I spoke to some students last Friday at a top private high school in Hanoi about overseas study. Among the small group that was planning to study overseas, they mentioned Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and New Zealand as potential destinations. Not one expressed interest in studying in the US. When I asked why, they mentioned the following reasons: too many guns, gun violence, shootings, high cost, and their view that US Americans are not friendly.
A day later, there was a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead, including Holocaust survivors. Some of the students’ impressions and worst fears were confirmed – yet again. (The jury is out on the overall impact of these negatives on study in the USA among parents and students in Viet Nam, though there is a discernible shift taking place to Canada.) As of August 2018, there were nearly 30,000 young Vietnamese studying in the US, a slight decrease from December 2017. In addition, the number of student visas issued in the past year, ending on 30 September 2018, dipped by 5-6%, a possible harbinger of future enrollment decreases.)
For Many, Perception is Reality
Aside from the tragic loss of human life at the hands of people who hate and have easy access to guns, including assault rifles, widespread gun violence, including mass shootings, are a PR disaster that is not going away anytime soon. This issue weighs heavily on the minds of students and parents who might otherwise be interested in the US as a potential overseas study destination.
Sadly, out of the world’s 251,000 gun deaths every year, six countries are responsible for more than half of those deaths, including the US. The other five countries are Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Guatemala. The US is #1 among its peer countries in the industrialized world in the number of deaths due to gun violence. (Note that those countries have weaker economies and institutions, e.g., criminal justice systems. The study from which this information was obtained excludes deaths from war, terrorism, executions, and police.)
For many students and parents considering study in the USA, perception is reality. Do mass shootings occur everywhere? Of course not. Is the US the most statistically dangerous country in the industrialized world in terms of gun violence? It’s not even close. Are Australia, Canada, Germany, and other countries statistically safer? Absolutely.
Especially from an outsider’s perspective, the US love affair with guns is puzzling and widely viewed as a form of collective insanity. Aside from presidential talk of “shithole countries” and other insults not likely to be forgotten or forgiven, this is one of the contributing factors to the perception that the US is unsafe and generally unfriendly.
Whitewashing reality, along with with “thoughts and prayers,” ain’t gonna do the trick. Those US colleagues who don’t think this is one of a number of factors in the perfect storm (read nightmare) that is international student recruitment for US educational institutions in these turbulent times have their heads buried in the sand, preferring to live in a state of denial.
Just like saying something doesn’t make it so, ignoring or trivializing reality doesn’t make it any less real and threatening. Speaking of which, you might be interested in reading a blog post entitled #YouAreWelcomeWhere? A Call to Action, which I wrote for The World View, sponsored by the Boston College Center for International Higher Education and hosted by Inside Higher Ed.
Shalom (שלום), MAA