Recently, the Parliament in Kazakhstan introduced its proposal of using the Latin alphabet as the script for the Kazakh language. A significant amount of people had supported this idea, hoping for better interactions with Kazakhstan’s cultural neighbors: Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan. All of them use the standard Turkish alphabet. However, the Kazakh government decided to use its own version of the alphabet, which is, at the very least, difficult to read even for native speakers. People started expressing their discontent online. But, all of those complaints had the same effect as trying to extinguish a forest fire with an eyedropper.
If I were in my country now, I would do everything possible in order to have at least some impact on this issue. I would dial the numbers of government members; I would stand in front of the Parliament to express my view on the issue. But if only I were there. And then, I realized I was not the only one.
While talking with friends from the international community at KAIST, I found out that they had experienced a somewhat similar issue. All of them were concerned with issues back in their home country, but none of them had the opportunity to make an impact. Even the most common actions of civic duty such as voting in elections become a challenge when you are living abroad; voting usually happens at the embassy. Since election day is designated as a holiday, people have no trouble casting their vote. But for many of us, it means setting up a trip to Seoul during the weekend if possible, or even during the weekdays. Considering the opportunity cost of expressing one’s vote and the workload at KAIST, not many would prefer a trip to embassy over studying for major courses.
Some countries pay significant attention to their citizens living abroad. Turkish people living in European states are an obvious example. They represent a political power so strong that even the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, makes special visits to Germany and other countries to gain their sympathies for elections. But in such cases, Turkey is an exception rather than a part of a general trend. Perhaps this is due to the large Turkish diaspora in European countries, especially in Germany. But, a majority of the internationals at KAIST do not have such political environment as Turks in Germany; the combination of the small percentage of foreigners here with the diverse number of countries they come from in Korea makes no one “a significant minority” so that politicians would consider them.
This issue occurs all over the globe. When you live abroad, you are deprived of the ability to make a difference in your homeland’s politics. Even politicians in exile realize this fact. Following the October Revolution in Russia, a lot of noble emigrants from the White Movement united in endless organizations condemning Bolshevism. But the effect they had was little to none.
Thanks to social media, there is a proximity to events happening in your homeland. Reading the news online makes you feel like you are not that far from home. However, when it comes to converting activities on social media to ones in real life, you realize that the proximity is an illusion. The most a person in this situation can do is to write a post or to sign a petition online. But will it have an effect on the issue? Unless the reaction goes viral, there will be no impact at all. The angry post addressed to politicians will go overlooked in the Facebook feed of your friends.
So what can be done? Sadly, it seems like the problem will not be solved any time soon. Writing more disgruntled posts on social media certainly will not help. Only if the government itself wants its citizens who live abroad to be politically active, only then will we, as foreigners here, be able to have at least some influence over the current affairs of our native countries.