Donald Trump lives approximately 12,000 kilometers away from the well-guarded gates of Woodstock, but the 45th president of the United States of America has managed to affect and influence the lives of students here nonetheless.
The current incumbent at the White House in Washington DC is renowned for his Islamophobic rhetoric and abusive disdain for foreigners. This has had a direct impact on the way students perceive the country as an option for future studies, with obvious repercussions for our school, which proudly showcases its American accreditation and relationships with US colleges as major selling points.
Tala Bagh, Class of 2020, is from Syria. She said, “I still think the US is a great place to study because of all the opportunities and prestige.” But she felt constrained from applying: “there will be a lot of difficulties for me,” Bagh explained. All the news about attacks, violence, and abuse led her to believe that she “would probably never be able to be comfortable there.”
These are now all-too-common sentiments. When Alisa Husain, Class of 2019, was deciding where to apply to college, she said that Mr.Trump’s behavior and the talk about a Muslim ban “kinda freaked [her] out.” She ended up not applying to the States.
Bagh’s and Husain’s concerns are not misplaced. According to the FBI, hate crime incidents in the USA increased by over 17% between 2016 and 2017, right after Mr. Trump was elected. There was a sharp uptick in racially and religiously motivated attacks.
While these cannot be directly attributed to Mr.Trump’s rise, the correlation cannot be ignored. It has become apparent that racists, bigots, and extremists have all become emboldened to publicly display their feelings and act on them because they perceive the White House as an ally. The KKK, the major white supremacist organization in the US (whom Mr.Trump initially refused to disavow when they declared their support for him) held a victory rally in North Carolina after his election. The KKK also sparked violence in a 2017 demonstration in Charlottesville with a white nationalist crashing a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring at least nineteen others. President Trump issued only a weak statement in response by saying that the blame was to be borne by “all sides.”
Given this unstable atmosphere, it is not surprising that the number of international students in the USA declined by 4 percent from 2016 to 2017, and another 6 percent from 2017 to 2018. Meanwhile, other good international options for higher education such as Canada and Germany benefited at America’s expense.
“We’ve had an exponential uptick in foreign applications,” Neharika Kataria, recruitment advisor for the University of Victoria in Victoria, Canada, said. She attributes this to the foreign policy issues in the US, as well as the Brexit turmoil in the UK. “Canada is more welcoming than the US,” she said. “You don’t feel alienated when you come here, you feel part of the system, they try to involve you,” she explained.
Natasha Bijelich, the Assistant Director for International student recruitment at the University of Toronto, told The Woodstocker there has been an immense increase in applications since 2016, which she attributes to Canada’s “historically welcoming society” and “open work permit.” The open work permit allows international students up to three years to stay in Canada after graduating from a Canadian institution.
Similarly, Germany is also doing very well due to the situations in the U.S and the U.K.
“We’ve had more interest from international schools,” Aylin Krieger, Online Marketing and Student Recruitment coordinator for Jacobs University in Bremen, said. “More students and counselors are seeing Germany as a good choice. She said that she believes this is because of the strength of the German economy and Germany granting students “eighteen months of stay after their period of study to look for work.”
While Canada and Germany are perceptibly leaning in to attract the rising pool of international applicants, the US seems to be steadily backing off. When one gets a student visa to the US now, it comes with a fixed maximum term of stay, without the possibility of extension. Many students we spoke to right here on the Woodstock campus found this new regime unnecessarily problematic, which is forcing them to actively seek other options.
It is true that US universities are not meekly accepting their government’s actions. In December 2018, 65 top universities in the U.S signed a legal challenge of Mr.Trump’s visa policy changes, arguing that international students contribute greatly to the U.S economy after graduation. Some of the plaintiffs include the most prestigious institutions in the country, including Harvard, MIT, Dartmouth, and Yale
Many other institutions who did not join the lawsuit are also making reassuring efforts, including those which consistently visit and recruit from our own school.
For example, James Quill, a representative of Wabash College, said that his administration is working hard to help international students. “We brought an immigration lawyer on campus to talk to students, and encouraged students from majority Muslim nations to stay over the summer,” he said. He had also been surprised to find that the results benefited the whole student body, not just the international community. “We had great dialogues with all the students on campus, and I think it strengthened student relations, leading to more awareness for domestic students as well, to understand what their classmates are having to go through,” Mr.Quill said.
Lisa Anthony, a representative of the University of Rochester also emphasized how her college provides for their international students, so prospective students shouldn’t be worried. ”Our International services office is there to support students in these matters, and [American] Universities are giving more resources to international students,” she said, while also stressing how students shouldn’t just see the USA as all the same. “It’s important to educate oneself, and not just see a stereotype of the US, but see what’s happening in each individual university because it varies,” Ms.Anthony said.
A number of students seem to be doing their own independent research and analysis of university options already though, undeterred despite the current atmosphere in the US.
“I might get shot but I’ll go anyway,” said Mubaraq Mehta, Class of 2019. ”I’m slightly apprehensive, but I’ll go because US colleges seem to be the best fit for me.”
Harsh Shyamdasani, Class of 2020. was also defiant, saying, “I’m confident in myself. I don’t care what Trump does in the time until I get my degree, because I’m headed back to India as soon as I do.”
On the Woodstock campus, these kinds of attitudes actually add up to the majority. According to Ms. Swati Shrestha, the school’s Head of College and Career Counselling, the majority of the senior class, about 65% of them sent out at least one application to the US. Although she admits that in the past, numbers have been closer to “70% or 75%,” it seems the definite majority of students are still considering the US as an option.
As to the effect on Woodstock’s appeal as an institution which sends students to the US, Mrs. Shrestha said, “Our focus in college counseling has always been about finding the right fit, and making sure that student priorities are at the center of the college search…I would hope that having student-centered college counseling would always be a plus point, regardless of how many students are going to the US for university!
Renee Bowling, Woodstock’s Head of Upper Years, also expressed confidence that Woodstock’s appeal would not be tarnished, saying, “Woodstock has a strong reputation across universities and countries with a solid history sending students abroad for higher education over 150 years…With qualifications (US diploma, APs, and the IB) that are recognized worldwide, Woodstockers can and do go from here to everywhere!”
With the rising contentious atmosphere and hate crime brewing in the US, one can only hope that Woodstockers will still have the opportunity to go wherever they desire for their further education in the future. Of course, in two years, this may become a surety. We will have to wait and see.
Featured Image by Knema Gardener
Edited by Hyenjin Cho