Outsiders Get an Inside View of American Politics
As the number of democracies increases globally, citizens worldwide look to the U.S. political system as a model of peaceful democracy. Many view the U.S. system as a successful functioning democracy, with citizens playing an active role and flexing a legitimate voice in politics and the selection of leaders. Few outsiders get the chance to participate in the American election process.
But several students of the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in Eurasia and Central Asia got just that chance, in the midst of an intense year of campaigning in U.S. politics. The students worked with public servants and their re-election campaigns, witnessing firsthand the political processes at work in the United States leading up to an election year.
Nargiz, from Azerbaijan and studying at Graceland University, interned with the Democratic Party to add “new blood” to voter turnout and help identify viable future candidates for state and federal Congressional elections. In Decatur County, Iowa, she conducted historical research on U.S. foreign policy, interest groups, and the upcoming elections. Nargiz also assisted with election and campaign activities at the local, county, and state levels, including grassroots campaigning.
Nargiz witnessed the power of local participation in promoting state and national politics: “People voluntarily came and participated at the meetings. They devoted their time to the things that are not going to bring personal benefits to them. The system gives everyone the right to raise one’s voice.” Nargiz is now looking forward to being an active participant in Azerbaijani politics to put her new skills to use, “understanding better a lot of practical issues related to the political activities.”
Iftihor, from Tajikistan and studying at Otero Junior College, assisted with the re-election campaigns of two County Commissioners and observed Republican Caucus meetings and campaigns. He worked as an intern at Otero County Government in La Junta, Colorado, where he learned the basics of county government management and observed the American political process at the local level.
Through his experiences and observations, Iftihor identified key differences between the U.S. and Tajik political systems. Working with the Republican Party on the re-election of its local candidates, Iftihor described campaigning in the U.S. as a complicated process. He found surprising the length of time and amount of preparation candidates, the political parties, and their supporters devote to elections in the United States. In Tajikistan, “political party’s elections go in a simple way and take 2-3 steps.” Despite the added steps of the U.S. system, Iftihor saw that the time, energy, and resources devoted to the political process helps to maintain transparent democratic elections.
As both Nargiz and Iftihor have recently returned to their home countries after completing their academic year in the United States, they are hopeful they can use their experiences to impact their home communities. Not only did they observe active, participatory democracy, but they have also been able to identify potential weaknesses and consider how they may be able to contribute to an improved political environment in their home countries.
The Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in Eurasia and Central Asia is a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, and is implemented by IREX.