An American abroad: Observing the new presidency while overseas
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“I’m sorry. I am so sorry for your loss.”
My friends from Norway, the United Kingdom and France said to me as I assume my seat in class. Here in Paris, France where I am currently an exchange student, it’s rainy and gray once again, but today the feeling of somber fits the tone of the day too well.
I didn’t come from a funeral or find out about a death in my family. It’s Nov. 9, 2016 and I woke up for class to the official results of the United States Presidential Election. For the U.S. some would see this event as a curse, others viewed it as a blessing. Shocking for all, though, as this man with no political or military background could and would be taking the position of the most recognized leader in the world.
Before heading to school, I contemplated on taking a mental health day, fearing that I would stick out too much in the crowded streets of Paris and hallways of my school as an American. Nonetheless, I dressed in all black, in solidarity and mourning as an attempt to blend in to the crowd the best that I could, and headed to class.
I was greeted with not only condolences, but confusion upon my arrival at school Because it has become understood worldwide that America has possibly made one of the biggest mistakes in history electing a president with so much baggage, an unspecified campaign and what some might consider to be extremist views the United States has worked so hard to sweep under the rug.
Sitting in class, I was faced with not only attempting to keep the tears out of my eyes, but to attempt to explain how the events that unfolded last night are actually even possible. This class of 25 students represents 16 different countries, from Australia, to Dubai, Norway, India, China, The West Sahara, Nigeria, South Korea, Mexico and Lebanon to name just a few of the places my fellow classmates call home. In addition to being surrounded by people from every corner of the globe in this class, I am surrounded by just about every major religion. The thought of facing my peers knowing that my home had elected someone to lead whose ideas are rooted in separation of nationality and religion made me nauseous. As one can assume, the second the few Americans arrive into class the questions come flooding in.
“How is this possible?”
“Did you support Trump?”
“I wanted to visit America next summer but now I am worried that it will be unsafe for me as a Mexican, do you have any idea of what changes will take place?”
“Isn’t he going to trial for possible rape and sexual assault?”
“Did he really say all of those horrible things?”
“How can it be okay that he doesn’t want Muslims entering the country?”
“Is he actually going to follow through with building the wall between the United States and Mexico?”
“Are you nervous about his ideas on bombing ISIS and his close friendship with Russia?”
“Are you worried about your rights as a woman?”
As a 20-year-old female identifying as a liberal democrat, I answered the questions without being biased to the best of my ability, despite the sadness and heartache I was feeling.
Truthfully, starting this period that will be full of uncertainty while living on the other side of the pond I am distraught. I have never felt so divided in my feelings as to where I should physically be in this world.
Wishing to be home, standing beside my friends as they make their voices heard in protest and to be in my mother’s arms as I watch my rights as a woman be possibly removed just as I have reached the age where they are becoming important to exercise. Yet, being in Paris I felt safe and a weird sense of comfort surrounded by people who didn’t identify as American but could relate to my fear due to their own personal past experiences. Fears of being oppressed as a woman, what could happen to my friends and family back home who identify as LGBT, Muslim or any minority and what the future could hold because so much is uncertain has not only clouded my mind, but the minds of my peers.
They have stressed to me that this decision to raise someone who is inexperienced, sexist, a leader of xenophobia, a sexual predator, racist, a dishonest businessman and oppressor of minorities to the highest pedestal of leadership communicates that Americans are doing this only with personal interest in mind lacking all knowledge of the progress that has been made.
This is no longer just about the United States, this seriously affects the entire world because of how strong the United States has become in the past 100 years.
The heartbreak that has settled deep into my chest has also settled with feelings of distance and helplessness.
The sort of helplessness that you’re standing on the shore, watching your beloved ship sink while being completely incapable of saving anyone.
Here I am in Paris, standing an ocean away from my family and friends and being completely unable to experience and relate to the future events that may tear my home country apart. The only action I can take is to be hopeful that things will get better and to make my voice heard over social media.
I hope people in the United States will make their voices heard as loud as possible, stand together and not give up this fight we may be in for the next four years. This day will be forever engraved in my mind as a day of heartache and helplessness.
These feelings of impending burdens, especially that of helplessness, will rest in the back of our minds and continue to haunt those of us who left the country for an exchange program. The America we will be returning to in June will not be the same America we left in September.