Traveling abroad this fall feels like an indirect political statement. No matter where I end up — be it a bustling train in London or a quaint pub in Budapest — the first thing I am asked is, “what are you going to do if Trump wins?” It’s a fair question, but one that I don’t believe should necessarily define my identity as an American abroad. From an outsider’s perspective, the 2016 election cycle probably looks more like a never-ending Saturday Night Live sketch than a serious political endeavor. However, I’m not sure this is an event that should be made into a joke — this could be one of the most important presidential elections of our recent history.
Like so many of my classmates currently studying abroad, this is the first presidential election during which I am eligible to vote. In this year in particular, being an informed voter is crucial. I am not one to take this responsibility lightly, especially when the choice is between electing a trailblazing, eloquent politician with years of experience or a questionable businessman who spews hatred the same way a broken fire hydrant sprays a city block with water. Maintaining a keen sense of political awareness is a lofty request of students, as our time and minds are so often preoccupied. Being a student abroad makes the weight of this social pressure to be informed feel even heavier than usual.
It’s difficult to stay on top of the election cycle from a Twitter feed that runs five hours ahead and a television that doesn’t stream American cable news channels. The media climate in the United Kingdom was jarring at first, simply because it was so much more calm than what we are all used to seeing in the States. News programs in London, from what I’ve seen in my two months here, are far less in-your-face about the stories they present. There is no 24-hour network covering breaking stories and counting down to the next big campaign stump speech, at least not on the tiny TV in my flat. I don’t have access to the same streaming services I typically use at home, so I can’t stay updated on shows like “Last Week Tonight” or the “Daily Show.” My day is halfway over by the time The Skimm pops up in my email inbox, making me realize the newsletter is arguably less fun to read anywhere other than in your bed as soon as you wake up in the morning. Apart from coming across the occasional YouTube clip from a late night show or scrolling through a shared article on Facebook, I often have to go out of my way to find informative coverage on major issues. I’m still deciding whether or not this is a blessing or a curse; the break from constant political jargon is a relief, but at the same time, being cut off from information specific to the US at such a heightened time is slightly nerve-wracking.
Being across the Atlantic on Election Day will be a strange feeling. I am involved in the process, yet simultaneously, so removed from it. In fact, I probably won’t even be awake when the results are finalized. Even though I witness the election from such a distanced perspective, its significance is not diminished to me whatsoever. I know exactly how important it is that we use our right to vote. I know that my vote counts for something, no matter what people say about the election being rigged (because it is factually proven to not be so). Sending my absentee ballot back home to Connecticut was an exciting moment in my brief political life. Even though I spent four pounds on an envelope and a priority mail stamp, I knew it was worth it because it meant my voice would be heard.
Sure, our system isn’t perfect, and sure, our candidates aren’t perfect either. But as one of my friends in high school said, you can’t complain about the results if you don’t participate in the election. That piece of advice could go a long way in post-Brexit England, where the voters who only took the time to Google ‘what is the EU’ after the polls had closed are now realizing the weight of their decisions. There are a lot of ways America could do better by its voters, but I’m proud to be able to vote in this milestone of an election, even if it’s from an ocean away.