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Witness to history: WESLI international students comment on Obama Inauguration
Their thoughts centered around our country being a global leader, the future not only for America but for the world.
Credit:Katherine Perreth

It was standing room only during President Barack Obama's inauguration in many venues across the United States, and indeed, the world. The same held true for 70 international students, and their handful of American teachers, gathered to watch the inaugural speech in a WESLI classroom. Located on the Capitol Square, the Wisconsin English as a Second Language Institute has been teaching students from around the world for over 28 years.

On this auspicious occasion, I joined the roomful of people from around the planet to watch the ceremony. And, while I watched, I was thinking: Sometimes I am not very proud of America, other times I am especially proud of her, and never more so during our free elections and the transference of power. Many countries around the globe have bloodbaths during their transitional times, but not so in America.

But, what were the students thinking as they watched America swear in her 44th president?

Their thoughts centered around our country being a global leader, the future not only for America but for the world, expectations of this new president, and the ceremonial differences between the U.S. and their countries.

"I found it very interesting and very hopeful for Americans; Obama showing his objectives, his plans to attack problems, his plans to solve problems, and how the treatment will be with other countries," explained Diego. "In my country, Venezuela, that is not the way it goes. The treatment of other countries is not a topic with my president."

Korean and Taiwanese students chimed in with their agreement of Diego's assessment.

"In Korea, only Korean problems are talked about by the president. This president mentioned about the problem of other nations and religions", offered James. "But I think these are difficult problems, between Buddhists, Hindu, Christian and Muslim."

Jasper, from Taiwan, observed, "The viewpoint is different from Taiwan. The American president cares about whole world things, my country is just fighting between parties."

Asked what he thought of Obama's ties to Africa, Cheick from the Ivory Coast offered, "Of course, I know he's very liked in Africa because maybe people think he will help Africans."

One common thought was the fantastic pressure upon this young president due to Americans, and indeed the rest of the world, having such high expectations of him.

"I think he cannot make a mistake at all, or it can make people very disappointed with him", surmised Noma, from Thailand.

Although Binod, from Nepal, conceded that he "didn't get half the things he [Obama] said", he caught enough to offer these impressions: "He seemed really prepared for his job. He really convinced us to believe he can make America better; the economy, health, schools, the war.... He indirectly said he will fix and make up for the mistakes that (former president) Bush made."

Lee, from Korea, vehemently stuck up for the former president. "Today is a very good day for peace and for people, and I like Obama. But we must appreciate George Bush. I saw him today and he looked very depressed. I know he made mistakes, but he did it [the presidential duties]; he worked hard and we must appreciate that."

Then, he too, looked forward: "He [Obama] seems smart and I think he'll make a very good situation with economic and politic and world environment. He will invest in scientific possibilities to invent something instead of oil."

The ceremony itself was a hot topic for comment. Students were surprised by the celebratory nature of the ceremony, the pastoral prayer, and the outdoor venue.

"In Korea, the ceremony is stiff. This looked like a party, very smooth," offered Jae Shik.

"In the Ivory Coast it is not outside for public; just some people are invited," said Cheick.

Added Noma, from Thailand, "It reminds me of when we have a new prime minister; and ours now is very young, too. But, our prime minister must swear in front of the King of Thailand, to do his responsibilities with honesty and loyalty to the royalty."

Fahad, from Saudi Arabia understands royalty. He explained how the King inherits his position and wistfully added, "I think it's very good here, the election, the votes; and the majority rules."

His compatriot, Hassin, added, "The style in the U.S. is so nice, so good. I like Obama because he has a good plan, he will change the life in the U.S. and the world. My country was so happy when Obama won."But, Bank, from Thailand, thought differently. "The Thai people are so-so for Obama. Our last government had a good relationship with Bush, but our new guy might not work well with Obama. But, our economy is dependent on U.S. so we watch Obama to see what he will do."

As Fahad summed it up, "I ignore what he said and pay attention to what he will do."

With that observation, probably most of the world, including Americans, can agree.

Katherine Perreth is an employee at WESLI and a freelance writer.

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