With this summer came many complex and, for many, confusing international events. Especially when most Americans have no personal connection to most parts of the globe we witness on the news, it can be difficult to maintain personal compassion and understanding for the nuance of each situation. It's much easier to understand when you hear from individuals in the first person. Of course, it's still important to recognize that people's backgrounds and childhood experiences inform their unique perspectives.
Yet, college is an exceptional opportunity to make personal the affairs of the world. Approximately three-quarters of a million international students study at universities in the United States. At my school, Princeton, about 10 percent of the students hail from about 100 countries around the world. So since I've returned to Princeton in September, I've compiled a list of what five international students, whose families still live in these countries, want you to know about what happened in their countries this summer. This list is neither complete nor exhaustive, but it's important. If you meet someone from Syria, or from the Ukraine, I would urge you to take the time to put down the news and hear his or her story.
Roberto D.N.--- Venezuela
"Price ceilings led to product shortages and rations, including for things like milk and toilet paper, so many of us have to wait in long lines to get basic goods."
"The violence is so bad... the robbers will knock on your window with a gun and take your phone. There are so many possibilities for violence and death. There is constant fear that I don't know when the last time I will see someone is. It is not something I want for myself, it is less and less likely a place I want to make my home. "
Ruben A. ---Israel
"Almost every Israeli knows someone who knows the kidnapped [Israeli] kids, knows someone who was part of a search party for the kids, and has friends who went into Gaza to fight Hamas. It's so personal because you're never more than two degrees removed from the happenings. We don't want war."
Agata F. --- Poland
"I am not really afraid of Russia as far as military goes. The economic warfare is my real worry. They just threatened limiting gas imports coming to Poland. It get's cold in the winter."
"To this day, if you call someone a Jew, it is the worst insult. Anti-semitism is deeply engrained in the society."
Moni O. ---Nigeria
"Most people think that Boko Haram and terrorism is a recent issue. It's not. This is an issue that has been going on for years, and shows no sign of stopping. It is an ongoing issue; the kidnapped girls are not even home yet. Don't forget about them."
Ali H. --Pakistan
"More than 52,000 Pakistanis have been killed by Islamist insurgents since 2004. That number includes ordinary civilians, doctors, nurses, school children, university students, lawyers, polio vaccine campaigners, police officers, television reporters, and of course, military personnel [...] and almost all of them were targeted because they lived in defiance of the militants and their beliefs. It's not okay to confuse us for the terrorists. We are fighter and victims."
"While many Americans (I have met) think of Lithuania as either "Northern Europe" (think Scandinavia) or "basically Russia", the reality is far more complex. We are undergoing a transition, where the young are largely culturally and politically modern, while a big chunk of the society still longs for the good old Soviet days. Thus for us, Russia is not a caricature of evil (like for many Americans, sadly), but a real threat: spreading propaganda, lobbying politicians, harming the economy."
"Rape culture isn't just what you see on television, it's a part of everyday culture [in India]. Even with a population almost 10 million strong, every single person you ask in New Delhi can relate either a first or second-hand account of assault or molestation of some kind. It's so pervasive precisely because we implicitly accept it through our inaction. Occasional incidents like the December 26, 2012 gang-rape will rouse the public to action, but it's usually short-lived, and we settle back to our usual temperament of quiet acceptance soon enough."
While it is important to be well-read and keep up with the news, it can be equally important to make sure the news stories mean something to you personally. Whether you find yourself on a college campus or not, talk to the people you meet about where they come from; you might be surprised by what you learn.