I Studied Abroad During the 2016 Presidential Election and Here’s What Happened
So, we all obviously know what happened. This article is a long time coming and it’s no surprise how this story ends. However, I experienced this event a lot differently than most Americans because I was studying abroad in Scotland when it happened.
I don’t want this to be a political article or a leftist, millennial rant about how awful our current president is. This is merely me sharing my experience of election night and the following days in another country that just recently experienced their own tough election result.
In the weeks leading up to the election, I was constantly asked about my feelings regarding our two candidates. Usually the situation would go down somewhat like this:
European: Oh, you’re American?
European: Okay. Trump or Hillary?
Every. Time. It was like my accent came with a stamp on my forehead that said, “Please ask me about my political opinion that is none of your business.” Obviously, I had no problem talking about it with my other American friends. It was relieving to have people who actually understood rather than just trying to make fun of something that you could hardly control. Nevertheless, it persisted.
On election Tuesday, I braced myself for all of the comments I would receive throughout the day when I just wanted to forget. I already voted. I did my part. I just needed to wait to hear, eight hours ahead of the United States, what the results would be. I was surprised that only one of my professors brought it up in class that day. She innocently asked what day it was only to have all of her American students groan that it was Tuesday.
That night, a bunch of my American friends from my study abroad program decided to go to a pub for a live viewing party of the election results. The pub had free paper Hilary Clinton masks for those who attended and multiple screens throughout the pub for optimal views of the gruesome political action. It was also jam packed with people. I was expecting a majority of American exchange students drinking away their fears about the results. I was surprised to be greeted by tons of British and Scottish students, all waiting to see if the US was about to be left in worse condition than the UK. The pub was loud, the drunks were obnoxious, so we moved the party to a friend’s flat, where they already had another small viewing party going on.
Since the results weren’t going to be released until about 12 am Eastern standard time in the US, I was going to have to stay up until 6 am Scottish time if I wanted live results all night. However, I decided to go home around 1am. At that point, Hilary was in the lead. I felt comfortable going to sleep, also knowing that my boyfriend and Facebook would update me about our first female president in the morning.
Once again, we all know what happened.
I woke up at 8am to a long text from my boyfriend, saying how sorry he is that I had to wake up to the news. My heart dropped, and I pulled my duvet over my head, the weight only a slight comfort to the queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Then I remembered that my American roommate, Abby, would be awake. I heard her talking to our Latvian flat mate, Reinis, in the kitchen. All she kept saying to him was “I’m so sorry.” I slowly made my way into the kitchen, still in my pajamas. Abby and I didn’t even say anything to each other. We just made sad eye contact, and hugged. In an attempt to comfort us, Reinis asked, “is it really going to be that bad?”
I went back to bed.
The thought of getting up to go to my Gaelic class was painful. I messaged my friend who was in the class with me. There was no way I was going to go if she didn’t go with me. It wasn’t so much that I was sad about the results, which I was. It had more to do with facing my European classmates who would look at me and possibly immediately judge me based on the actions of my country. My friend said she was going, so I bit the bullet and got dressed for class.
The room was very quiet, and full of somber faces. As soon as I saw Nicki, she gave me a hug, and we both sat down trying to avoid making eye contact with the rest of the class. What was especially weird for me was that my professor didn’t make any comment about it, especially since it was so soon after. From what my friends back at Davis were telling me, almost every professor made some sort of speech about morals and the strength of community in an attempt to provide some sort of healing space for their students. However, my professor just kept on with the class as if nothing new was happening. Which in a way, was also healing. Although I wanted to sulk and talk about it, I was forced to think about something else, which gave my mind a much needed reprieve, especially that first day.
After making solemn and knowing eye contact with the other Americans in my class as we left, Nicki and I headed to another friend’s apartment where she offered to host a venting party for those of us that just wanted to scroll through social media to make sense of it all. On our way there, Nicki and I commented about how normal everything around us seemed. We felt like we were grieving, while the rest of the world turned and moved on. Our friends were protesting in the streets of our home universities and we were in Scotland learning Gaelic and writing papers about Celtic literature. We felt utterly helpless.
The sentiment was pretty much the same from the rest of our group of friends that joined us in the flat. Her British flat mates had to intermittently put up with our yelling throughout the rest of the day, and were surprisingly patient and understanding. When I thanked them for being so nice about our political outbursts, they merely nodded in understanding and said, “We know how it feels.”
Throughout the rest of the week I kept hearing horror stories from other American friends of mine who were abroad. My roommate who was studying in London called me in tears because she had been harassed by drunk students banging on her door. They called her awful names and scared her so much she stayed in her room the entire next day. Another classmate of mine said that she had been harassed by those at the same election party I was at the night before. Some people told her to leave and that she was part of the problem in America. Luckily, tensions died down after the first week.
Although I was slightly disappointed to not hear much from my professors about the election, the same professor who talked to us on election day gave us Americans a little pep talk before she started class. She told us that she completely understood if we were upset about the results and that she didn’t blame us if we didn’t get the reading done. She said she believes we are the passionate generation who can stop people like him from changing the world into a place of negativity and hate and to hold on to our morals and that that will get us through. We were exactly where we needed to be in that moment: receiving our higher education so that we can educate those around us. In the end, it was exactly what I needed to hear going in to my first week as Donald Trump being the President-elect.
Not only was being at university where I needed to be, but being in Scotland was where I was meant to be in that moment. Not only did being away from the hate and the anger entrenched into American soil help my state of mind, but being around such accepting people reminded me that there is good in the world and it is worth fighting for. By studying abroad, I inherently was exposed to so many different cultures, not just Scottish. By discussing the differences between my culture and the cultures of the many people I met from Eastern Europe, Spain, Portugal, Australia, South America and so many more, I learned tolerance, acceptance, and compassion for those who are much different than I am. Despite missing my friends and family back home, wishing that I could fight with them, I couldn’t think of a better time to be away from them.
So, I guess this did become a wee bit political.
Now that I’m back Stateside, I’m grateful that I had the chance to escape for a while. I’m excited to use what I’ve learned abroad to change what needs to be changed and educate whomever needs to be educated. Just because this is how things ended up, doesn’t mean it has to be the end.