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International students weigh in

Nicole Michels | Tuesday, November 6, 2012


As America turns its focus inward for the upcoming presidential election, the rest of the world has its eyes trained on America. Notre Dame’s international community bridges the gap between national and international students, balancing values developed at home with priorities studied during a young adulthood spent abroad.

Senior Lucas de la Fuente, originally from Santiago, Chile, said the election issues are discussed differently within and outside of the United States.  

“During the debates they always talked about the role of the U.S. as the main power of the world, and how to maintain that image,” de la Fuente said.  “For me, that’s a totally conflicting point – maybe because I come from a smaller country, a foreign country with a totally conflicting approach: How do we improve ourselves while staying in dialogue with those around us? This is a huge shift, that the candidates took for granted in every speech.” 

Although he understands other segments of the Catholic Church disagree, de la Fuente said his experiences at his Holy Cross high school contributed to much of his political beliefs.

“For me it’s a logical position to be in favor of the socially disadvantaged, the discriminated, in whatever way,” de la Fuente said.  “That’s Catholicism – I understand people don’t think of it this way but that’s my approach to it.”
De la Fuente said the Chilean electorate expresses its opinions much more fiercely than its American counterpart.

“The student bodies [of the universities] are directly politicized, and on a college level way more leftist – with a political opinion beyond the university’s … students themselves are not as directly related with politics here,” de la Fuente said. 

Sophomore Martin Penovi Orjales said he has citizenship in the U.S., Italy and Argentina, but that the strongest political influences in his life originate from his home in Argentina.

Orjales said he is surprised by the strength of the two-party system within the United States.

“One thing that is extremely different is that here you only have two major political parties – any other party that springs up is eaten up and taken into the two bigger parties after two or three years,” Orjales said. “In Argentina it is very easy to start a political party … we have a lot of parties in Argentina, I don’t know the number.”

Orjales said hisvote was swayed by the action in each of the debates.

“One of the major issues that I noticed was that Obama seems to be more the kind of candidate who would be willing to step down from a lot of things, whereas Romney has been really hard to pinpoint. That’s one thing that bothered me,” Orjales said.  “In the first debate [Romney] absolutely dominated Obama, but then in the next debate Romney went back on a lot of things he said and Obama really took a step up … He really showed who he was in the second and third debates.”

Junior Wilm Kranz, originally from Wetter, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany and also a U.S. citizen, said his European upbringing has determined his political priorities.

“Oftentimes I’m stuck between the political theory of my home country and the political theory of the United States,” Kranz said.  “It’s something that I try to balance out – each has its advantages and disadvantages.”

Navigating between them is all about balance, Kranz said.  Kranz said his dual citizenship allows him to vote in both countries, and he would use his vote to encourage this balance.  

“I think in terms of conservatism, Germany has something to learn from America: I think I would vote for a more conservative agenda in Europe,” Kranz said.  “Even so, I would probably vote for a more liberal agenda in the United States.”

Junior Nan Lan, originally from Canton, Guangdong, China, said she has been most struck this election season by the different levels of political engagement in China and the United States.

“It’s actually election season in China right now, but we just don’t care,” Lan said. “We already knew who would be the next president of China five years ago.”

The definitions between different political ideologies are very different in the U.S. and China, Lan said.

“I went to a very liberal high school in China, but after I came here I realized that liberal in China means merely ‘Hey I talk about politics and I sometimes say I hate the Communist Party,'” Lan said.  “On one hand, we are all supposed to be Communists anyway, on the other hand, when everything is censored you don’t want to be too outspoken.”

Lan said American patriotism starkly contrasts with the sentiments of many Chinese.

“One thing I am really jealous of all you American folks here is how patriotic you are – I hate to say this, but I really cannot care less about politics in China,” Lan said.  “Now, I have realized this patriotism is largely due to democracy. When you feel you are a part of something, your point of view matters, you naturally feel the responsibility behind it, and this responsibility transforms to love.”