A Leadership Program for Duke Students with A Global Mindset

Author: Isaiah Mason

Borders: In the US and Italy

What is the difference between a legal and illegal immigrant? It is whether one has obtained a visa before immigration in most situations. While this seems to be a logical system, there are inherent inequalities within border regimes and immigration policies. Rather than a question of visa status, discourse on immigration should focus on the avenues to social integration for migrants.

Thinking through the past year of experiences that I have had in the Global Fellows program; I think that the most impactful global and cultural exchanges have come about through casual conversations with various members of the international community at Duke and throughout Durham. In the fall, I had the pleasure of organizing the English Conversation Club where there were frequent questions and discussions about how to navigate Durham. One week we had a discussion that led to explaining our pastimes to each other. Some of the participants were avid movie fans or fond of doing housework, not because it was all they aspired to do in America, but due to a lot of them having to leave their lives behind as spouses of international scholars and businesspeople.

It was at this point that I was struck by the reality of possessing an F2 visa in the United States – your legal presence does not mean that you can work. The F2 visa is an extension of the F1 visa that allows international applicants to come to the United States to study. There are some striking provisions of this visa though, disallowing the holder from working off-campus without approval. Since most jobs will only allow part-time employment for students, this harkens back to the requirement under the F1 visa that the applicant must have the financial resources to support themselves throughout the term. This effectively creates a subclass of the population in the United States.

The nonimmigrant visa system in the United States is still a relatively new process, introduced with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. This created the F1 program to allow noncitizens to come to the United States to study as full-time students, though does not confer immigration status. Students under this designation can attend full-time degree programs at universities or pursue language study during the length of their approved stay. The first step in the process is to apply and be accepted into a school in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System before applying for a visa. A visa application does not guarantee approval; in 2021, almost 20% of F1 visa applications were rejected and so were 32% of F2 visa applications. As such, the program acts as a check on foreign access to the United States and supports disparities in global access to education.

As a means of comparison, Italy provides another look at stratified forms of immigration that support disparities in migration. A crucial difference in the visa process for education is that those with student visas are also allowed to apply for a residence permit. After 5 years of legal residence, those with a student visa can apply for permanent residence. In Italy, the visa program is even newer than that of the United States since it was introduced in 1998 Turco-Napolitano Law as one of the formal designations to control the migration flow in Italy. Similar to the United States, there were no prior legal or formal protections or designations for foreign students before the introduction of these legislations. In Italy, migrant visas for study, equivalent to an F1 visa, only made up 8% of issued visas whereas approved visas for family, equivalent to an F2 visa, accounted for 62% of issued visas in 2020. What this indicates is a difference in the foreign demographics between the two countries, as the United States approved almost 5 times as many applications as Italy. Even more striking is that the United States approved F1 and F2 visas is more than 3 times the amount of issued visas in Italy.

These two countries alone indicate the importance of understanding the global movement of peoples across borders, especially in recent times that highlight contempt for rising immigration rates in both countries. The media in both countries, such as newspapers, disseminate public discourse about migration in terms of an issue of southern border security for both the United States and Italy in recent years.

One of the biggest developments in the United States related to hampering illegal immigration, denoting immigrants that enter the country without first obtaining a visa, was President Donald Trump’s, the 45th President of the United States, push to repeal DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, in 2020. This 2012 program that President Barack Obama introduced was designed to offer a form of protection for undocumented immigrant children residing in the United States to live and work. President Trump’s campaign made certain promises that were largely targeted against protections for undocumented migrants in the United States and continued immigration of this sort, such as building a wall between the United States and Mexico that Mexico would pay for. Fortunately, the Supreme Court rejected the proposal in 2020 to repeal DACA because President Trump’s movement was unconstitutional without supplying due reason to repeal the program, despite executive power. As the highest number of immigrants, documented or not, come from Mexico, this movement from President Trump asserts that issues with immigration stem from the unsecured Southern border.

Italy sees a similar development due to its location on the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean Migrant Crisis represents high migrant flows from Africa to Italy, one of the primary ports into Europe. Beginning in the late 1980s, increasing migration to Italy sparked policy shifts to regulate migration. Already discussed was the Turco-Napolitano Law, which was revised in 2001 with the Bossi Fini Law that created legal penalties for illegal migration in Italy that results in immediate expulsion or imprisonment. The criminalization of undocumented migrants reflects an overall hostility towards foreigners in Italy. The 2010s saw an increase in refugees in the Mediterranean due to the Arab Spring, which sparked Italian concerns about the provision of humanitarian and refugee protections for some of the migrants coming during this period. The political response to this new wave of immigration marked Italian concerns about abuses of policies such that new legislation was introduced in 2018, known as the Security Decree of 2018, which clamped down on access to asylum status for humanitarian reasons and increased the length of time that migrants could be held in detention centers.

As if this was not enough, additional concerns were brought forth about the security of the southern border with the Mediterranean Sea, documented by the Security Decree of 2019. This legislation made it illegal for any organization foreign to Italy to dock in an Italian to transport migrants. The owners of such vessels would be subject to a fine and the vessel would be seized by Italian officials. This demonstrates the frequency of sea travel bringing migrants from Africa to Italian shores, but also the strained relationship between Italy and Africa.

What these policy examples reveal about both countries is the use of policy against the needs of immigrants and the imperfections present in immigration policy writ large. While the legal provisions do offer a path for foreign citizens to stay in both the United States and Italy, there is still more than can and should be done to address disparities not only in migration patterns but the socioeconomic aspects of migration. My time in the Global Fellows program this past year has equipped me with some of the skills to prepare me to become a global leader, not only being able to understand the issues but to take the time to listen to others and apply different perspectives to crafting solutions. As my time at Duke has ended, I would like to pursue a career in international policy, which would allow me to directly work on effecting change for marginalized communities, such as migrant populations.

Intercultural Journal #5

As I look back on my semester in the Global Fellows Program, I am grateful for the opportunity to have connected with so many people from so many different countries weekly. Through having conversations I have been able to gain an interesting insight into a group that I had not considered before – the spouses of international scholars. A recurring theme that I have learned from discussions with them is the lack of accessibility afforded through the visa process, specifically being barred from working. As some of the international scholar programs range from semester-long to 2 or more years, this can have a significant impact on them not understanding how to navigate American society. An instance that I faced this semester was trying to help one of my language partners navigate getting her license in North Carolina. This language partner is from Japan and her husband’s work relocated her and her family here to the United States. Originally, she started off asking me for advice about how the test might go and if there were any tips that I could offer. The conversation evolved into a discussion about how car insurance works based on observations that I had from when I was in the DMV trying to get my license. For married couples, insurance companies only put the husband’s names on the cards, so even if the spouse is covered under the same policy, her name does not appear on the card by default. At the DMV, this led to a lot of people turning away during their appointments or having the call their insurance company to have them fax over a notice with a new card that has the spouse’s name directly on it. To save my language partner the headache, I let her know about this in advance so that she could prepare and be in a better position for her test.

Due to these experiences, I would say that I skill that I have worked on this semester is creating space for others. As a member of the Language and Communication track this semester, one of my responsibilities was helping to facilitate English Conversation Club and I was unsure of how to approach being a facilitator because I expected a lot of the participants to be older than me. One of my concerns was how to stimulate conversation with people who have had all sorts of experiences with respecting the space. What I learned was to take a step back to let things evolve organically, rather than trying to make an answer for everything, and to also think about myself more like a mutual participant within the conversation rather than a facilitator. Through establishing equal footing with the participants, I felt that we were able to genuinely connect and create a community within English Conversation Club over the semester.


Intercultural Journal #4

A challenge that I have faced during this semester has come from sometimes having to act as a representative of American culture. I mean this in a way of having to make sweeping generalizations when explaining certain things to language partners or participants that come to English Conversation Club. The reason that I view this as such a challenge is that there is no national standard that everyone follows, so it can be hard to go beyond my experiences, especially as a minority. When it comes to things like pop culture references, it sometimes makes me feel as though I am undereducated because my interests lie elsewhere.

I feel that one way to address this challenge is to bargain with my identity more directly in terms of establishing and communicating a frame of reference. In line with developing a sense of the importance of cultural difference, I can try to explain that there is a nuance to understanding the United States as individuals being a product of the section of the country that they grew up in. When discussing such topics as why there is a tendency in the United States to be wary of getting the COVID vaccine, this perspective might allow me to give more of a vantage point of where people are more likely to feel that way rather than it being a national sentiment. Part of the issue is recognizing that there is a media portrayal that stereotypes other cultures within the United States that works the same against us in other countries. One of the steps to working through this might have a more open dialogue to evaluate different aspects of cultural differences so that everyone involved can leave with a better-informed level of understanding.

Journal #3

When I studied abroad in Italy, one of the first challenges was figuring out how to get from the airport to the University of Bologna. The faculty organizers for the program left the traveling logistics up to the students, so each of us was left to figure out our way from the airport to our designated meetup location. It also happened to be my first time traveling on my own to a place where I did not have family that would meet me when I arrived, so I was completely trying to navigate new territory.

I remember getting off the plane and thinking to myself that there was some checklist of things that I just needed to make sure I had covered. First on that list was finding where to get my suitcase. Looking at the signs around me, I was lucky that I had some background in Italian so I could read and piece together information to find the baggage claim. After grabbing my suitcase, the next hurdle was figuring out transportation and I thought that this would finally be my time to experience riding in a taxi. Luckily, there were quite a few taxis outside the airport when I finally made my way around to the ground transportation exit. When I walked over to a taxi that had just arrived, the driver got out and came to take my bags and put them in the trunk. I got into the backseat and, when the driver sat back inside the taxi, he asked me where we were going. I told him that I was trying to get to the Dipartimento di Storia Culture Civiltà and he told me no, the address. I spent a little time scrambling because I thought the building was well-known enough and did not have the address memorized, so I haphazardly was scrolling through the WhatsApp chat to see if the professor had sent us the address before reciting it to the driver. Things were quiet on the drive there and the next hiccup occurred when we arrived, and I went to pay. Having just exchanged USD for euros, I did not happen to have any small bills, so I went to pay the driver rounded up to the closest bill. When he saw this, he pulled out money to make change and, wanting to save him the hassle, I wanted to tell him to keep the change in Italian, but realizing that we had not learned this is class, the closest thing that I could muster was “È per lei” or formally, “It’s for you” which was met with a look of bewilderment before he told me thank you. After getting out of the taxi and the driver retrieving my suitcases from the trunk, I went to meet with the professors and regale them with the story of my trip. Upon reaching the end with the awkward tipping situation, they told me that it is not customary to tip in Italy and that the act was something of an American thing that I had never thought about before. I also learned from this conversation that it is customary in Italy to not tip taxi drivers and can sometimes be viewed as insulting, though I meant it as a sign of appreciation for his service. This experience led me to reflect on the importance of learning not only customs but the wider social significance of differences in the connotation of tipping.

This semester, I have been working on my Intercultural Development Program with the hope of moving from minimization of social differences towards adaptation. In connection with my participation in the Global Fellows Program, this work has come in the form of engaging with people from different countries in conversation through the English Conversation Club and my language partners. Through these experiences, I have gotten a sense of how others orient themselves to American culture, both positively and negatively, according to the cultures that they were raised in. This has made many differences apparent to me, especially around the idea of holidays and understanding that other cultures have a deep history tied to certain celebrations that are viewed more commercially in the United States. Rather than trying to ask the question of how these different celebrations and traditions compare to what we do in the United States, I have become more invested in learning about them within that cultural context.

Intercultural Journal #2

So far, we have had five sessions of the English Conversation Club, where we have discussed the film industry, the US education system, the US medical system, driving in the US, and the political system. I feel as though each week I learn something different about aspects of US culture that I have come to take for granted which participants see and think of differently. For instance, the role of public education and higher education in the US provides a higher level of access to opportunities than in other countries, which is commonly called the American Dream. While I considered education as one of the factors contributing to a widening income gap and a shrinkage of the middle class, participants in the English Conversation club mentioned that effort to complete higher education provided easier access to a comfortable lifestyle than might be possible in other countries. Participants cited that films and other forms of media helped them form these ideas of life in the US, while I figured that my perspective was different having lived here my whole life because I did not have experiences in another country with which to readily compare. Consequently, I came to revere my own views of the pursuit and benefits of education a little more critically.

As far as similarities, we have discussed the prevalence of compulsory education across different countries as well as the presence of similar forms of media due to such brands as Hollywood. In small group discussions, I have been able to bond with participants about the Marvel franchise, discuss the subtleties of political activism and engagement, and look at how transportation methods affect travel for leisure. Through these conversations, I have been able to gain insights into new perspectives from participants’ lives and form connections that I am excited to go to every week and continue to grow in a learning environment.

Through these experiences in the Global Fellows Program, I have learned about this common thread that connects different people to Durham. From graduate students to spouses of graduates, to general community members, each of the participants has something of value to add to the conversation. One of my favorite aspects has been engaging through listening and allowing space in the conversation. As a fellow, and thus a representative of American culture, I have learned how my own understanding of the US can be limited at times allowing me to reflect on the learning that I still must do.

Intercultural Journal #1

When I first applied for the Global Fellows Program, my primary motivation was having a chance to meet and learn from people of different cultures. Coming from Norfolk, Virginia, a large proportion of the cultural diversity that I was accustomed to was a product of having a huge military presence in the city. While I grew up in a predominately black ghetto, school was the source of my introduction to peers from different cultural backgrounds and countries. Due to this, middle school was a culture shock for me due to experiencing different languages from English, such as Tagalog and Spanish. I developed an interest in learning new languages to be able to communicate and experience various cultures in what I perceived as a more genuine way. I came to understand food as a meaningful display of culture, learning from my friends about the foods they were used to eating growing up and connecting with their roots. Additionally, Norfolk was home to annual festivals allowing people to share their culture with others, such as Greek Fest, which my family and I would attend each year. One of my goals was gaining greater cultural awareness through engaging through conversations and learning from others through new experiences.

Through participating in the Global Fellows Program and the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), I have also begun to engage with personal growth. Learning the difference between my perceived cultural orientation and my developmental cultural orientation of ‘minimization’ has given me cause to reflect. I think that my upbringing and socialization led to this assimilation of aspects of various cultures into my sense of identity to help develop a sense of belonging around people who are different from me. I would like to work towards ‘adaptation’ to be able to respond in culturally appropriate ways to people that are different from me. I think that I would be able to tell whether I was successful through engaging with others through the program this semester and being able to recognize and appreciate the significance of cultural differences.

This semester, I have two language partners: one a grad student from China and the other from Japan. We meet over Zoom each week to discuss aspects of American culture and practice English. With my partner from China, in exchange for learning some Chinese, I have been teaching Italian. There have been some challenges and growing pains from using Zoom and finding different ways of communicating. I have found the process enriching and enjoyable so far and I am looking forward to growing and learning throughout the course of the program!

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