Global political shift affects higher education abroad

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Ameena Golding/Staff

A little more than a year ago, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States — an event very few predicted would happen. Many Democrats and Republicans were left dumbfounded as they watched the results of the election roll in, state by state. Once it was clear that Trump would be the 45th president of the United States, people began to respond. There were many reactions to this election on campus, including the faculty’s assurance that they would protect the student community from any policy that Trump could pass that would threaten their well-being. Protest after protest on campus and in the Berkeley community ensued in the weeks after the election.

While many people were left questioning, “How could something like this happen?” the United States was not alone. This is a global phenomenon. The Freedom Party of Austria’s election of Norbert Hofer, the ELAM of Cyprus entering parliament for the first time, the election of Marine Le Pen to lead France’s National Front and the passage of Brexit in the United Kingdom all reflect the growth of strong right-wing nationalist parties. But the question that is perhaps most pertinent to college students is, “Are higher education institutions reacting to these events similarly?” And consequently, “Where can we study abroad if violence follows these movements?”

In theory, nationalism is not necessarily a partisan idea.

“Nationalism is an ideology which unites a set of people with a feeling of ‘we-ness’ and with a desire to be … (seeking) political autonomy,” said UC Berkeley political science professor Jack Citrin.

In theory, nationalism is not necessarily a partisan idea. Citrin explained that what can be considered one of the first nationalist movements was the American Revolution. Many secessionist campaigns, however, including Catalonia’s declaration of independence from Spain, do not fall into the category of the right-wing movements. But these worldwide movements do push for sovereignty and self-governance, and they oftentimes result in violence.

These political trends often mobilize latent feelings of hate.

“A nation wants to draw its own boundaries, not just geographic boundaries, but demographic boundaries,” Citrin said.  

This hate is then translated into action, namely violence. Violence comes in the form of riots, hate crimes and even terrorist attacks. According to a report by the United Kingdom’s Home Office, after the passage of the Brexit referendum, there was a recorded 41 percent increase in hate crimes in July 2016.

The most recent case of European nationalism can be seen in the vote for Catalonia’s independence from Spain. Catalonia’s independence referendum resulted in clashes between protesters and Spanish police in the streets of Barcelona.

People are attempting to control their own destinies by opposing the movement toward globalization.

“The Catalonia independence movement is obviously a movement of people who feel that their primary identity and identification is Catalan, not Spanish. … That’s when these kinds of secessionist movements arise,” Citrin explained.

People are attempting to control their own destinies by opposing the movement toward globalization. This is not only a movement geared toward secession, but it is also a movement that brings together a group of people with similar values and beliefs.

“I think that it’s also a cultural phenomenon, where people feel that their way of life and values are being challenged by change, by modernity and by immigration,” Citrin said.

Young people’s views, however, disproportionately differ. Often, students on college campuses are some of the first to voice their opposition to these movements. This brings into question whether or not the political culture that thrives on UC Berkeley’s campus is also present on campuses around the world.

Many UC Berkeley students decide to study abroad while they are in college. These political movements and the violence that often follows, however, makes it difficult to decide what program is the safest to choose.

“We do not send students to locations where it is ill-advised to travel. We rely on (U.S.) State Department advisories as our main source of information, but also other internationally recognized risk management organizations,” said UC Berkeley Study Abroad director Darin Menlove in an email.

The U.S. Department of State has issued a travel warning for Mexico City, and travel alerts for Barcelona, London, Geneva, Dublin, Madrid, Granada, Nice and many more cities.

As nationalist movements gain traction in different countries, students studying abroad face unexpected challenges in the form of political turmoil.

“Students may attend independent study-abroad programs (completely independent from UC Berkeley.) Most providers use good guidelines, similar to own, for determining risk. But if we were to learn about a student who has selected an independent program in a location that we ourselves would not want to be, then yes, we would strongly discourage the student, and likewise advise the student on better alternatives,” Menlove said in his email.

As nationalist movements gain traction in different countries, students studying abroad face unexpected challenges in the form of political turmoil.

“When the results (of the Brexit vote) came through, my Facebook newsfeed was flooded with posts from devastated friends in England, who saw the leave campaign as emblematic of xenophobia and ultimately destructive to the United Kingdom’s economy,” said campus senior Arie Pollock, who studied abroad in England.

Even as a visiting student from the United States, Pollock was thrown into the Oxford campus’s political culture. She shared in the fear and anxiety that many students felt as they watched the referendum for Brexit pass. Although the U.S. Department of State issued a travel alert for London after the ratification of the Brexit referendum, Pollock said she felt safe during her time there. On the other hand, Pollock expressed concern for her safety in the United States.

But higher educational institutions all over the world have remained dedicated to ensuring their students’ safety.

“The (University of Oxford) emailed us all after it happened, ensuring its commitment to protecting the students. It felt eerily similar to what happened at Berkeley after some of the political challenges we’ve experienced,” Pollock said.

Although political chaos continues to wrack the globe, intellectual development will not stagnate.

Contact Grace Vogel at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @grace_vogel1.