Journals from Hong Kong 2008
2008-11-11 Politics Abroad
As my flight was arriving in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the wheels of the plane had barely touched down before I anxiously switched on my phone. Before the plane reached the terminal I received the text message I had been anticipating: the outcome of the 2008 presidential election.
Its funny how when planning my study abroad, I had considered the fact that I would be away during the election, but it didnt have any weight in changing my mind as to when I should study abroad. I knew about absentee ballots and that everything about the campaigns could be found on the internet. What I had forgotten to consider is the patriotic fervor that an election generates, especially towards the end. Being abroad made me feel like an outsider, alienated from the process of democracy.
Knowing the issues and why you support a candidate is important, but so is discussion with others about the issues. I feel I missed out on an important part of the process by not being able to share my views with other Americans and not getting the chance to have other opinions shared with me. Hearing opinions from the internet or the news is not the same as having personal conversations with others about what makes this election important to them. Throughout this study abroad I have missed my family and friends, but with the knowledge that I would see them again in a short time I never felt homesick. As I stood in the aisle of the airplane I couldnt help feeling for the first time since being abroad that the only place I wanted to be right then was on American soil.
The atmosphere leading up to the election was not what I would have expected. The international community has strong opinions about American politics but they are reserved when giving their opinions. I was expecting to be treated like an uninformed American. I was expecting the other international students to attack me and make me feel unintelligent in politics at every turn. Instead I was met by students who were interested in what I thought of the issues and had interesting views in response. My fellow study abroad students from a broad range of locations including Germany, Holland, Czech Republic, France and Mainland China didnt always agree with my points of view, but there was never any hostility in the discussion of them.
During my stay in Kuala Lumpur, the news of the election could not be escaped. Every newspaper, magazine and television station was dedicated to it. Everyone I spoke to asked the same small-talk question: Where are you from? When I would answer The U.S.A. they would always follow with a question or comment about Obama.
The international world is very conscious about American politics. People as small and inconsequential in the international scheme as Malaysian grocery store cashiers and taxi drivers had opinions about our elections. It made me feel a part of something grand, something monumental. It made me feel proud to be an American in a way that I hadnt expected. I was proud not because of the far-reaching influences our elected leaders and policies have on the international community, but I was proud because I had a vote. When looking at my one vote compared to the entirety of the American population who also has a vote, its easy to think that my one vote doesnt make that much of a difference. But when I viewed it from outside the U.S., I realized that my one vote holds more sway than the rest of the world who doesnt have the same privilege.