International students at Penn take different paths to vote

Some countries don’t allow citizens to vote from abroad

· October 10, 2012, 10:55 pm

Over the past few months, voter registration tables all over campus allowed most Penn students to easily register for their civic duty.

But for international students, registering to vote can be more complicated.

Because each country has different procedures for its citizens voting from abroad, some international students are not able to vote due to logistical or financial obstacles, according to Rudie Altamirano, director of the Office of International Programs’ International Students and Scholar Services.

He explained that some countries require their citizens to cast ballots at consulates in the United States, which sometimes requires voters to travel far distances.

According to OIP, Penn had a total of 5,296 international students in the last academic year, representing 136 countries.

Penn students from countries with upcoming elections are finding ways to stay involved.

Some are determined to make their voices heard at all costs. College sophomore Greta Mavica is an Italian citizen who lives in Moscow. She has already begun the process of registering to vote in Philadelphia for the Italian presidential election in May 2013.

If she weren’t allowed to register in Philadelphia, however, she would be willing to go to Moscow — where she is currently registered — just to vote. She added that she cares about the outcome of the elections, though it wouldn’t necessarily affect her life on a regular basis.

Bastien Lacassagne, a Wharton sophomore from France, tried to register in Philadelphia for the French presidential elections last April several months ahead of time, to no avail. “I could never reach the Honorary Consulate in Philadelphia,” he said.

When he returned to France over spring break, he signed off for his father to vote for him. If it weren’t for the trip, Lacassagne would not have been able to vote.

International students who aren’t able to cast votes from abroad are also finding other ways to stay politically active.

College junior Sofía Bernier is a student from Chile — a country that does not allow its citizens to vote from abroad. Bernier, the undergraduate chair of the International Student Advisory Board, said in an email that “staying informed about the political situation is essential to the formation of a political opinion, and the first step to becoming politically involved.”

Moreover, she added that today’s technology allows students to follow international politics closely.

Altamirano, who is from the Philippines and attended graduate school at the Michigan State University in the 1980s, cast his first vote only after becoming an American citizen. Though he never voted in a Philippines election, he had a say in Bill Clinton’s win over George H.W. Bush in the 1992 election.

Bernier added that being at Penn can incite further involvement in politics. “Living in the U.S. and being part of such a politically active campus like Penn has given me a different and unique perspective on political issues that recur across borders,” she said.

Other students become more attached to politics in their home country when they come to the United States.

After coming to Penn, Engineering senior Daesup Jang started following Korean politics more closely. “I feel a responsibility to connect back to Korea … I want to contribute back to my country.”

But Jang, who is submatriculated as an Engineering graduate student, also keeps up with American politics, because “I’m going to be living here as well for a good part of my life.”

Conversely, some students become less interested in American politics once they arrive.

“The excitement about America was more alight when I was abroad,” Mavica said, referring to Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Wharton junior and Korean citizen Changhyun Bahn was also a passionate supporter of Barack Obama when he lived in Korea — he applied for an internship with an Obama campaign office in 2007.

He was offered a position in Nevada, but did not go because the campaign required him to bring a car.

He remembers watching Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” speech at the Democratic National Convention as a high school student. “That’s one of the best speeches I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It inspired me a lot.”

Yet he did not find the time to watch the presidential debate last week due to an exam.

Mavica, who wishes electoral campaigns are more structured in Italy like they are in the United States, enjoyed watching the debates. “It’s sort of like a game, everything in America is based on competition.”

This article has been revised to indicate that Rudie Altamirano attended Michigan State University, not the University of Michigan.

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