On Monday, campus was abuzz with activity as a Division of Public Safety notice warned students and faculty of a threat of violence. The threat, which was posted anonymously on the social media site 4chan, warned, “a fellow robot will take up arms against a university near Philadelphia" at 2 p.m. Eastern Time.
While the threat was the talk of campus that day, more than 7,000 miles away, College junior David Scollan had barely heard anything about it.
“I saw my one email from Penn DPS this morning about it, but that’s it,” Scollan told me through Facebook — one of his only methods of communication while he is in Tanzania this semester. “I thought it was just another run-of-the-mill Penn alert email. Is it serious?”
Finding news in a disconnected place
Scollan’s disconnect from the current events of campus is not just limited to the Penn alerts and advisories. While he prides himself as being “glued to the news” while on campus, he told me excitedly that even having Wi-Fi was considered a luxury for him now.
“I don’t have wifi through my school,” he said, explaining instead that he has an “internet dongle,” which he can load with data whenever he wants to access the internet. “It’s unreliable and slow because the cell service infrastructure is still being worked out here.”
He told me that if he’s remembered to load his dongle with money, he usually gets to check the news once every few days, and he says he has managed to keep up with most “broad themes” of current events since he left.
“I’ve gotten to watch the BBC a few times to catch up on Greek-EU debt negotiation and the refugee crisis, but that’s the only TV I’ve had for two months,” he wrote.
For Scollan, it isn’t impossible to stay up to date with the news, but it does prove more challenging and time-consuming. “If the internet is working, I can get an article or two in at a time,” he explained. “At home I could read for a while or watch a whole newscast, so I think really it’s just that here it takes so much longer to put everything together."
As far as actual news websites, Scollan said he reads The New York Times “because, for some reason, it loads the fastest!”
Aside from the Times, Scollan said that he has actually gotten some of his news from Facebook, including hearing about the school shooting that took place at Umpqua Community College in Oregon last week.
But while keeping up with American news has been a challenge for Scollan, his semester in Tanzania has given him greater access to events and stories that don’t usually make international headlines.
“These past two months have really shattered my perceptions of what stability in what 'stable' African countries looks like,” he explained. “Tanzania is held up as an example of stability in the region, but they have elections at the end of the month, and there have been violent protests in other place in the country and the army has been out as a show of force,” he said.
“We were in the market the other day and saw a big truck filled with opposition party members drive up to the police station and then the police were pushing them out and beating people with batons into the police station,” he told me.
While Scollan’s struggles with an internet connection are more unique, his experience of seeing a different perspective on the news while abroad is a common theme.
Different countries, different perspectives
College junior Avi Colonomos is in Budapest, Hungary this semester, and he similarly said that finding American news sources is challenging, describing people in Budapest as only “distantly conscious of happenings in the U.S.”
For Colonomos, while the Syrian refugee crisis has been a notable discussion point in recent weeks in both the United States and Hungary, he has noticed different perspectives on it in Hungary than he has seen from American sources.
“The perception in the United States seems to be that because the refugees come from conflict zones that they’re dangerous or a threat to security in central Europe,” he said. “The opposition to take in refugees specifically among central Europeans has little or nothing to do with security, but — at least for Hungarians — the fear is an erosion of local culture,” he explained.
“The rhetoric revolves around protecting ‘European values’ more than security issues,” he added.
Colonomos isn’t the only one who has noticed a different bias in news coverage abroad.
College senior and former Daily Pennsylvanian City News Editor Harry Cooperman spent last semester in Paris. Just four days after Cooperman arrived in Paris, several terrorist attacks took place, the most notable one at the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing 11 people.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Cooperman remembered seeing floods of posts from both French and American news sources about the shooting and the publication. American sources, Cooperman noted, seemed to focus much more on the merits or morality of Charlie Hebdo’s publications.
“A lot of the stories from the U.S. seemed to focus on a lot of what Charlie Hebdo had said in the past,” he explained. The satirical paper, which comes out once a week, is known for often attacking religious and political groups through articles and political cartoons.
“From the U.S. perspective, there seemed to be a lot of people saying ‘what happened was of course shocking and terrible, but the things they’re printing are also not okay,’” Cooperman remembered. “In France though, everyone was just shocked. There was not really a questioning of what they were writing — at least not in mainstream media — and everyone was kind of united in shock and the belief of freedom of expression.”
Cooperman also noticed that French and European media cover current events in other parts of the world, particularly Africa, much more than American media. The coverage he was exposed to, he said, gave him a greater appreciation for the things that happen outside the arena of the world stage.
“I knew Boko Haram was terrible before I got to France,” Cooperman said, “but the U.S. just doesn’t cover it.”
“Details of attacks and slaughterings of hundreds of people were in Le Monde all the time, and I hardly ever saw anything make it into an American publication,” Cooperman said, referencing one of the most prominent daily newspapers in France.
While Cooperman remembered hearing a lot about international news while in France, he said that it was harder to feel connected to what was happening in the U.S.
“It wasn’t necessarily difficult to hear about most of what was going on, but it became harder to feel connected to it because the problems people were feeling and experiencing in France were so different,” Cooperman said. France was worrying about immigration reform and the version of the PATRIOT Act that had been proposed, while the U.S. was so focused on things like race relations and police shootings, he explained.
“I was still connected to everything, but I wasn’t living it,” he said.
While Scollan has an arguably more difficult time staying connected, he has managed to do so with “creativity and some extra work.” He explained that with things like the internet, it makes it easy to stay connected to campus. “I think that the internet is super empowering and the fact that I can be 7,000 miles from home in rural Tanzania and talk to people like normal is great,” he said.
Like Cooperman, though, Scollan said that his exposure to so many stories that wouldn’t make American headlines has given him a greater appreciation. “I think it just confirms that at home the news spends a lot of time worrying about which Kardashian is doing what," he said. "But little to no time is given to real non-western problems in the world."
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