Though campus is abuzz about the presidential election, international students, many of whom have never experienced the American political process firsthand, are bringing a new perspective to the contentious race.
Noting political discourse among students has been tense at times during the election season, Business sophomore Jonathan Cheng, who is from Hong Kong, said he thinks Americans should first recognize what a privilege it is for them to be able to democratically elect their leader.
“I think it is pretty impressive for Americans to vote for their president,” Cheng said. “Voters should treasure this opportunity where this is not a certainty for people in many other countries.”
Cheng said he decided to pursue his college studies in the United States, both because American universities are consistently ranked highest in the world, and because he valued the more relaxed learning environment and relationship between professors and students.
“The relationship between students and faculty are more ‘equal’ and friendly,” Cheng said. “I remembered in my accounting class, while a student dropped his notes on the floor, the lecturer walked by and picked that up for him, and it was like nothing special happened; this may seem to be usual here, but it was rarely seen in some societies.”
He said his parents favor Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and often ask him about what the supporters for both candidates are like.
“People from other countries pay a whole lot attention to what the U.S. president says, and the president’s speech and action can fluctuate the global economic and political environment a lot,” Cheng said. “I think the success in this country counts on both a great education system and the diversity of foreign workers.”
Engineering sophomore Tony Li is originally from Beijing, but has lived in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, since the age of 7. During his senior year of high school, he said, he decided to take a leap and attend school in the United States because of the University of Michigan’s “stellar” engineering program.
“My family moved to Canada from China when I was 7, and I’ve lived there until I came here for university,” Li said. “The Canadian schools are OK schools, but just not engineering-wise.”
Li said he feels bad for students who can vote, most of whom are voting in their first presidential election.
“It’s not a desirable choice,” He said.
Thrust into the political atmosphere on campus during this year’s presidential primaries as a freshman, Li said he was especially shocked to see Trump emerge as the Republican nominee as opposed to someone more appealing such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) or Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
After watching the 2015 Canadian federal elections, Li said, he expected a more moderate candidate than Trump to emerge, similar to the newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party or former Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party.
He said he initially wanted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) to win because he generally agrees with Sander’s democratic socialist policies since they are similar to the Canadian political system, but added he felt Sanders never really had a chance.
“I definitely care who wins, I’m here (in America) quite a bit,” he joked.
When he goes back home to Canada for breaks, he said, his friends will often poke fun at the U.S. presidential election; however, they intently keep up to date with the race.
“They’re still following the politics,” Li said. “America is a superpower and people do care about who’s going to lead and have that supreme power.”
Li added that he senses political tension among students on campus, particularly when he sees people having polarized political arguments.
“They all bring in their personal viewpoints, but I don’t think they’re taking anything from the other side,” Li said.
While he is interested in the outcome, Li said he probably won’t bother to watch the election results live.
“It’s pretty much decided from the polls; Trump does not have a chance,” Li said. “I’ll definitely check online once in a while that evening.”
While Li and Cheng are experiencing the presidential election up close as a byproduct of attending college in the United States, Jori Korpershoek, said he is currently studying abroad at the University semester partially because he wanted to experience the U.S. election firsthand. Korpershoek attends Leiden University College in The Hague, Netherlands.
He said he wants to have a greater understanding of why there is a surge of the alternative right-wing movement happening in the United States with Trump’s nomination, especially considering that candidates in the past, like 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney have been more moderate.
“If you have a two-party system, you would expect the candidates presented to the people to be relatively mainstream,” Korpershoek said. “I didn’t think Trump would win the primary.”
Korpershoek said he finds conservative philosophy intriguing, but added that he doesn’t think Trump embodies those principles.
“I think there’s something admirable about pure conservatism and I think Trump has very few of those qualities,” Korpershoek said. “I think what I’ve been trying to understand is, on the one hand, trying to sympathize with people who are voting for politicians like Trump, while at the same time also trying to find that balance between economic anxiety or if everybody is just like racist.”
Currently, Korpershoek said people in the Netherlands are talking more about the U.S. election than the forthcoming Dutch election in 2017.
“It’s pretty intriguing how there’s a relatively sizable percentage of people who follow the American election intensely,” Korpershoek said. “I couldn’t recognize other German politicians, for example, but I could tell you who Marco Rubio is and what John McCain looks like.”
For the most part, Korpershoek said he doesn’t sense a lot of tension on campus, but rather a general nervousness on both sides of the political spectrum.
“I kind of expected things to be tense, but I feel more of an apathy in most people I meet, rather than anger,” Korpershoek said.