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U. Iowa International Students Watch Election With Interest

This story was written by Regina Zilbermints, The Daily Iowan

University of Iowa freshmen Yunshan Tao and Jingying Zhai arrived in the United States just in time to watch both major parties nominate their presidential candidates.

Though they had been hearing about the American election in China, neither knew many details.

Now they and more than 2,000 other UI international students must try to understand what graduate teaching assistant Gyorgy Toth described as "a fantastically intricate system."

Most of the international students on campus seem to be observing the election process rather than actively participating - just like him, he said.

He arrived in the United States seven years ago from Hungary and cannot vote in the upcoming election.

Still, he said he's "a fan, a nut, of American politics."

The UI has several programs to help international students familiarize themselves with the American political process. Earlier this month, the Office of International Students and Scholars hosted "Electing an American President," which taught students about voting and the election process.

And students from the International Crossroads Community, a learning community in Mayflower Hall, attended a dinner earlier this month in which UI political-science Associate Professor David Redlawsk answered questions about the election.

Students are also making individual efforts to keep track of the issues. Tao said he watches the news and talks to his roommates about the election.

Zhai also talks to her roommate, who is from Maryland, and recently drove to Grinnell College for a political event.

"They become ambassadors, explainers," Toth said. "They are forced to learn more about what's going on."

He said friends and family from their home countries will often ask about the election, particularly what candidate would be better for that country.

"Just like hopes and dreams are riveted on candidates in the U.S., hopes and dreams are riveted on the same candidates outside of the U.S." Toth said.

Both Tao and Zhai said they support Barack Obama.

But Toth said, despite having strong opinions, observing the election is all most will do.

Toth isn't aware of any visa limitations that would prevent students from volunteering, but some students may be concerned about repercussions if they align with a certain party.

But that doesn't diminish the importance of voting for many of those students.

"I think voting's a really big thing here. Everyone's talking about it," Zhai said.

People coming from abroad may have more of an appreciation for voting than people from the United States, Toth said.

"For my [U.S.] students, voting is the usual. It's not precious. It's not something people have lived and died for."