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International students await election outcomes with future employment at stake

Today’s results offer unique implications for non−U.S. citizens

Published: Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 07:11

If you can’t vote, why care? Tell that to international students at Tufts. U.S. citizens were far from the only demographic engaged in debates, forums and discussions in the run−up to today’s election. International students on the Hill have been just as involved in the political scene, but for different reasons and with varying implications from those of their American peers.

Members of Tufts’ international community, comprising 16 percent of the student body and featuring natives of more than 70 countries, may not be able to vote today, but that does not prevent them from having strong opinions about the candidates and issues.

Topics of particular interest to Tufts’ international students include economic and foreign policy, immigration and employment, according to Associate Professor of Comparative Politics Consuelo Cruz.

“They’re interested in part because of the impact that [the election] will have on their home countries,” Cruz said. “But there’s much more to their interest. International students are becoming increasingly cosmopolitan and transnational in their political views and concerns.”

Senior Emilia Luna, an international relations and English double major from Ecuador, describes herself as one of those students who are more engaged than others.

“I am relatively informed compared to most students — both international and American,” Luna said. “I have watched all the debates, and I keep myself updated by reading the news.”

Nevertheless, Luna said, most international students are to some extent at least informed, whether of genuine interest or not.

Juniors Allie Can Lei and Xiaochong Yao watched the first presidential debate in a screening at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and have been following coverage on the news and through social media ever since. Both, though, questioned the degree to which the rest of the community is involved.

“Maybe [some international students are engaged] just because they’re IR or [political science] majors, [because] they may feel obligated to be updated for their classes,” Lei said. “Still, I feel like the American election is not just a national issue. Everyone should be concerned about what the new leader may bring about in terms of major changes that will impact the rest of the world.”

Yao is most concerned with topics pertaining to energy, as she plans to work in the energy industry after she graduates. On a broader scale, however, are issues such as immigration and foreign policy.

Associate Professor of Economics David Dapice, who focuses on Development Economics in Southeast Asia, believes that his students find issues of global climate, immigration and trade of paramount importance.

“Elites sense that good policies can somewhat fill that gap, and the U.S. matters more than most in setting that agenda,” Dapice said. “The gap between foreign and domestic policy is pretty thin, so the overall approach of a president can make a difference to people all over the world.”

According to Dapice, the election is most pressing for international students at U.S. colleges who hope to remain here to work after graduating.

“Many foreign students hope to spend at least some time in the U.S. working, so they are interested parties,” he said. “Beyond that, federal support for research influences career prospects for many in the natural sciences. Policies towards national security, deficits and regulation, or particular foreign issues all matter to various groups whether they face regional threats, want to work in finance or are worried about poverty and justice.”

Lei, originally from China, also plans to work in the United States after she graduates, despite the difficulty of obtaining work visas, a challenge Luna acknowledges as well.

“I care about immigration policy because as a foreigner, I want to be in a country that welcomes immigrations that are a key part of the American identity,” Luna said. “In terms of life after graduation, I think the economy and the job market affects all of us — not only international students — and so the effects of who gets elected do affect our chances of finding a job and staying here.”

Cruz maintains that immigration is perceived to be a central issue among Latin Americans, but finds that other policies extend beyond just that.

“Latin students care particularly about immigration reform, trade policy and the war on drugs,” Cruz said. “But they also have political philosophies, from conservative to leftist, and from those perspectives they follow debates about fiscal, social and foreign policy in the States.”

Sophomore Munir Atalla echoes a similar sentiment. Though a U.S. citizen, he works and lives in the International House and feels strongly about foreign policy.

“Put simply, we want a less hegemonic, less manipulative U.S. presence in Latin America, the Middle East, Eastern Asia and many more,” Atalla said. “I think that, currently, the international community is disgusted by the American right and frustrated by the American left.”

Atalla cites the two−party system as one that can polarize students and thus provide an unfair assessment of the current state of affairs. Dapice, however, still finds an overwhelming number of foreign students who support Obama.

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