The world is watching: International students react to Trump

Internationals provide unique perspectives on Washington’s new dynamic.

Sarah O’Carroll, Viking Fusion Reporter

Trump’s November win didn’t just surprise much of America. Champagne bottles were likely uncorked in Russia, while many Mexicans perhaps wished the world could fast-forward to 2020.

Berry’s international students similarly have a range of reactions to what has been a whirlwind of transition since the inauguration in January.

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Jess Smith, a senior biology student at the University of Birmingham in England, who studied for a year at Berry last year, said England’s fears about national security were only heightened when Trump won the U.S. presidency.   

“A lot of people are worried about safety with Trump in power, because he does seem ruthless,” said Smith, whose was interviewed before the terrorist attack in London on Wednesday. “Safety is an issue here, and this is exacerbated by Trump’s getting into power.”

Smith provided her interpretation just days before multiple arrests were made in Birmingham in connection with Wednesday’s London attack. The arrests came during a police raid on a house just a street away from where Smith now lives near the university.

Smith said protests sparked by the vote on Brexit last summer were similar to protests that occurred all over England following Trump’s election.

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Tilda Sander, who also studied for a year at Berry, said there isn’t a high level of trust in Trump in her home country of Sweden, where she is studying at the Stockholm School of Economics.

“The president of the U.S. should be a stable and sure leader, and he should be able to demonstrate his abilities when everyone else is freaking out, [but] I just don’t see him doing that,” Sander said. “It seems like he is the reason for the chaos.”

Clashes of religiosity vs. secularism

Smith said that one observation from studying abroad at Berry a year ago is that many students seemed to support Trump because of his professed association with Christianity, which she said she found confusing.

“I’ve seen a lot of people from the Berry community accept Trump because [they believe that] God put him in that position,” she said.

Because England is a more secular country than the United States, Smith said, many Brits find Trump’s use of religion as a framework for making decisions baffling at best.

“We’re not a very Christian country, or one that is based on any one religion, so when it comes to Trump banning things like abortion for the sake of Christianity, that’s really upsetting people [here,]” she said. “It conflicts with human rights.”

Implications for international business

Sander said actions such as Trump’s invention of a Swedish terrorist attack last February have evoked satiric responses on social media, but that there has also been a marked sense of fear, especially regarding how international business might be negatively affected. 

She said Trump’s promise to build a wall on the Mexico border, one that would cover 1,000 miles of land, was a prime example.

“What Swedes were concerned about is how [Trump’s presidency] will affect us,” said Sander, who studied at Berry during the 2014-15 academic school year. “Because the U.S. is such a major player, the president will influence the whole world. That’s where our concern is.”

Smith said the new administration’s position on climate change has also deeply troubled many in England, a country that she said strives to be environmentally friendly.

“It’s scary, coming from the scientific community when he’s taking away stuff like the [Environmental Protection Agency], and when he outright denies climate change,” she said. “We’re at a critical time when we need to change, and I feel like America, one of the biggest influences in the world, has taken a step back.”

Camila Moreno, Medellín, Columbia: “Trump has taken extreme decisions and has been feeding on people’s fears.”

Fears of decreasing tolerance

Another source of concern for internationals is Trump’s apparent antagonism towards and even targeting of certain cultures and religious groups both within and outside of the United States.

“Birmingham is really multicultural, where everyone is accepted, everyone gets on,” Smith said. “It’s not substantial if someone is Muslim, or if they’re Jewish, or whatever, so for Trump to single out just one religion is disgraceful.”

Sander said the recent growth of right-wing political parties in Europe, which she said the Trump administration has at least indirectly encouraged, has also made people uneasy. Many Swedes believe Trump continues to send the message that it is OK to be openly negative towards other cultures and immigrants,” she said.

“I think people are scared of this hatred,” Sander said.

Tyler Jagt, Toronto, Canada: “There’s a really big aversion to the States right now.”

Nicole Marcillac, Nice, France: “Trump lives in an entirely different world.”

Adversarial relationship with press

Vanessa Zimmerman Hafkemeyer, a native of Cologne, Germany, who graduated from Berry in 2009, said that many were shocked when Trump banned news organizations from press conferences in late February. 

“For a country that has the First Amendment . . . I am speechless,” said Hafkemeyer, who was a third-team All-American goalkeeper on Berry’s soccer’s team. “All of Germany is speechless.”

The Trump administration’s seeming disregard for what constitutes a “fact” is another reason why much of Europe has found Trump so problematic as a world leader, according to Tom Frost, a senior at the University of Birmingham in England.

“I think that’s what a lot of people can’t get their heads around – that a lot of the things he says and does are not evidence-based; they’re just based on his own opinions or the opinions of his cabinet,” he said.

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