“How have your plans to stay abroad changed after hearing the election results?”
Change my life plans because of how the presidential election played out in my country, are you crazy!
Well, maybe not…
I was recently asked this question by a reporter here in Germany ….I think she was hoping I would say that in deep despair I had decided to change my German residency status to permanent because it would make a good news story. Unfortunately, for her sake, I didn’t. But it did make me think.
Although at first the question seemed a bit dramatic to me, I then realized such thoughts had already run through my mind during my emotional rollercoaster following Trumps election.
My initial reaction was disbelief as I double checked on my roommate’s computer that Trump had actually won and that my computer wasn’t telling lies. I wish I could say I hadn't assumed it impossible for Trump to win, but I cannot. I had gone to bed the night before (midnight in Germany, still the final voting hours in the USA) sure I would wake up to America’s first female president. I hadn’t fathomed another option possible. But it was.
After pacing around my kitchen not sure what to do and calling my cousin in the USA—who had been up all night freaking out—I had to pull myself together enough to teach my 1st grade, early morning English class. So I did. And as I walked into the class one of my 1st grade students asked me if Trump was going to win the elections. I was left in disbelief that a 7-year-old girl in Germany knew about the happenings in the USA…. clearly it is a big deal.
After class I chose to bike home rather than go to school. I struggled with whether I was over-reacting or not, but I still couldn’t imagine going to my dance school filled with everyone but Americans. I felt ashamed of the decision my country had made, embarrassed by the man who was supposed to be the face of my country come January, and not sure how to speak about it. And I was deeply confused and didn’t understand how my country could vote in such a way.
Being that I had not only believed Hillary would win but I had convinced myself the contrary was impossible, I asked myself: what did I miss? What has over half the US population been thinking about that I was totally and completely unaware of and led them to vote for Trump?
The first thought that crossed my mind was: maybe it was because I have been living abroad the last three years.
My response… Perhaps I should move back to the U.S.?!
(Dramatic response number 1)
But, in the end it couldn’t be the whole story as there are many people in the USA who were just as oblivious and surprised as me. So then, what was it?
Once home and sitting on the floor of my bed room with a cup of coffee and my computer, I read article after article, watched many YouTube videos, and even Facebook messaged old high school friends who were Trump supporters to try and figure out what half my country was thinking.
I don't pretend I understand completely, but after my reading extravaganza I do feel that I found some answers. It appears that half of the population has felt extremely frustrated with and betrayed by our federal government.
First and foremost, as the U.S. industry has progressed over the years it has left the middle class hanging. The fair wages and employee benefits which once supported the blue-collar prosperity have disappeared and generations who grew up expecting to enjoy life and live the American Dream have been left treading in deep water.
Of course there are other issues at play. But for them this is the most present, the most real and therefore the most important. They are tired of feeling over-looked, they are bored with the games politicians keep playing, and they are sick of feeling like America is trying to “save the world” while major problems in the U.S. are not being address—problems which people face in their everyday lives.
Indubitably, there are fanatical people who supported Trump specifically for the bigoted lines he said. But, there are also many who just wanted change. And even if many things Trump has said are irrational and filled with prejudices, many people hope that a non-politician who has spoken loudly about putting America and their problems first will bring the change they having been waiting for.
And you know what... this growing divide and the frustrations that have developed among people in the U.S. is something that I—and I’m sure others—have been aware of, but have just not taken seriously.
I see it now as a wakeup call! Or perhaps, a smack on the head about the importance of really listening and not taking things for a grain of salt. I don’t know how many times living abroad I have spoken with people from other countries about America’s great divide and preached about how we need to do something about it. But that’s just it! All I have done is speak about it while there are people who have been actually living it.
Having realized this, I was left with a strong need and desire to learn more about the other half of the population’s ideas, opinions, and the issues they face. And I wondered: how can I do this if I am not actually in the USA where I can talk, communicate and interact with the people?
My response…. perhaps I should move back to the U.S.!
(Dramatic but I would argue legitimate reaction number 2)
My emotional journey which started with denial, grew into confusion, and slowly developed into empathy, then proceeded into a call for action.
As my country enters this new presidency, I feel there is a call for an active population. We’re entering an interesting epoch for the USA. Some are excited, others are terrified. But, it’s important we make the most of it.
I can honestly say I don’t know who Trump will be as a president. For the sake of our country, and the world, I hope he will be different than what many of us expect him to be. But, perhaps this is also the push we need to find our voices again and make real change happen.
It’s no longer the time to sit on our couch watching ‘The Late Show’ criticizing the people “crazy enough” to support someone like Trump and feeling good about being a well-reflected, humanitarian but not actually doing anything about it. As a fellow classmate of mine from Switzerland said to me, when something so much against your morals takes place, it makes you reflect on what is really important for you and fight for that.
And so, I found myself asking yet another question: what can I really do from abroad?!
….. perhaps I should move back to the U.S.!
(Dramatic reaction number 3....it's starting to seeming more legitimate and I know my mom would be happy)
But, as most things come full circle, so has my reflection process about this question
(however, I’m sure it hasn’t finished moving, so we’ll see where it goes next!).
As a U.S. expat, I have always recognized the importance of being an ambassador for my country while living abroad. One thing during this election that has been eye-opening for me, and a bit nerve-racking, is realizing how much this election affects the whole world. It's been made clear as I have witnessed the reactions of the people around me in my international community here in Germany.
I would say the fear and astonishment by people from other countries has been almost equally as strong as it has been for citizens in the USA. That alone shows the influence and power the U.S. has in the world—not only politically, but symbolically.
Now, I know we have work to do in America, and that on one side of the table it doesn’t make sense to worry about what’s happening in other countries when we still have problems to fix within our own. But, like it or not, America does not have the option to make a decision that does not somehow influence countries and individuals across the globe. And in my opinion, this responsibility is important to be aware of and live up to.
Recognizing I was left thinking again…
… perhaps I have an important role to play abroad.
(dramatic response number 4? …I'm not really sure anymore)
So, what’s my final decision as far as returning to the U.S. or not? As of right now I cannot say. This will be determined for me in the coming year/years as I finish my studies, see the direction the USA takes, and contemplate what my role as a U.S. citizen should be. But, I can guarantee that this shift of events has and will influence the decisions I will be making as I move forward—as I think it should for everyone.
And it’s not a dramatic response, just the response of an active citizen.
My dancer perspective on the whole thing: The president may be the face of America, but the people are the body; and when the body is strong enough it can influence the expression of the face. So here we go, let’s start moving again and see where it takes us!