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The dangers of insularity

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

President Trump ran on a platform of nationalism, protectionism, and isolationism from both economic and social standpoints; his anti-immigration stances and his proposed pro-tariff policies are salient examples of Mr. Trump’s embodiment of the populist ideals that seem to have taken hold of the U.S. voting constituency. As citizens, it is of great difficulty to look outwards amidst a tumultuous political climate, where unexpected and unforeseen legislation and initiatives are gaining momentum with each day, prompting even the most well-versed and politically literate individuals to find themselves outpaced by rapid developments in their own nation. This propensity to become detached from the ongoing affairs of the world around us is heightened by the tone being set by one’s own national government, devaluing the significance of international relations and interactions between different states, causing individuals to feel that there is a diminished importance of being aware of what is occurring in foreign lands. The disengagement with the international system on both an individual, institutional, and governmental level is worrisome, as we become less attuned to trends that are affecting nations indiscriminately. Populism had begun to create ripples throughout the world in the years leading up to the past U.S. election; this is just one example of how sweeping movements can be traced and predicted, perhaps even staved off and prevented altogether, if we only open our eyes.

Now, populism is not intrinsically bad. Definitionally, populism describes a movement in which individuals collectively band together against a government or institution made of elites. This sounds rather familiar to the spark that can ignite meaningful and successful revolutions, if we contextualize a chain of events as such within the American Revolution, for one. However, what is concerning about populism is the effects it can bring with it, notably a diminishing of domestic institutions that traditionally check the power of executive branches of power and government, particularly those which promote democratic ideals and prevent a consolidation of power within an all-powerful leader. As we have seen in many European nations throughout history, the rise of populism has been accompanied by a weakening of individual liberties, rights, and freedoms. We are now seeing a growing influence of right-wing movements and parties in nations that have long been heralded as beacons of liberal democracy: Britain, Germany, France, and most recently the Netherlands. This development has a few important implications for us as conscious and engaged citizens. We first ought to concern ourselves with the wellbeing of individuals throughout the world, irrespective of the nature of their regime or the state of populism in their respective nations; however, if we are able to recognize what many experts now consider to be an evident trend of populism, we ought to educate ourselves and understand how to reform our political systems or our international order to ensure that the deleterious impacts of populism can be prevented from striking. In addition, we need to ensure that as a constituency, we are pressuring our government to remain engaged in the international system and abreast of the dynamic relationships between and within states that will inevitably impact the future of our world. Not only is this necessary to prevent conflict and promote peace, but such cooperation and collaboration between nations is also the only way in which ongoing and potential global crises, such as global warming and nuclear armament, can be combatted most effectively.

In the wake of Mr. Trump’s inauguration and initial actions in office, we have seen marches, walkouts, and protests on issues ranging from immigration to women’s rights. It has been both heartening and inspiring to take part in these movements and to witness my friends, peers, former teachers, relatives, and mentors engage in an impactful way to make a statement. I want to urge each of us, however, to engage with issues that may seem like they are striking less close to home, and remain observant and aware of what is occurring in nations near and far. It is harder to notice a detachment from the arena of international politics when so much is going wrong at home, but the threat of a disruption to the fabric of our international order can have potentially devastating consequences, the ramifications of which may be near impossible to alleviate upon being actualized. What is happening here with respect to a surge of populism is also happening in other countries; our institutions have so far served our democracy steadfastly, maintaining checks and balances and preventing an overreach of executive power when conflicting with constitutional values. This may not be the case for other democracies and nations in which institutions and governing bodies may fall prey to populism’s diminutive effects, à la Hungary.  Now is not the time to turn a blind eye to international affairs, nor is it the time to isolate ourselves from other nations and their affairs. We have a responsibility to hold our government accountable, not just on issues of domestic significance, but on the matters that impact the world around us.

Learning English goodly

in Columns/Opinions by

Learning English is hard. I really started trying to learn the language when I was in 8th grade. When I was growing up in China, I did not go to an international school, and, at the time, my English class was teaching basics of the language that native speakers probably learned in kindergarten. I wanted to learn more English to prepare for the admissions test of one of the top high schools in Shanghai, so that I could have a better chance of getting accepted. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but it was even harder than I thought. You see, I was not just bad at English; I was terrible at it. In retrospect, I can’t believe I even tried. I could barely follow what the teacher was saying in class, and he already gave up on me after I consistently ranked near the bottom of my class in every English exam. It also didn’t help that I didn’t like the teacher, since he wouldn’t allow me to join his soccer team.

If it weren’t for a TV show called “Friends,” I probably would’ve failed in my attempt. Thanks to China’s loose copyrights regulations, I watched the show every day. (I eventually watched all ten seasons 7 times by the time I graduated from middle school – that’s 616 hours, or 25 days, of “Friends.”) For those who are not familiar with the show, it is the story of six New Yorkers and their crazy adventures. (At one point, one of the characters was pregnant with her brother’s triplets.) Because of this show, I became enamored with what I thought was the American life – six close friends, sitting in a coffeehouse all day, telling sometimes risqué jokes, and living in the greatest city on Earth, with the company of each other. I thought to myself that one day, I’ll also live in America, have six American friends, and tell jokes and drink coffee everyday.

I didn’t realize at the time that there was one problem with this plan: it’s hard to tell jokes in English. If you don’t believe me, try telling jokes in Spanish or Arabic or whatever language you are currently learning. It’s also hard to understand jokes in English. I still have no idea why knock knock jokes are funny. These may seem like minor issues, but during my first year at Swarthmore, I had a very difficult time finding friends – after all, would you like a friend who can only nod awkwardly at something hilarious you say? In the end, of course, I learned to fake laugh.

But there is a more serious problem: no matter how perfect my accent is or how hard I try, learning the language does not mean fitting into the culture. People always assure me that I will eventually find my niche here, but I still don’t feel like I have. Fitting in a new community is not just an individual act. It requires acceptance on the part of the community members as well. Ask any recent Chinese immigrant, and he or she will tell you how hard it is to get accepted by “White people.” It is this dimension of “fitting in” where language plays a more insidious role.

One of the most enduring stereotypes of Chinese living in America is that we either don’t know how to speak English, or we talk with a funny accent. Hollywood reinforces such stereotypes by asking actors to exaggerate or fake a “Chinese” accent. Last year, one particularly racist news segment on Fox news made fun of several Chinese-American seniors who did not know how to speak English on national television, after asking their opinion on Trump and not getting any response. Just last week, when I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a security guard stopped me but refused to explain to me in English what was wrong, or that I forgot to check my bags, because she thought I was just another clueless Chinese tourist. Such stereotypes about immigrants and outsiders are often used to justify xenophobia or racism. According to Adam Cohen, the author of the book “Imbeciles,” supporters of eugenics and immigration restrictions in the early 20th century relied on intelligence tests that favored English speakers to show that immigrants from other countries were genetically and racially inferior to immigrants from England or Scotland. The testimony of one eugenicist in particular, Harry Laughlin, caused one Senator to warn that “[w]e are coming to a pitiful pass in this great country when it is unpopular to speak the English language, the American language.” It’s hard not to see the reflection of these ugly moments of history in contemporary politics.

Xenophobia, understood this way, cannot simply mean fear of foreigners. Laughlin thought the line between acceptable and unacceptable immigrants should be drawn on the basis of whether their racial types are “assimilable.” Again, “assimilable” meant speaking English and being Western European. This is, of course, nonsense. After all, can what he thought were biological features even be described as “assimilable?”  But, by giving his and other eugenicists’ prejudices the credence of a scientific theory, he justified what many Americans already thought was true: these outsiders did not appreciate their language and their culture, these outsiders would contaminate their culture and their blood. As historian Yuval Harari points out in his excellent book  “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” hierarchy is often maintained by a primitive fear of pollution, whether by things or by people. It’s telling that Laughlin calls the “racial qualities” or “hereditary traits” of immigrants the “sanitary feature” of these people.

Would the TV show “Friends” have been so successful if it had been one Asian guy and five white people? I’m not sure. But in the course of writing this essay, I have to confront my own bias as well. What made me think that having American friends is so important? Why couldn’t I just drink coffee with friends back home in a Chinese coffee house? Why did I try so hard to learn the language? I do not regret coming to Swarthmore, of course, but motivation matters.

We also need to rethink how familiarity with English is intricately connected with membership in different communities, i.e. studentship at Swarthmore, or citizenship. There are many “radical” suggestions that we can possibly implement to deal with this issue.

First, we should stop requiring international students to take the SAT. It is unreasonable to expect international students whose first language is not English to read or write as fast as native speakers do while still in high school.

Second, Swarthmore should de-emphasize the English language testing requirement for international students. Many Chinese students, for example, score higher than native speakers on the Test of English as a Foreign Language after spending money on private tutoring. Some minimum requirement is necessary, and for students interested in humanities and social science the requirement can be stricter.

Third, we must stop thinking that being able to speak English is normal. Many international students, for example, are offended by people who compliment their English. I worry that their attitude ignores the fact that being able to speak English is itself a kind of privilege in an English-speaking country.

Finally, this should go without saying, but we cannot mock people who have an accent or who speak broken English. A friend of mine at a well-known business school told me once that a group of second-generation Chinese-Americans mocked their professor’s accent behind his back. I hope this doesn’t happen at Swarthmore.

Coping with Trump’s presidency

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

We unlocked the door with our twisted imagination. Beyond it was a dimension with sounds, sights, and perspectives that we had never seen before it. Shadows descended upon our senses and judgment to nullify any real substance, and since November of last year we’ve been living in a 21st century Twilight Zone. Most people on this campus didn’t expect Trump to win the presidency. I was one of them; in my mind, I was convinced that the America that I knew growing up, despite its contentious and problematic history, always strove for progress and inclusion. The country wouldn’t, in the span of an election, voluntarily decide to go back to the America of the 1950s. Although in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was with the outcome. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia are the daughters of bigotry and hatred. They’ve been woven into the fabric of America since its tortured beginning. I knew this already, so I don’t understand why I’ve been so infuriated by Trump’s presidency.

It’s been about two-and-a-half weeks since his inauguration, but each day feels like an eternity. Each day he (or maybe Steve Bannon at this point) declares a new executive order from his little box of horrors. From reinstating the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines to instructing federal agencies to weaken Obamacare, he’s already shown complete disregard for the communities that are most vulnerable. Since his inauguration, he’s signed more than twenty executive actions. While he’s been busy turning D.C. on its head, I’ve been trying to ignore him but to no avail. Whether it be on TV or on the internet, I’m frequently stressed out as the consequences of his actions loom over me like the clouds did the day after he won the election.

With the prospect of declaring my major relatively soon, applying for research and study abroad opportunities, and dealing with back-to-back 8:30 classes for a heavy course load, Swarthmore has been difficult for me. Maintaining mental health takes just as much work as maintaining physical health and the last thing I needed was to get enraged over something which I have no control over. There’s a limit to how much you can react angrily on Facebook. Besides, at this point nothing that he says or does really surprises me.

That changed about a week ago when I20 hosted the Immigration Panel Discussion regarding the possible repercussions as a result of his executive orders changing the H1B/H1B1/work visa programs. As a natural-born citizen, I was privileged about not having to worry about this, so I didn’t go to the Immigration Panel Discussion. In retrospect, I’m ashamed that I didn’t go since shortly afterwards I realized for every problem that didn’t directly affect me, it would affect someone I knew. He/She/They would have to carry that burden with them, only for the cycle of fear and anxiety to repeat itself each day. There’s a difference between dedicating time to yourself and being selfish, and I’ve erred on the wrong side for too long.

Of course, Swatties already know about the multiple ways to resist Trump’s fascism: protest, call your senators, donate to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, etc. and yes those are all wonderful courses of action to take. However, there’s something else that I want to suggest for those who are currently afraid of our increasingly uncertain future.

I asked a good friend of mine how he was going to live through Trump’s presidency and his response stunned me. Even though he firmly believes everyone should have and should continue to fight for equal rights, we can’t expect to live the same life as those with privilege do and we have to reconcile with that. My grandparents who witnessed the Civil Rights Movement believed that one day we’d live in a more equitable and just society. They carried that hope with them until they passed away, gave that same hope to my parents who in turn passed it on to me. Whenever all feels lost, through this hope I find the strength to persevere. Hopefully, someday my future children and grandchildren can find the same solace. Regardless for now, I suggest that there are two actions you should perform:

Find Joy. It doesn’t matter how but this is important. Whether it be through your friends and family or socializing, making it a priority to find joy in your life is one of the greatest acts of self-love that you can do for yourself.

Be content in who you are and live your life. No matter what Trump does, he can’t determine how far you go or the dreams you make for yourself. The fact that you exist and there can be no other human being like you is proof of your uniqueness. Just by doing what you already do on a daily basis is the ultimate form of resistance and signals how powerful and indomitable you already are.

The next four years will be difficult for sure, but that doesn’t mean your life has to be made any worse. Whatever you decide to do, I hope that you can find your own peace and happiness.

Number of international freshman increases

in News by

Incoming freshman Shruti Pal’s reasons for choosing Swarthmore College are similar to those of many Swatties.

“I heard about Swarthmore through some school friends who had applied in the years before me, and so I visited Swarthmore last summer along with several other colleges I had shortlisted,” Pal said. “Swarthmore just had it all. Perfect location, beautiful campus, reputable academics, small class sizes, and interesting traditions.”

Thousands of students visit and apply to Swarthmore every year because of these same defining features. Pal, however, had to travel over 9,000 miles from Singapore to Swarthmore.

Journeys such as Pal’s are not uncommon — indeed, less uncommon than ever. Pal enters Swarthmore as part of the largest international student population in the college’s history. The class of 2018 has 51 international students coming from 25 different countries, along with 35 dual citizens and permanent residents.

“Typically, about 8 percent of the class are non-U.S. citizens, not including dual citizens and permanent residents,” Dean of Admissions Jim Bock ’90 said. “This year, we’re at 13 percent. That was a big jump, unexpectedly.”

While this year’s spike in international student representation seems to be acute, foreign students have been populating American colleges and universities at a steadily increasing rate for several decades. According to the National Center for Education Statistics — the statistics service for the Department of Education — the total number of international students has risen 1.6 percent over the past 21 years. “The U.S. for education is still considered the gold standard, so we are seeing more people apply,” Bock said.

Bock attributes several factors to the increased international students population at Swarthmore. A simple explanation is the overall rise in class size, from 389 in 2013 to 407 in 2014. Growing class size and enhancing campus diversity are central tenets of the college’s long-term Strategic Plan of 2011.

One significant explanation was not entirely within the college’s control. Between the 2013 and 2014 application cycles, Swarthmore admitted approximately the same number of non-U.S. citizens, but nearly 30 percent more of the admittees chose to attend Swarthmore.

“Part of that is our outreach,” Bock noted. “We’ve started to recruit more internationally and have spent more time abroad.” He included university rankings as a potential selling point on the global stage.

“To our advantage, Swarthmore does pretty well in a lot of the rankings, so we think we’ve seen some increased interest there,” he said.

Swarthmore certainly lacks the overseas branding advantage that Ivy League schools attract. “Most Italians haven’t even heard of Swarthmore,” Jasmine Anouna ’18 said. “It’s not because they are not interested in going to one of America’s best liberal arts colleges, but because when an Italian student does come to the U.S., they’re simply focused on what other Italians consider the “name-drop schools” like Harvard or Yale.”

But incoming foreign students agreed that Internet research and ranking lists were particularly useful in choosing to attend the school.

“I believe the growth in the number of international students is thanks to the wide range of resources on the Internet that allow any student in the world to conduct thorough research on American colleges,” Anouna said.

Another Singaporean, Damien Ding ’18, agreed that he first discovered Swarthmore through such resources. Rares Mosneanu ’18 of Romania admitted that he “discovered Swarthmore by accident: searching for the Best Liberal Arts Colleges in America list.”

Bock also sees certain cultural trends playing out across the world that make America an attractive place to receive a degree. He believes that in overcrowded nations, such as China, the competition for entry to the elite universities is so stiff that many well-qualified students are forced to seek alternatives. The dean has also found that, from country to country, there is “a growing appreciation for the resident liberal arts education.”

At many colleges and universities in the U.S., foreign students are barred from receiving institutional aid, a problem further compounded by their inability to receive federal financial aid. Swarthmore’s policy of offering financial aid to international students is relatively unique; in fact, the average grant for non-U.S. citizens is several thousand dollars higher than the average grant for domestic students, mainly because U.S. citizens are supplemented with federal aid.

Swarthmore’s need-blind policy for students — admitting without regard for ability to pay — only extends to American citizens, so it is possible that the school’s budget for international financial aid would be unable to meet the needs of all foreign admits. According to Bock, this has never been an issue: “Our policy allows us to spend what we need to spend,” he stated.

Bock said there were benefits to being able to admit and, more importantly, pay for students of all backgrounds and origins. “Our population is diverse, socioeconomically and internationally, as opposed to some other schools where everyone is full-pay,” Bock said. “It adds to the diversity, the breadth of campus.”

For international students such as Mosneanu, Swarthmore’s outreach and aid policy as well as its enhanced push for diversity, means that they have a greater opportunity to enjoy all of the positive assets that the college brings to the table. “I think that this decision to increase our presence will only improve both Swarthmore’s prestige worldwide and its reputation as an environment where diversity is really important,” Mosneanu said. “Although I [previously] did not know anything about [the college], I really feel that I found the right place to spend the best four years of my life.”

Dear Nehmat: Advice to International Students

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

Dear international freshmen,

I know that you have been assaulted with information and advice in the last week or so, and your brains are not processing much anymore. So while you wrap your head around the new-ness of it all, let me do my bit and add to this mess of information and advice.

When I was applying to colleges as a senior in high school, I spent all my time thinking about how to get into a college of my choice, and very little time on what living at college would be like. Looking back, here are the things I wish I’d known when I was an international freshman last year.

Every time you meet a new person, they will want to know all about where you’re from and talk about the two or three issues that they associate with your country. You will become a spokesperson for your country. After a year here, I have a well-prepared and well-honed speech about the caste system and male privilege in India. And I’m thinking about adding a little rant against the declining Rupee.

If you’re like me and embody the social equivalent of a silent coat rack, then being an international student solves the problem of Making Small Talk. If you actually like meeting new people, then this is a great way to draw others into conversation. Either way, answering the same questions gets old quickly, and you may start to feel as if people are only interested in where you’re from and not you as an individual. Accept that some people may never progress beyond asking about your country rather than you, but others will take the time to be interested in you as a person and they will be the most wonderful friends ever.

Learn to cook the food of your people, even if you don’t plan to cook for yourself at Swat. You will eventually end up in a situation where someone (friend’s family or employer for the summer, or both in my case) asks you to cook for them and you find yourself saying, “Absolutely!” when you really should have said, “I don’t really know how to cook.” Avoid the harrowing process of frantically Skype-ing your mother and deciphering recipes on the Internet, while praying that it works out and learn the next time you’re home. Alternately, you could improvise and hope that the people you’re serving don’t know much about your cuisine.

This informal representation of your country can also turn into a troublesome experience if something newsworthy (good or bad) happens back home and suddenly everyone wants to ask you for your take on such events. Anushka Mehta ’15, from Cairo, has written about her experience answering questions about Egypt, even though she wasn’t present for the revolution. It can be challenging to navigate not actually being present for the events back home but still having to answer questions about them. Things like these can also lead to the sudden realization of just how far away you are from home.

This brings us to homesickness. In the words of i20 President, Stephanie Kestelman ’16, “It is okay to be homesick.” Homesickness doesn’t just have to be about missing your family or cuisine, though I dream about a perfect cup of “chai” when I’m stressed out. It can mean missing speaking in multiple languages at once, the sounds of chaotic city life, or music from back home. I listen to more Bollywood now than I ever did when I was in India.  Homesickness can also be struggling with your changing identity at college and craving the familiarity that defined ‘home’ for you. At times like these, find a friend and talk about it, Skype the fam, hug people. Drink chai. Don’t call it “chai tea”.

Speaking of changing identity, one of the most important changes in my life has been incorporating “race” into my identity. Growing up in an environment where everyone was varying shades of brown, and in a comfortably wealthy home, I never really stopped to think about how the color of my skin could impact my life, and had never had my privilege challenged. But the occasional discomfort of going through security checks at airports, encountering racial stereotyping in social situations and sometimes being the only colored person in a room has brought home the existence of race. Conversely, sometimes people I meet will assume I have experienced life as a minority, but the truth is that my race had little influence in my life growing up, and I have no right to speak as a member of a minority group.

Your big discovery may not be the same as mine, but prepare to have your ideas of the world challenged. It may be recognizing the differences between what “poverty” means in your country and what it means in America, it may be about discovering the role of gender in your life back home and here, or it may be something entirely different. But work through the changes, talk to different people about their experiences, and recognize that it can take time to settle into a new place.

This is my little addition to all the information you already have. It can be thrilling as well as disconcerting to be in an entirely new place and it is perfectly alright to feel a little lost. And if you’ve already survived all the paperwork involved in International Orientation, you’re good to go.

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