Study-abroad experience enhances student’s views on politics, foreign policy

By Caitlyn Martin ’14

When I decided to study abroad a little over eight months ago, I considered the fact that I would be missing a very important part of American history.

Not only would I be missing the presidential election, but I would be missing the first presidential election in which I could actively participate. When I left in September for a three-month stay in England, I thought for sure I would be missing it all. I could not have been more wrong.

What I forgot to consider, however, was the fact that I would be surrounded by people who really wanted to know my thoughts about my government.

I currently attend the University of Westminster and live in a flat with seven other international students. As the only American, it has been an eye-opening experience. Discussing the election with them gave me insight into what other students thought about it.

From the outside looking in, the pattern seems to be consistent. Most people I have come across, in fact almost all the people I have come across, endorse our current president.

At first, I was a little bitter about the situation, forcing my own opinions down their throats and wondering why they had such strong stances on something they did not even know.

After being asked who I was voting for multiple times, and seemingly having the same discussion repeatedly, I decided to take advantage of the situation at hand. I have never been into politics, but being here has certainly inspired me. I stayed up until 2 a.m. to watch each of the three debates, and kept myself updated with news to ensure I was informed.

What I have learned most being abroad during such an important election is how involved other countries are with American politics.

I was so surprised that each of my flat mates, coming from Mexico, Denmark, England, Germany, and France all knew the names of both presidential candidates. I felt so embarrassed when I could not even name one person of leadership in their respective countries. This encouraged me to continue my research, but this time going beyond just the United States.

For the first time, I looked into our foreign policy, and was actually interested in how our country works with other countries.

Today, in my French Revolution class, my professor compared the division of American politics in the current election to the divide of the country in France during its revolution. I pulled him aside after class and asked him his thoughts on the election. Although he has resided in London for eight year,  he was born in raised in Virginia and still voted in this very election. He explained that most people in the UK care about these elections, and although he lives here, placing his vote in America still affects him.

Suddenly, everything became so clear. I used to dismiss politics, claiming that I didn’t really care, which is unfortunately an excuse used by many people all over the United States.

In that moment spent talking with my professor, I realized that each American has the opportunity to direct our country in the right path. As cliché as it may be, it took being abroad for me to truly realize the direct impact each person can have on Election Day.

After almost two months of growing knowledge on the subject, the election is finally here. My friends and I will be attending an election party, starting around 11:30 London time to watch the election unfold. Many places all around the city are holding election parties, some of which will be held all night.

At first I thought being abroad during the election was going to make my first voting experience irrelevant, but it has turned out to be the complete opposite. Being abroad has truly enhanced my views on politics, and I will return home with a whole new outlook.

Martin, of Methuen, Mass., voted via absentee ballot while studying abroad in London. She will study there through the end of the calendar year.

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