Memona Hintermann, a French correspondent for the television station France 3, leaned across the table and, speaking with the ease and frankness of a seasoned reporter, expressed her true feelings about Yale.
“I think that Yale is a place with the elite of the world,” Hintermann said in her native French. “It’s tomorrow’s senators and congressmen. Another president could be here right now. It’s a galaxy that really is the best of America.”
Hintermann, her cameraman and her soundman were visiting Yale Wednesday to do a piece on the institution that educated both George Bush ’68 and John Kerry ’66. Gila Reinstein, assistant director of public affairs for the University, said Hintermann and her crew were not the first to visit the Elm City for this reason. In fact, Reinstein’s office has already hosted a crew from Russia, two from Germany, one from Norway and will host another from the Czech Republic next Monday.
But despite the media attention and widespread knowledge of President Bush’s Yale degree — many foreigners are not aware that Kerry bleeds blue as well — the 2004 presidential election has not done much to increase Yale’s notoriety abroad.
Yale students who are traveling overseas this semester said they have found that although foreigners may have strong opinions about Bush, those views do not necessarily translate into the same opinions about Yale.
Megan Prichard ’06 is spending the semester in Madrid to work for the consulting firm that runs the Americans Overseas for Kerry campaign. She said more Spaniards know that Bush went to Yale than know that Kerry went to Yale. When she tells people she is a Yale student, she said their first response is generally something negative about Bush. But overall, Yale has a strong academic reputation in Spain, Prichard said.
Director of Undergraduate Admissions Richard Shaw agreed that academics, not the presidential election, affects Yale’s reputation abroad. He said he thinks the fact that both candidates are Yalies has not necessarily increased foreign application numbers.
“[Admissions officers] travel internationally,” Shaw said. “We’re not depending on our politics to do it. I think our success internationally is primarily due to the fact that we’ve worked hard to open the doors to international students.”
To some foreigners, Yale’s reputation is not only academic, it is elitist. Due to Yale’s storied past, some seem to think that Yale is just a place for the rich.
“Some [foreign reporters] come with the idea that Yale is peopled by the children of privilege with a high percentage of legacies,” Reinstein said.
Often, foreign visitors become aware of the importance of community services and volunteer activity only after visiting, Reinstein said.
And though Yale may be well-known in some circles, there is a good chance the average foreigner has never heard of the University.
“Yale is not really known abroad unless it’s in elite circles,” Mario Conde ’06, a Nicaragua native, said. “When people do know about it, they just know it’s a good place. [They are] not seeing that there’s a connection between it and the presidential candidates.”
Mike Wales ’06, who is spending the semester at the American University in Cairo, has experienced similar reactions to Yale. The average Egyptian, he said, has no idea what Yale is, although students are generally better informed.
“The students at this school might be able to identify both candidates, and even Yale, but not that either of the candidates graduated from the school,” Wales said in an e-mail.
Some said the most powerful sentiment abroad concerning the two candidates is that a change in the White House is necessary.
Frenchman Robin Teboul, Hintermann’s cameraman, expressed strong anti-Bush opinions.
“The U.S. has a huge influence on the planet,” Teboul said in French. “The problem with Bush is that he is exclusively concerned about America. He couldn’t care less about the consequences of his foreign politics.”
But though the French journalists expressed dismay with the condition of United States politics, Hintermann said she saw Yale, Bush’s alma mater, as the perfect place to begin repairing the damages she believes Bush has caused.
“The [educational] elite here and the [educational] elite on the other side of the Atlantic can work together to build a world, a more equal world,” she said.