As a U.S. citizen, I understand the allure of the hotly contested upcoming presidential election that will decide whether President Donald Trump stays in the position. It can be easy to get caught up in the commotion of town halls and debates, but there are elections abroad that students could turn their attention to as well.
I often feel that time and time again, I am a representative of my home country of India and need to explain political affairs to my peers. If students took the time to understand India’s political affairs, I could better relate to my classmates because we could talk about more than the U.S. election.
GW has a large and growing international student population, but the politics of each students’ home country often takes a backseat to U.S. news. To better connect with their international peers and become more culturally aware, domestic students should take a step back from U.S. politics and pay attention to elections around the world.
India, my home country, is currently going through an election to determine which political party will control the government. The election is held between the right-wing nationalist party of the current prime minister – the Bharatiya Janata Party – and the more liberal Indian National Congress Party.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has announced that it wishes to remove those who are not Hindus or Buddhists from the country despite India being a secular country. I am not a Muslim, but I have friends back home who are. To hear that the party the incumbent prime minister belongs to wants to implement these policies is horrifying, but I cannot express those concerns to U.S. students who do not follow the election.
I have begun conversations about the Indian election with several students, but none of them have understood the gravity of the situation because they do not follow Indian news. Students are often willing to listen to me while I explain the situation, but we could move into a more productive discourse if my peers were already following along.
When the United States holds an election, the rest of the world watches. I remember my family and I paying close attention to the 2016 election because it was a news spectacle around the world. But Americans do not always do the same when hotly contested elections are happening around the globe.
Students who are concerned with Trump’s rhetoric should also be concerned with the Indian election because the candidates mirror anti-Muslim rhetoric. Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, is running for re-election on a platform that targets those who are not Hindu, which could move the country further away from secularism. Many of Trump’s policies, like the Muslim ban, target minorities and send a message of Islamophobia to Muslims across the world.
There have already been elections in countries like Nigeria, Senegal, Egypt and 20 other countries this year, and there are elections in Israel, Argentina and 50 other countries in the upcoming months. These elections provide direct insight into the politics of different countries where international students are from and can teach domestic students about different political realms.
If students want to connect with their international peers, they should be cognizant of politics around the world. In doing so, international students may feel more at home because their domestic peers can have an informed discourse about politics in their country. I often feel more comfortable talking with someone who understands the current events in my culture because it demonstrates that they are culturally aware.
By reading international news and engaging in conversations with international student peers, students will learn more about the events happening in the homes of their international student peers. My experience at GW would be more meaningful if my friends from outside India paid attention to the elections in my home country and actively tried to learn more about my culture.
Ashwath Narayanan, a freshman majoring in political science and journalism, is a writer.