Trump pres­i­dency has no ef­fect on hope­ful Chi­nese stu­dents

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Ryan Thorpe

In Novem­ber, the day af­ter Don­ald Trump was elected pres­i­dent of the US, I was not sure what to say when I ar­rived at the class I teach for a joint Chi­nese-Amer­i­can univer­sity here in Shang­hai. The stu­dents there all work hard in the hopes of gain­ing ad­mis­sion to Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties, but I knew many of them had reser­va­tions about the new pres­i­dent-elect.

They asked me many ques­tions at the start of class that day, but I didn’t have all the an­swers. They wanted to know if Chi­nese stu­dents could still travel to the US. They wanted to know if racism had re­turned to the US. They wanted to know how all the ex­pert po­lit­i­cal pre­dic­tions had been so wrong. I mostly told them to wait and see how it would play out. No­body back then knew what a Trump pres­i­dency was go­ing to look like.

When Betsy DeVos was named the new Secretary of Ed­u­ca­tion un­der Trump, sev­eral of my stu­dents ques­tioned how her con­tro­ver­sial ap­point­ment might af­fect their chances of ob­tain­ing a visa to study in the US. Clearly they were more wor­ried about their own fu­tures than Amer­ica’s. One stu­dent even fash­ioned him­self into the ul­ti­mate Trump sup­porter, per­haps think­ing he’d be guar­an­teed a visa, but he quit af­ter just two weeks. He said that it was too much work de­fend­ing Trump on a daily ba­sis.

This spring, af­ter many of my stu­dents found them­selves ac­cepted into ma­jor Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties, they did not hes­i­tate to sign on the dot­ted line of their ac­cep­tance forms. The same stu­dents who were vis­i­bly pet­ri­fied of Trump’s new Amer­ica just a few months ago were now ea­gerly pack­ing their bags to move there.

One stu­dent doubted that Trump would ac­tu­ally in­flu­ence his fu­ture. “Trump is a wise busi­ness­man, he knows that Chi­nese stu­dents need Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties, and the uni­ver­si­ties need those stu­dents as well. I think he will be wise enough to keep it a win-win sit­u­a­tion.” Other stu­dents re­acted rather strongly against Trump’s mes­sage even af­ter learn­ing about their ac­cep­tance into Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties. “I feel his ha­tred of Chi­nese peo­ple,” a stu­dent told me. “But if I am good enough, then noth­ing can af­fect me.”

A stu­dent con­fessed to me that he wanted to study in the US, but he would leave as soon as he grad­u­ated, “be­cause of Trump.” But an­other of my stu­dents sees Trump less as a pres­i­dent and more of an en­ter­tainer. “[He’s] just some en­ter­tain­ment un­til he does some­thing un­be­liev­able to the world.” The stu­dent chose not to say what that some­thing might be, but I un­der­stood the gen­eral idea of what he was try­ing to say.

I asked what it would take for them to not study in the US in the first place. The ques­tion hit a wall of si­lence as they stared at one an­other for moral sup­port. “An act of God,” one said. “Noth­ing will stop me,” an­other stated. For them, the prom­ise of a “real Amer­i­can ed­u­ca­tion” was so great that the idea of not go­ing sim­ply failed to reg­is­ter. They were go­ing to go there and achieve great things: pro­gram new ap­pli­ca­tions, build gi­ant bridges and fix the prob­lems emerg­ing for their gen­er­a­tion. Trump is only one man, and while many of his com­ments about China cre­ate anx­i­ety among Chi­nese stu­dents, it will take more than some mean-spir­ited tweets to stop them from find­ing the best ed­u­ca­tion avail­able. They’re go­ing for the prom­ise of a bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion, a bet­ter job, a bet­ter fu­ture.

The de­sire to study abroad starts young in China. An ele­men­tary school girl hops down the stairs in my build­ing each morn­ing recit­ing a let­ter of the English al­pha­bet on each step. “Why do you want her to study in the US?” I asked her mother one day. “Be­cause,” she said. I waited for her to say some­thing else, but noth­ing came. For her, maybe the an­swer was so ob­vi­ous that it did not re­quire an ex­pla­na­tion. The idea of Amer­ica needs no words.

The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are the au­thor’s own and do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the views of the Global Times.

Il­lus­tra­tions: Chen Xia/GT

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