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International students discuss exposure to American politics, concerns leading into 2020 election

Visa policies, COVID-19 response, Black Lives Matter among top issues for international students interviewed by The Herald

American politics never took center stage for Sally Zhang ’23 before she came to the United States. “I remember watching the 2016 election and it was always in the back of our minds but never (was) anything really important,” she said. But Zhang, an international student from New Zealand, has tried to learn more about U.S. politics since coming to Brown, and her interest has only increased as the election approaches. 

International students like Zhang are a subset of the University population in a distinct position: unable to vote yet crucially impacted by American policies. The Herald talked to three international students about their hopes and apprehensions ahead of Election Day. 

“It is like witnessing history,” said Ruodan Xu ’23, a student from China, about the upcoming presidential election on Nov. 3. “It is very natural for (international students) to keep an eye on (the election),” Xu said. “It potentially affects me, not as much as American students, but it affects all of us.”

Zhang agreed that the election has worldwide implications. America’s “policies will indirectly impact my country,” Zhang said. “America is a superpower and I wish there was more consideration of how (the country’s) actions affect the world,” she added, highlighting climate change policy as a prime example of where U.S. actions have worldwide consequences.

A major concern for Zhang is how the election outcome may impact the visa status of international students like herself studying in the United States. During the summer, Immigration and Customs Enforcement released regulations barring international students from remaining in the United States if their course load was entirely online. Although later rescinded, the regulations made some international students feel unwanted in the United States and brought about fears over the security of their future visa status, The Herald previously reported.

“Visa complications are a really big thing and really stressful for a lot of international students,” said Zhang, who remarked on President Trump’s unpopularity among international students at Brown following the ICE regulations. “International students, even though we can’t vote, are doing a lot of advocacy because we want … people who have the power to vote to help us.” 

The American government’s policies on visas and international workers will determine international students’ abilities to remain in the United States while in school and after graduating, Zhang said. She added that if Trump is re-elected, she will be more inclined to stay at home in New Zealand next semester. 

Kevin Wang ’23, a sophomore from Australia, said that the Trump administration’s policies on international workers have informed his view of the upcoming election. But Wang said the election's impact on human rights is far more important to him. The COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement were major issues influencing his perspective on the election, he said. 

The election’s impact has also been on his parents’ minds, Wang said. “With the current movements going on and the civil unrest, I feel like my parents especially are keeping up with the election to see (what) happens.”

While Wang admits that he has an “outsider’s perspective,” he believes this election will be transformative. “I feel like it is such a catalyzing and important event,” he said. “A lot of people in the rest of the world, and in America as well, see this as an event that might drastically change the course that America will take in the next four years.”

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