Before deciding to major in political science at an American university, I knew I lacked background knowledge of general U.S. history and civics and that I would have to read about complex theories in my second language. As a Chinese international student, I was also concerned that I wouldn’t have the same political science experience as domestic students because my international student visa status keeps me out of some government internships and jobs. Despite these challenges, I still pursued political science because I knew it would help me understand American and global politics.
And even with the obstacles, I’m glad I am studying political science because I have learned more about the U.S. and applied that information to what I already know about China and other countries. Plus, I am able to bring a new perspective to class discussions.
More international students should take a U.S. politics course – regardless of their majors. Taking an American politics class forces international students to learn more about the country they’re studying in and allows them to learn more about the U.S. to share with their friends and family back home.
Since international students don’t have the same U.S. political party loyalty or identification as domestic students, we can objectively apply lessons from class when listening to ideas across the ideological spectrum. Even though politics is so polarized, people need to be able to take a step back and look at U.S. politics neutrally, which international students can do better than students who grew up in the U.S. And when international students share our insights with domestic students, our opinions can be a middle ground for conflicting viewpoints.
People all over the world focus on what’s happening in the U.S., and when international students go to their home countries, people want to know what it’s like in America’s capital. Some of my friends in China often ask me about U.S. politics and consider me a reliable source to answer their questions, because I can use what I learn in class to give them the U.S. political perspective. With this tacit responsibility in mind, I am more conscientious about class materials and try to fully digest readings.
Moreover, especially for students like me who don’t have a comprehensive democratic government system at home, understanding U.S. politics helps international students understand our own countries’ political systems. For students like me who don’t come from countries with democratic forms of government, we can assess other regimes and government systems more prudently.
When international students talk to their politics professors or peers, we should discuss examples from our own countries when American politics have affected foreign policies or public opinions. This could spark new discussions and perspectives for both international and domestic students. But these classes also give us the opportunity to question our own governments, become fully ingrained in U.S. political discussions and provide domestic students with new perspectives.
Plus, international students’ feedback will inspire U.S. politics professors to optimize their teaching to fit all types of students. My U.S. politics and government professor failed to empathize with the difficulties of international students before I told him there was a gap in background knowledge between myself and my domestic peers. But now my professor explains things that aren’t second-nature to international students – like debates surrounding the electoral college or the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties. Since I brought my international status to his attention, I feel more engaged in the class, and other international students should do the same.
American politics isn’t only a topic of interest for domestic students. People around the world care about political decisions made in the U.S., and international students should be more engaged in learning about the political system here to understand those decisions. International students should be supported and listened to in classes on American politics because we deserve to fully understand the U.S. government, and because we have unique perspectives to share.
Marx Wang, a freshman double-majoring in political science and philosophy, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.