International students experience U.S politics, election

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – A cohort of students from the Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) recently visited the School of International Affairs (SIA) in the days leading up to and including Election Day as part of the Global Reporting program at SISU. The group of over 25 students included primarily undergraduate juniors and seniors studying international relations, journalism, and a variety of languages, as well as three high school students, also from China, interested in international relations and politics.

The students began their trip to the U.S. on Oct. 28 in Washington, D.C., where they saw the national monuments, interviewed veterans, and visited CCTV America, a Chinese state-affiliated broadcast station. On Nov. 4, they arrived in University Park, and spent a few days at the College of Communications, preparing for Election Day and listening in on journalism and communications classes. They were also able to interview Communications Professor Rush Eshleman, a former state political writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Once at SIA, the students attended Professor Flynt Leverett’s U.S. Policy in the Middle East class, and interviewed Professors Larry Backer and Dennis Jett. Topics of discussion included economic globalization, as well as the Chinese Constitution and economic system, and the U.S. election and nuclear policy.

"It is very impressive that the SIA professors’ perspectives are very enlightening, which stems from their thoughtful research,” said Bai Xueer, a junior majoring in broadcast journalism.

On Election Day, the group began their day at six different polling places in Centre County as they opened, hoping to catch the first voters of the day. They interviewed several voters to get various perspectives for the articles they are working on for their election coverage. Later in the day, SISU students and faculty from Shenzhen University were joined by SIA Director Scott Gartner for an open dialogue regarding the presidential election and the Penn State campus experience in general.

Several students posed thought-provoking questions to Gartner, including; “Do you think Russia and U.S. relations will improve after this election, or worsen?” “Will Americans start losing faith in their government based on these candidates?” “Will the international perception of America change based on the next president?”

Many in the group also noted the negative rhetoric in many of the political ads they had seen. Gartner answered each question, and emphasized how media can change perceptions. He charged them, as future communicators, to “report the powerful stories, but also recognize that they may not be the pattern, but perhaps the exception.” He also encouraged follow-through in anything they do.

“Being the best student is all about working hard,” he said. “It’s not always about being the smartest.”

The trip overall has been a life-changing one for several members of the group. Said Kaya Tang: “I’ve learned a lot about politics and international affairs. And walking the campus here is a very unique experience. It is totally different.”

The SISU Global Reporting Program began its partnership with Penn State in 2008, and continued it with the 2012 and 2014 elections. Several of the participants from those years have gone on to become anchors of Shanghai television stations, or to study journalism or international affairs at American universities, including SIA student Biyun Song, who is currently pursuing her Master of International Affairs.

“I think it is a great opportunity for these international students to learn more about the program by talking to students and professors, walking on the campus, and experiencing the culture,” said Song.

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