Young, Gifted, and Cleared By State

It took less than a week for the Gambian Robot Team to break the State Department’s blockade and get the students the visas they need to attend the FIRST Global Robotics Competition in Washington, D.C.

I was probably not alone in initially assuming that the whole affair could be blamed on Trump. However, I was mistaken: Gambia got on the wrong side of the Obama Administration last year, when the West African nation refused to accept 2,000 deportees. As punishment, a freeze was placed on U.S. visas for many Gambians, specifically government officials and their families. The Robot Team’s mentor, Mucktarr Darboe, is a director at the Gambian Ministry of Higher Education and therefore technically a government official.

According to, their prototype is a robot that cleans contaminated rivers, an excellent idea that the ARC’s host city (and my native one), Atlanta, might consider investing in.

Whatever the future holds for our Fake News Organizations, at the very least they can still be an excellent blunderbuss for embarrassing the powerful on behalf of the powerless, sometimes. And sometimes not: the girls who comprise the Afghanistan Robotic House recently applied again, and were denied (until they weren’t, as of Thursday, thanks—so NPR reported—to Trump himself).


Are international students getting skittish about the South as a university destination? Much is being made of IIE’s new “Shifting Tides” survey, which suggests that while fears of an across-the-board retreat remain exaggerated (the yield rate dipped by just two percent in the last 12 months), the five percent drop in yield—coupled with a 13-point slide in admissions offers to international students—among HEIs in Southern states is worrisome.


Post-exam iced-coffee outing with four of my TOEFL students, on a rare sparkling–if intolerably humid–midsummer morning in Midtown Atlanta. No national or linguistic pairings: one Venezuelan, one Turk, one South Korean, one Taiwanese, and one American. A few I’ve worked with a long time, others I’m still getting to know. All of them share the TOEFL nerve, which some students may be born with—I still can’t locate the study I remember reading once which showed that second-language-learners are by nature risk-takers—but is most likely acquired over time and leads them to cliff dive when that’s what’s next. D began the course quietly and now can’t hold back her questions about my politics. K has been gregarious from the start (and loves the word now that he’s learned what it means) but thinks my love of statistics is misguided, compared with his love of calculus. J is a college graduate who can’t go home but has great nostalgia for what her country used to be. S actually teaches English to children and adults back home but hasn’t seen a paycheck since May; she will probably go home despite the political situation because she misses the people she is close to. We were seated on a shaded patio beside some public artwork–a group of human-sized pears on a tablecloth the size of a tennis court–whose intended effect, I suppose, was to put all of our interests, anxieties, and passions into a kind of perspective.

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