and draws people out with questions that demand answers. But this is all part of his own personal spin on the Socratic method.

“Without someone standing up there in front of the room saying, ‘Why do you think this? Tell me why, tell me why,’ and staying at it, students are often very happy to not think about why.”

Being a political scientist, Williams noted that, “most of us receive our ideas early on through socialization, and we don’t stop and question them.” For this reason, he thinks it is important that people can consider what they believe and justify why they believe it.

In fact, the question of why people do any of the things they do has always interested Williams, and is what drew him to the social sciences.

“Growing up, I observed people, I watched people and said, ‘What is going on? Why are they doing this? It makes no sense. Particularly in high school. High school students do a lot of stupid things,” he said. “Politics is social engineering, and that determines almost everything that we as human beings do.”

Of course, Williams’ globe-trotting has given him the chance to delve deep into this area of interest. But that does not mean it has always been easy.

“It was going into a different culture that does things in a very different way.” Upon moving to the Netherlands, for example, he had no idea how to get rid of his garbage, and first had to go out and ask for help.

“You kind of always feel like you have one foot in each country,” he said. “You don’t feel the same after living abroad.”

When Williams would return temporarily to the U.S. for political science conferences, he realized that he had lost hold of the cultural touchstones which most Americans are tethered to–music, movies, even television ads. He remarked that his connection to home while in Europe consisted of the New York Times and Facebook, which were “not exactly representative of what’s really going on.”

However, Williams has few regrets from his time spent abroad. When traveling to new places as a child, his parents told him to do everything he possibly could, as there was no way to know when he would be able to go back. But he says that he subscribes to a very different mentality now.

“Do what is really high on your list, ’cause you can always come back.” And when Williams goes back to Germany, he says that Oktoberfest will be very high on his own.

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