Undergraduate international students join their American peers as they hold their breath ahead of Tuesday’s U.S. presidential election.
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed this country to its political and social extremes, but it has also had negative impacts on the lives of the international students. While some face trouble finding jobs, others struggle to get visas to come to campus. Howard Shi ’25 is one the students who has suffered from the March decision to prohibit international students from entering the country unless they are taking in-person classes. Born and raised in China, Shi cited the Trump administration’s poor response to the pandemic as a big reason why he opted to take a gap year. He is hoping that after the election, it will be easier for him to come to America to study.
“The issue I care the most about for this upcoming election is who can handle COVID better, and especially for me personally and for my social group is if we can get a visa,” Shi said.
U.S.-China relations, however, are not on Shi’s mind as we approach Election Day. According to Shi, many people back home view neither candidate favorably. While U.S.-China hostility has intensified under the Trump administration, Shi has also observed that Biden’s promise to stand up to Chinese President Xi-Jinping — as well as the candidate’s criticism of China’s growing control over Taiwan and Hong Kong — has resulted in the distribution of anti-Biden Chinese propaganda.
Other students such as Bilal Moin ’24 are eager to experience their first election on U.S. soil. Born and raised in Mumbai, Moin said that before moving to the U.S., he never truly understood the emotional stake so many people claimed in American politics. “As an outsider, it’s always been about predictions, and you know, purely political decisions and policy… There was no personal involvement in the actual election,” Moin said. Since then, he’s gained a better understanding of not only the emotional and social implications of the election but also the full extent of the political division plaguing the country. As the world’s largest democracy, India’s political scene is dominated by multiple parties, so for Moin, the stark partisanship in America is vastly different from what he is used to.
Chris Lee ’24, a dual citizen of South Korea and the United States, will be voting in person on Nov. 3. Although he lived in America for the first few years of his life, he spent the majority of his youth in South Korea where he was largely distanced from American politics. Like Moin, he is worried about the growing division within the country. In South Korea, Lee said, much of the political division stems from economic disagreement. Upon moving back to America, he was surprised by the social dimensions of political discourse. In many ways, this made his resolution to vote even greater.
While some international students are excited to witness and even partake in American democracy first hand, others feel the weight of their American peers’ anxiety. Such is the case for Christina Zozulya ’24, a Canadian citizen who is worried for the country and the potential chaos that may ensue when the winner is announced.
“I feel empathetic for a lot of America,” Zozulya said. “Just seeing how a lot of my friends are acting. Most people are really nervous. States are going on lockdown because of the election, so I think that, as a Canadian, I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of my American friends.”
A permanent resident of the United States, Zozulya did not face the same problems procuring a visa as many of her international peers. She hopes to eventually go through the naturalization process, and she anticipates that a victory for Biden will protect her chances of becoming a citizen. Still, even if Trump is reelected, Zozulya, as a white affluent woman, knows her chances of becoming naturalized will not be as threatened as they would be for people of color and other individuals from marginalized communities. Erica Vandenbulcke ’24, a native Indonesian who moved to the United States a year after the 2016 election, also feels the anxiety of election day.
“I’m pretty nervous, especially because another four years are smack dab of our Yale career, so the entirety of my time at Yale would be during Trump’s presidency, and I think that would dictate a lot of whether or not international students will be able to stay post graduation,” Vandenbulcke said. “There is a sense of nervousness and waiting around to see what actually happens.”
Still, despite the mix of emotions that have been brought on by Tuesday’s election, American and international Yalies alike will be huddled around their TV sets, waiting with fingers crossed as the first results come in.
Marissa Blum | email@example.com