International students in election action

Obama fever is severe on the Macalester campus during election time. Numerous students are involved in door knocking, phone calling and organizing events. The race between American presidents is the event of the year here in Minnesota, but it affects people across the world. So it is not surprising that international students too get involved in the action. The Global Ambassadors asked two international students about their campaigning endeavors.

Erin Newton (Turkey/USA) has always had a fascination for American electoral politics. “The last election I skipped all of my classes just to watch Obama’s acceptance speech. It was incredibly exciting.” Erin started volunteering as a freshman in 2010, but became particularly involved as an intern for Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison. “It was a phenomenal life experience. If you work on a campaign in a presidential election year, the pace is breathtaking.” Ellison was an inspiration to Erin. “There are always some things that are not so great about politicians, but I had very few disagreements with Keith’s work. He was also incredibly personal. He is very connected with all his workers. When he was meeting some supporters from Turkey he remembered that I am Turkish American and introduced me to them.”

Annie Gurvis (Canada) has been involved in political campaigns in Canada. Back home, she worked for a municipal candidate in Vancouver. On that campaign, she was the only person under eighteen. At the time that was part of her motivation: she wanted to be able to make a difference despite not being able to vote. Ever since she has been involved in different campaigns. “I’m involved in the Obama campaign because I line up with his message. I’m very interested in community organizing and helping people have their voice heard, and having people empower themselves to make changes to the quality of their own life.”

The two have found working on American elections an enriching experience, even simply because they have such far-reaching consequences. Erin can personally feel the impact of American politics back home in Turkey. “Obama has significantly changed Turkish American relationships. During rougher periods under George Bush it was hard to be an American in Turkey. When people would ask me whether I was German, I would simply not correct them because I was embarrassed for being an American. Under Obama this has improved. That’s why I cared about the campaign so deeply: because the outcome makes a profound impact on my own daily life.”

Annie sees some big differences between American and Canadian politics. “In the United States the elections are much more exciting than in Canada. The American elections are a spectacle. I think this excitement is both positive and negative. People are definitely interested in politics around the election time. On the other hand, this interest then fades when the elections are over.”

Asking the two whether it is easy for international students to participate in the elections, they reply positively. “Absolutely,” says Erin, “it is as easy as getting involved in anything. If you don’t want to engage, you don’t find it. But if you want to get out there, you easily can. I had a phenomenal life experience.”

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