Sunday, November 16, 2008

Global perspectives on the U.S. Election

Every Monday students, faculty and staff gather at the LRWC (Language Resource and Writing Center) of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and McCormick Theological Seminary for Global Conversations, which are lunch conversations where students share various international perspectives. Last Monday about a dozen students from all over the world shared their perspectives on the recent election in the United States. Here is a summary of the discussion:

A student from Sudan shared the hope from his country and an e-mail from a Kenyan friend of his, who shared about the pride felt in Kenya because of Obama's Kenyan roots.

A student from Indonesia shared about the pride Indonesians felt, since Obama lived in Indonesia for part of his youth.

A student from El Salvador shared his hope for U.S. relations with El Salvador, and in the struggle to close the School Of the Americas.

A student from Colombia was hopeful that there would be a concern for human rights reflected in the U.S. Policy with Colombia, particularly in the free trade agreement.

A student from Palestine addressed the concern of the Palestinians that the new U.S. President would reflect the same position about Palestine. She shared that many in Israel preferred McCain, and that they are wary of Obama's approach to diplomacy.

We heard from two Indian students that in India there are many who are happy and celebrated Obama's victory, particularly because of the opportunity for someone from an oppressed group to lead the country. We also heard that there are some in India that would like some of the current policies with India to remain the same.

In Nigeria there were great celebrations and gatherings all over the country, a Nigerian student noted, particularly because Obama shares their African heritage. He also noted that Nigeria, with their tribal prejudices, has something to learn from the election of an African American candidate in the U.S.

Then we heard from a student from Russia, who said that Russians were suspicious of the hard-line rhetoric they were hearing from McCain, and saw him as representing an older generation, that of the Cold War. To many Russians, she said, Obama represents the same generation as Putin, a new generation. In general, Russians are naturally pessimistic, she said, but there is hope as well.

We heard from a student from South Korea, who sees a sense of hope in her country. She expressed hope for North Korean relations. She also is hopeful that the U.S. Empire could be more of a human empire. Perhaps there can be a change with those (in Korea) who see the U.S. With an image of a white face.

A student from Turkey says that generally she doesn't feel that the U.S. Cares about what happens in Turkey. She sees hope in Turkey to renegotiate, that Obama won't have cold blood in his relationship.

Overall, the conversation was very informative and insightful. It was a reminder of how the election in the U.S. has an impact in the entire world. There were at times feelings of skepticism, particularly due to the U.S. government's past actions that have scarred international relations and have violated human rights. However, from all of the students there, I heard the word “hope.” The sense of hope was resounding in Obama's message of a new direction, his heritage and understanding of the world, and his diplomatic approach. As we face many serious challenges in the world at this time in history, it was refreshing to hear so much hope.

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