Looking In: International Student’s Perspectives on the US Election

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This year’s contentious presidential primary campaigns have put politics front and center across college campuses, including Northeastern’s.

In an article titled “Young Voters, Motivated Again,” the New York Times reports this is the first presidential campaign in which people aged 18 to 29 make up the same proportion of the electorate as do baby boomers. And young voters are making their presence felt at the ballots. So far, the youth turnout for both parties’ primaries is rivaling 2008 numbers, the year of President Obama’s first campaign.

Yet there are many on campus who won’t be able to cast a vote come November. They are, of course, the thousands of foreign students studying at Northeastern, who cannot vote as non-American citizens.

Although international students (who number over 7,000 each year and hail from 126 different countries) are well aware of their observer status, most find themselves heavily invested in the election.

“I have been following the elections closely, a lot closer than I thought I would. It’s all over the news, everyone talks about it all the time,” said third year civil engineering major Shahd Najjar, from Jordan.  

Also finding himself heavily tuned into election coverage is third year theater major Pablo Hernandez, a Mexican student.

“I am surprised at how closely I have been following the elections. I find myself constantly searching for updates,” he said. “I feel involved in the sense that I can participate in the day-to-day conversations with my friends and colleagues. But, often, people forget that I actually don’t have a say in any of this. It is frustrating to feel powerless facing these candidates that could change the way I experience this country, especially being from Mexico and seeing Trump making the discriminatory claims he makes.”

Trump’s racist rhetoric was also flagged as an issue of concern by fourth year international affairs major Irem Girmen. She is from Turkey.

“I have to admit that I follow the Republican side of things a bit more closely. I find the things most candidates advocate for disconnected from reality. The anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric bothers me a lot. It is frustrating to see that many people are cheering and clapping about all of that,”said Girmen.

For Russia’s Margarita Gubanova, an international affairs major, the draw of the U.S. presidential election is the extent to which the process differs from what she’s used to back home. That’s partly the reason why she’s finding herself tuning into CNN an average of two hours per day.

“[In Russia] campaigns are boring. There’s too little choice among candidates,” she said. “There’s a bigger lineup here and they have more interesting debates.”

Gubanova is also enjoying the drawn-out primary election process, which is nonexistent in Russia.

“In Russia, it’s a couple of candidates and you just choose the one whom you want to see as president by popular vote, it’s a one-time process. It’s fun how they compete with each over a long period here,” she said.