Uncertain international relations

JESSICA ZHOU, Evergreen diversity reporter

Although they can’t vote, international students have found they still have a stake in American politics.

On the global stage, world leaders offered nuanced congratulations to the country and its president-elect following Donald Trump’s victory, recognizing the potential for the reshaping of international affairs and relations.

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, pointed out the United States is “an essential actor across the international agenda,” and it was “worth recalling and reaffirming that the unity in diversity of the United States is one of the country’s greatest strengths.”

International students have been immersed in the country’s political affairs through discussions on campus and social media, especially during the final stretch of campaigns in the presidential race.

“I don’t like to get engaged with Americans on political issues,” said Nora Alaqeel, a senior political science major from Saudi Arabia. “Because I think they just portray me as someone who is inferior (to them).”

Adel Yafi, a junior civil engineering major from Syria, said at first it was fascinating that a businessman was running for president. He expected Trump had a shot at winning because of how he was able to draw people in with his emphasis on domestic issues.

“He tried to promote unity and ideals, but you cannot talk about unity while you talk about building a wall,” Yafi said. Yafi moved one-and-a-half years ago from Syria because of the instability in the region. He now lives with family in the Tri-Cities.

Huizi Li, a sophomore digital technology and culture and German major from China, said she was surprised by the apathy she observed in those who had the ability to vote.

“Some people don’t really care about the election,” Li said. “When I was in China, I didn’t get the chance to vote because when I turned 18, I was in America.”

According to the United States Election Project, nearly 47 percent of the eligible voting population didn’t vote in the general elections.

While slightly more distanced from the country’s politics than their American peers, minority international students are not immune to encounters involving ignorance, intolerance or a combination of the two.

“(The election) just shows you how much they tolerate, but don’t accept the other,” Alaqeel said.

Alaqeel said Trump’s comments on Muslims and those living in the Middle East have made her uncomfortable. She said people view Saudi Arabia as an authoritarian country, and that she has been called a terrorist and associated with the Taliban on the basis of her background and skin color.

Alaqeel said while people, including her friends, supported Trump for a variety of reasons, a vote for Trump was still a vote against minorities; other issues were prioritized over the well-being of minorities. She said she has remained friends with those who voted for Trump because it is important to be peaceful.

“You’re not going to have this dialogue unless you have peaceful dialogue,” she said, although she added that she avoids political conversation when possible.

She commented on recent reports of Muslim women threatened by Trump supporters with violence for wearing hijabs.

“America was built on freedom and the right of practicing religion,” she said. “This (incident) is saying to someone ‘you cannot practice your religion.’”

Li said most Americans think today’s China is the China that existed 50 to 60 years ago – repressed, with no freedom.

“I don’t think the American education system teaches students to be more aware of global issues,” Li said. “Especially (those of) non-European countries.”

Compared to China, America seemed less safe to Li, with reports of hate crimes cropping up across the country.

“I hope (Trump is) just catering to people,” Li said of Trump’s recent conflicting statements. “He’s totally unpredictable.”

Yafi also noted the inconsistency in Trump’s statements and said his talk of barriers and walls separated the American people and made certain populations of the country feel targeted.

For the first time in Pullman, Yafi said, he was stopped downtown by a white, college-aged male who said to him, “You’re Middle Eastern, you’re ISIS, get out of the country.”

Now that the election is over and Trump is president-elect, international students, like the rest of the country, are coming to terms with the implications of the election and what the future may hold for them.

Li said she fears reforms to the H1-B visa, which is already difficult to obtain, may jeopardize her future in the U.S. after graduation. She is on an F-1 visa, which allows international students to study in the United States. Ideally, she would be able to work in the United States for a few years, gaining experience as a graphic designer.

Trump’s policy of isolationism, closing off the country from the rest of the world, would do more harm than good, Alaqeel said. She cited the economic boost international students, and intercultural exchange in general, bring to the country.

“I think educational institutions would benefit when (they) exchange ideas and ways of learning from different countries,” Alaqeel said.

Li said it is a “Chinese” trait to not interfere with other people’s issues, to not interfere with another country’s issues.

“We try to stay neutral in every situation,” she said. “Unless it forces me to (do) otherwise, I would adapt myself (to the situation). I can’t really do anything about it. I’m a foreigner.”

In encouragement to those who may otherwise feel hesitant or vulnerable about speaking out, Yafi noted the United States’ emphasis on freedom of speech, and rights that support the opinions of international students.

“There are actually those who are reflecting (Trump’s) policies and his statements, going against what (the United States) stands for,” Yafi said. “I’m not going to lie and say, ‘No, we’re not worried, because we don’t have anything to do with it.’”