Politics & Media
Apr 04, 2008, 08:32AM

Including the Rest of the World

Many international students at American colleges want to learn about our political process, since the way the U.S. is run matters to them too, but many feel ignored. From The Daily Pennsylvanian.

When College junior Eduardo Orozco decided to leave his native Mexico and attend college at Penn, he was looking forward to being a part of the American political process.

"College in the U.S. offers an opportunity to be more engaged," said Orozco, a double-major in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and Urban Studies. "[American] students are much more politically active than back at home."

Unfortunately, after three years at Penn, his expectations were not completely satisfied. Most of the politically-oriented student groups on campus tended to cater their initiatives to students who are U.S. citizens, neglecting to include international students in their political agenda.

The rationale for targeting only Americans is obvious. If international students can't actually vote for candidates endorsed by groups like the Penn Democrats or the College Republicans, then why bother spending time and energy trying to persuade them to decide either way? And with Pennsylvania's primary elections coming up in less than three weeks, most groups have been focusing chiefly on voter registration and turnout - initiatives that automatically exclude non-citizens.

"Optimally, everyone should be included in political programming and it should appeal to anyone, American or not," College sophomore and College Republicans president Zac Byer told me. "But this isn't a perfect world, and just like minority programming doesn't appeal to me most of the time, the College Republicans' and the Penn Democrats' activity isn't the best in terms of outreach to international students."

Still, just because international students can't cast a ballot, doesn't mean they have nothing worthwhile to say.

For instance, "As a Mexican, I'm often confronted with misconceptions on the actual effects of U.S. foreign policy," Orozco said. "I'm definitely a source for unique perspectives that goes pretty much untapped here on campus."

In fact, from debating American policy abroad to comparing health care systems across the globe, international students can bring under- (and often mis-) represented views to discussions about the election.

And while "I'm not sure what international students can add to an organization that's trying to get a candidate elected," Penn for Hillary spokeswoman and College junior Julie Siegel, a former Spin blog editor, admits, "as far as campaigns create discourse, I think that there's a great deal that they can contribute."

Moreover, because the United States political system is drastically different from most other countries, the election season presents the perfect opportunity to educate non-Americans about the ins and outs of our government.

"I don't know what a superdelegate is and it's very mystifying," confessed College junior and International Student Council leader Alexander Giannakakis. Instead of perpetuating this type of confusion by ignoring foreign students, campus political groups should collaborate with international groups to clarify the electoral process.

And given the rampant jargon and roundabout procedure of the primary period, Elections 101 might not be a bad idea for everyone - not just international students.

But despite a certain degree of bewilderment amongst internationals concerning the American elections, there at least seems to be a similar level of interest.

"I can't tell you the number of times where I've tried to register people to vote, and they've said 'I wish I could, but I'm an international student'" said College junior and Penn Leads the Vote president Stephanie Simon. "That shows that there's definitely enthusiasm there."

Regardless of whether campus political groups choose to hold collaborative events with international students or to educate them about American elections, there should be more of a concerted effort to reach out to a population that constitutes over 10 percent of Penn's student body.

After all, instead of only listening to politicians speculate about how the rest of the world views America, why don't we just ask our peers who are actually part of that constituency?

After all, "It'd be great if we could get some more international awareness on American politics," Giannakakis said.

"That would make the international students feel a lot more integrated into the U.S. instead of always feeling like an outsider."


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