International students keep eye on U.S. elections

I remember walking into the living room one morning to catch my friends laughing at the TV. It was the summer of 2016, I was just 14 years of age and had no clue how politics worked.

“Donald Trump is running for president,” one of my friends said while she laughed at the screen. Back then, the all too familiar blonde man on the TV was just a rich celebrity with an eccentric personality to me.

“How odd,” I must have thought at the time, that a reality show host wants to run one of the most powerful countries in the world. Little did I know that one day I would fear for family and friends who are many thousand miles away in America. Little did I know that the same seemingly innocuous wealthy businessman would have an impact on decisions that will likely affect the rest of my life.

America is a country that I am quite familiar with; I first visited when I was barely a two-year-old and have made frequent visits since. Since joining Woodstock, my visits across the Atlantic have been relatively infrequent. While at school, I witnessed the 2016 Presidential election through the screen of my laptop; the election would result in fear and tears among many who were afraid of the prospect of living under constant danger and threat under a Trump administration.

Since the election, the number of hate crimes has increased by 17 percent nationwide, according to the FBI. Mass shootings at schools, concerts, and places of worship have become frequent. The details about the events that took place at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and a clash between counter-protestors and white supremacists at a right-wing rally in Charlottesville fill me with fear that often keeps me up at night. Additionally, Trump’s behavior in diplomatic relations could be seen as cause for reigniting the arms race, a daunting relic of the Cold War that has brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war a few times in the past century. Such news adds exponentially to my anxiety as I soldier through the process of applying to college in the United States.

I am in no way accusing Trump of being responsible for any of these atrocities. I am, however, suggesting that his personal views, comments on minorities and women, and an unwillingness to denounce white supremacy have given a sense of entitlement to Americans who might hold such beliefs to be open with their sentiments and rhetoric, even turn it into action. An excellent example of such behavior is his official response to the tragedy in Charlottesville in 2017, in which he blamed “all sides”.

After the election, however, I did visit again and did not feel like I was under threat, or that I would be a victim of a hate crime; instead, I had a lot of fun. But I was fortunate enough to be on the East Coast, a relatively less conservative area of the country where I was in the comfort and safety of family who happened to live there.

But what will it be like when I go to college? Completely independent, in an unfamiliar environment. The number of international students coming into the United States has declined by 10 percent after the 2016 elections, and I don’t think that it’s purely coincidental. Because the travel ban exempts the F-1 student visa, however, the work visa for international students has been implicated under Trump’s presidency. Which could be a possible reason as to why many reconsider America as an option for college.

This change can be seen at Woodstock too; 65 percent of the seniors sent at least one application to America; this might seem like a significant majority but in the past, numbers have been closer to 70 or 75 percent. This is a clear indication that international students are straying away from America, perhaps its job opportunities, perhaps it’s the government, perhaps its concerns about safety.

Whatever it may be, it’s happening at an alarming rate. A 10 percent drop in students applying to America at Woodstock alone is clear evidence that something is definitely concerning.

Whenever I open a news website like BBC or CNN, the same blonde man’s face I saw on TV that day, is always on the front page, with an incredibly dramatic headline regarding healthcare, foreign policy, or the environment. Many aspects of American politics that defined the country drastically changed since 2016.

Based on what I see on my news notifications and TV, does that really mean the political culture has completely transformed? Perhaps not, because things have been looking pretty optimistic for many. With the 2020 elections approaching, Democratic candidates have been promising to relax the nation’s foreign policy, as well as immigration reforms.

I saw a bright light at the end of the tunnel again recently, after the Democrats won the House of Representative and got more votes than the Republican party for the Senate during the midterm elections; although they did not dominate in the Senate, they did get more overall votes. Which could play in favor of the Democrats for the 2020 elections.

There is always the chance of Trump being re-elected, which could result in the same form of hysteria again, so it is prudent of many hopeful future international students like me to try not to get our hopes too high since literally, anything is possible.

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