The project: For his French language project, Mr. Gao analyzed the rise of right-wing politics in Europe, with a focus on France’s recent presidential elections between the liberal centrist Emmanuel Macron and the nationalist Marine Le Pen. He explored the significance of foreign and national events on Le Pen’s rise to power, and offered predictions on the future of France if Le Pen were elected.
Biggest challenge: “The French election was ongoing when I was doing the project, and I didn’t know who was going to win. Comparing the French election to the American election of 2016 was also a challenge, especially because of the differences in cultures and the analysis of each candidate. Donald Trump was a businessperson and Macron was also a businessperson. But Donald Trump resembles Marine Le Pen more, because they have similar nationalist sentiments. So the differences in politics and culture was definitely one of the biggest challenges for me.”
Surprising discovery. “A surprising discovery was actually the result of the French election, which came out after I finished the paper. Throughout the project, I understood the French culture and politics even better than when I studied in France last year. I went for a year abroad in Rien, three hours from Paris. Even though I took politics in France, having time to really research the paper gave me a greater understanding.”
Advice for a future scholar. “Don’t be afraid of discovering new things, and be inclusive in terms of opinions, even if you disagree with them. I think one thing that was hard for me was thinking about people who voted for Marine Le Pen, whom I disagree with. I think having the ability to understand different people’s perspectives is crucial for doing research. You have to be neutral.”
From his presentation: Mr. Gao examined the rise of populism in the recent presidential election in France, comparing it with the 2016 United States presidential election.