No voice, no vote: How international students handle an election they have no say in
Hosoo Kim feels his voice in the upcoming presidential election doesn’t matter – not only because he isn’t a U.S. citizen, but because he feels his opinion is rude to his American friends.
“There is some kind of transparent wall between me and my American friends… Maybe it is a wall made by me, but still I respect Americans because I am a visitor here. I will respect the decision because it is not mine to make,” Kim, a junior international student from South Korea, said.
Kim is one of thousands of international students who make up approximately 17 percent of UB’s student population and these students will not be able to vote next week. Immigration and outsourcing of jobs are big topics that can greatly affect these students. Some are in support of Republican candidate Donald Trump while others are hoping Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton will win. Either way, they have no choice but to sit back and watch the election unfold.
“If Trump becomes the president, I will have to think about leaving…The international policy Trump is presenting could get really bad for us,” Kim said. “I was going to do my PhD here, but if this policy Trump makes is bad for us, I will have to go.”
Kim has lived in the U.S. for three years now. After starting a year of classes at UB, Kim had to return home for a military service. After that, he returned to Buffalo where he continues his studies.
Kim spoke highly of his time in the U.S. He had nothing but admiration for how people were genuinely nice to him. He’s had a professor tell him if he was having trouble with understanding English, he could come to his office hours and be retaught the entire lesson. When he first arrived in the country, people in the airport helped guide him to the exit.
Kim said he would be the first to admit that he is not entirely sure what is really going on with the election. He watched all the debates to stay informed with each candidate, but now he is still unclear on what exactly each candidate is proposing.
“I know some part of the political system because of my American friends… I am not really sure if I have a right to say anything on American politics,” Kim said.
Even though Kim has lived in the U.S. for years, he calls himself a visitor.
Not all international students are as hesitant to embed themselves in the election.
Shreyes Shyamsunder, a first year graduate student studying economics from India, has been following the election for a full year now. He sees this election as something completely unique to previous ones.
“I see Trump as the candidate trying to change what has been put in place. Not just with the past eight years but the system in general,” Shyamsunder said. “That seems to have stopped the Republican Party from fully supporting Trump.”
Shyamsunder feels that there is a lack of change in the U.S. and even though he may not support all of Trump’s change, he feels it is a sign that the political system will change. He is excited for the possibility that Trump is looking to “clean up Washington” and doesn’t believe Trump has lost all of his support.
Shyamsunder also feels that because Clinton has had positions of power before, she will not look to change the system that she has benefited from.
“With Hillary she will use the establishment… she will look to continue the status quo and keep things as such,” Shyamsunder said.
Other international students are completely against Trump becoming president.
“I don't feel represented at all,” said Rudy Hammoud, an undecided sophomore who came to the U.S. from Lebanon with his family in 2006.
Hammoud is not an international student but is still unable to vote in the upcoming election because he isn’t a U.S. citizen. He is still shocked at what the election has become.
Hammoud said he’s seen a lot of “Islamophobia” coming from candidates. He cited Marco Rubio’s comments on Israelis and Palestinians as one of the more striking quotes and believes the comments are an accusation that all Palestinians were terrorist.
What shocked Hammoud the most about this election is how many supporters Trump has after his more polarizing statements.
“Man, it knocks you back a little bit. I really did not expect that here. It just makes me a little nervous, I thought most Americans were different. They probably are, it is just surprising to see such a big minority. I thought it was just 1 percent, but it is much larger than that,” Hammoud said.
Even though he was born in Lebanon, he can’t picture living anywhere else besides the U.S. Hammoud even once tried to join the Navy, but after a lingering shoulder injury began, he put that ambition to rest.
Now Hammoud is hoping that Clinton is elected, but he is not enthused about the choice.
“I would pick Hillary… But for a majority of Arabs, we don't really like her track record with her actions and words toward Arabs,” Hammoud said. “Like Hillary voted for the Iraq war, then called it a business opportunity later. As an Arab I don't know how I feel about someone who considered the Iraq war a business opportunity. It is one of those things you can't forget.”
None of these students will be able to vote in this upcoming election even though their lives are impacted by the results. These students are left to wonder what will become of their time in the U.S. The only one who will most likely get to vote in any U.S. election soon is Hammoud.
“Even in Lebanon you don’t vote for the president, the parliament does,” Hammond said. “I can’t wait to vote, because there are a lot of things that concern me that I would like to have a say in.”
Thomas Zafonte is a sports staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org