This year’s presidential race isn’t only attracting the attention and skepticism of U.S. citizens––it’s being scrutinized all over the world. International perspectives are rarely considered in the general political discourse, but this election cycle has brought some attention to the matter. At Vanderbilt, what do international students think about an election that never ceases to surprise around every twist and turn? The Hustler talked to four international students from four different countries to find out their attitudes on the election, their opinions on the candidates and how the winner could affect their daily lives.
Overall Attitudes on the Election
Junior Hunter Shi is from Nanjing, China and takes an interest in international politics. At first glance, Shi finds the 2016 election non-threatening, funny and entertaining. But when taken seriously, Shi recognizes the noisy and divisive political condition.
If you live here and you’re American, you’re not aware of how weird the campaign is treated. Junior Hunter Shi
First-year Raoul Benjamin, who is from Singapore, attended international high school and spent the last two years serving in the Singaporean military. Many of his friends and family at home perceive the election a source of entertainment, as they are less impacted by the actual political ramifications. They like the novelty, the gossip and the punchy headlines of the election, he said.
“This election is very engaging because it’s so controversial,” Benjamin said. “The international opinion, as far as I know, is that what’s going on is pretty ridiculous. People are very invested because everyone is affected, but it doesn’t affect them as much as Americans. So they can kind of talk about it without too much consequence. They can be more of a devil’s advocate.”
Junior Daniel Valent, who is from Zurich, Switzerland, follows the American election closely–a habit learned at home and quite common amongst Swiss people, he said.
“A lot of Swiss people are invested in this election,” said Valent. “When I look at Swiss media, almost every day I can see an article that talks about the election. They watch the debates. They want to understand the candidates better. They want to visualize what it’s going to be like if this person is going to be the president.
Emphasis on Democracy
International students have varying beliefs about America’s emphasis on democracy.
A strong sense of civic responsibility and democratic pride is prominent in Swiss cultural values, Valent said. The Swiss political system is highly democratic and relies heavily on the votes of their citizens, as opposed to the representative politics in the U.S, he added. In Switzerland, the voting age is the same at 18-years-old.
I grew up in a family where we would always follow politics, especially coming from Switzerland, which is one of the best democracies in the world. Junior Daniel Valent
“I grew up in a family where we would always follow politics, especially coming from Switzerland, which is one of the best democracies in the world,” Valent said. “We vote on almost everything. Not just the Parliament, but also the decisions that the Parliament makes. We have a family tradition. Every time there is something to vote on, we would have a family meeting and sit together and talk about it. That’s the environment I grew up in, and I still do that.”
Shi expressed that many Chinese are skeptical of democracy, making the U.S. campaign culture seem like overkill.
I won’t tell people that I agree with some socialist ideas. People will see me as a monster, which doesn’t make sense. Junior Hunter Shi
“Most of us are curious of things Trump could do, especially with foreign policy,” said Shi. “For China, a lot of people think that Hillary will just continue to be a politician. So she will definitely be harsh against China. But Trump, we don’t know. On one hand, we definitely want to see a president that doesn’t know how to treat foreign policy, that could give us some benefits. But on the other hand, this guy might be too crazy for president. It might cause a lot of serious issues.”
Shi is also confused about Trump’s emphasis of China’s economic power and market share of manufacturing jobs. Contrary to Trump’s assertions, Shi said that China seems to be a minor economic threat compared to other up-and-coming competition.
“Trump gives a lot of credit to China,” he said. “If his accusations are true, then China is way richer and a way better country. Chinese manufacturing is collapsing, recently. It’s not like we’re taking over the jobs. Maybe a decade ago. But during the last five years, it’s more Southeast Asia. Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia.”
Jensen says that, in her experience, that most Canadians support Clinton for president. She says that it is difficult to understand the arguments on both sides and why it seems as though many Americans feel they are voting the greater of two evils.
“I would definitely say that most people at home don’t even see the comparison at all,” Jensen said. “People in the U.S. say, ‘Well, Hillary is just as bad.’ I have not talked to a Canadian who has said that. Everyone looks at Trump as the worst option. No one seems to understand. My opinion is Hillary is the person who makes logical sense. But then it’s interesting to hear other people’s opinions when they say she’s horrible.”
I appreciate my free health care at home, which is something that I don’t get here. Sophomore Tessa Jensen
Jensen continued by saying that many of Trump’s health care policies are stringently against those in Canada, a country that provides universal health care to citizens.
“I appreciate my free health care at home, which is something that I don’t get here,” Jensen said. “Trump talks about repealing Obamacare. Obviously, Obamacare has not been the most effective system, but it’s better than it was before. It’s a good step in the right direction, so I don’t think repealing it doesn’t make much sense–perhaps modifying it.”
Similarly, between the two major party candidates, Swiss people tend to support Clinton as the future presidential pick, Valent said.
“Most people would vote for Clinton if they could,” Valent said. “Switzerland’s political tradition does not agree with Trump’s way of politics.”
Impact of Immigration Policies
The focus on immigration law and regulation this election cycle is of great concern to international students, many of whom hold visas in the U.S., and some of whom plan on staying after graduation.
Shi said that despite Chinese disagreement on Trump’s economic policies, many Chinese people, especially international students, are strong supporters of his policies on immigration. Many Chinese are against undocumented immigration, and Trump’s policies strongly uphold legal immigration procedures that the DREAM act and other forms of legislation undermine, Shi added.
They really think illegal immigrants are not only people that take away their chances, but it’s simply not fair when you work very hard to immigrate legally. Junior Hunter Shi
“It would be an honor and privilege to be part of this country,” Benjamin said. “I definitely feel that fundamentally it’s a country I would like to identify with. But, I have no expectations. I don’t have any right to be here. I am a guest. I have no judgement if they said ‘I’m sorry you’re not allowed to work here in the future’ because it’s not my country… I don’t view the anti-immigration viewpoint as a personal attack.”
However, Benjamin also recognized the major exceptions to his personal view points.
“But then again, I’m not a refugee,” Benjamin said. “I don’t need the US to take me in. If I were to want to move here, it would be purely for lifestyle and economic reasons. Not reasons that I’m being persecuted by my government and I need a new place to live.”
Valent also has future interests in immigrating to the U.S. Unlike many of his fellow international students, Valent is more confident in his prospects. In his experience so far, despite flagrant anti-immigrant sentiment in media and politics, he feels welcomed in this country.
“I’ve thought about maybe moving to the U.S. after I graduate,” Valent said. “I really like it here. I feel like Trump will definitely be harder on immigrants, but he’s mostly spoken against Mexican immigrants. I feel like if I really wanted to come here, I could make it work.”
Nevertheless, Valent is aware of the limitations of his fractional American experience.
“But, I have to be careful,” said Valent. “I’m living in this Vandy-bubble and I’m surrounded by all these highly educated people. I feel that I took a 30 minute drive into a rural area, then maybe people will talk differently [about immigration].”