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The Election

by Zander Willoughby | Jan 27, 2017

Well, everyone, I almost made it almost two whole months without getting political with this. I must say, that’s much longer than I thought it would be. Today, I’m going to talk about the election and being 6,808 km from my family and friends for it. Recognising that it would be inappropriate to use this outlet as a soapbox for my  political views, the election and the implications of such have been, and continue to be, very important to my time abroad. So, here we go:

As context, I spent most of 2016 outside of the U.S.. For Christmas break and most of January, I was in Palestine for Jan Term (another great opportunity to study abroad for a shorter amount of time through Manchester, *hint hint*) and traveling (Shout out to Lucas al-Zoughbi and family!!). This summer, I was in Northeastern Nigeria visiting crisis response programmes in areas attacked by Boko Haram. As for the fall, I arrived in France at the beginning of September. Spending this much time abroad as an American, I’ve been inevitably asked about our elections somewhere around 1,000,000,000 times, or at least, it feels like it… Rather it be Palestinians worried about more money going into the Israeli Occupation (though both choices were bad news for Palestinians, one was decidedly worse. But, that’s neither here nor there for now), Nigerians worried about the continuation of humanitarian aid coming in or visas to visit the U.S., Polish people worried about their security of the U.S.’s relationship with NATO, or the French wondering how the tides of populism in the West will flow in their upcoming election in April/May, many want to hear an American perspective of the election. I’ll recant my statement about not using this as a soapbox in order to talk about what I tell them.

As fitting with the mission statement of Manchester University, I believe in the infinite worth of every individual and a principled, productive, and compassionate world that improves the human condition. I have done and will do everything within my power to work towards a world like that. Long story short, the morning of 9 November was a shock for me.

The morning of 9 November, we (the students in our programme) were all invited to an election morning (time zone, it started at 6:00 am) hosted by an organisation called Americans in Alsace (AIA) and the American Consulate at the Hilton Hotel. Notwithstanding the general feel of despair and abhorrence (as testament, the straw-poll came to be something like 297-3), it was a lovely breakfast! AIA is an organisation that does cultural exchange programmes in Alsaces who put together a breakfast buffet representing American and French traditional breakfast foods. I heard it was delicious, I ate the rest of a bottle of antacids… We, 300 or so Americans residing in Alsace,   watched   as   the   results   flowed in, John Podesta’s statement, and the acceptance speech. We also heard from some of the professors running study abroad programmes in town and representatives from AIA and the U.S. Consulate. Air France even donated two roundtrip tickets in a drawing! I didn’t win…

The results came in around 2:30 am EST. Here, they came in around 8:30 am; meaning that I had four hours of class and an event at the Polish Embassy to go to that day. Regardless of your political background, beliefs, or who won and did not win, going straight from election results to class at an international institute is not a fun task. After the election breakfast, I went to class with students from E.U. allies (who weren’t and still aren’t sure whether to make fun of us or be terrified), Syrian refugees (who are now worried that there are soon going to be a lot more people killed and displaced), Russians, Iranians, Chinese, Koreans, and more. When there are only two Americans in the class, one becomes a sort of de facto ambassador for the U.S., expected to speak to the decision of the American people. That night, I talked to Polish embassy workers worried about the U.S.’s commitment to NATO and, thus, their security. I had to try and convince all of these people that everything will be OK while trying to grapple with the validity of what I was saying (still working on that).

I don’t know that I’ve been in a conversation since without the American election coming up in some form. It’s a constant reminder that when you study abroad (or are abroad in general), you represent yourself, your institution, but above all, your country (whether you like it or not!).

Aside from my experience in the post-election fallout in France, it’s just as important to recognise the experience of being 6,808 km door-to-door away from my family and 6,948 km away from campus. Personally, I’ll be fine, I’m a tall, white, straight male from a middle-class Christian family from the Midwest. Identity politics-wise, I’m as cookiecutter average as it gets. It’s being away from one of my Black younger sisters who thinks that, “All the Black people will be sent to Africa.” It’s not being with my Muslim friends flying back to MU for spring semester worrying about if they’ll get in because of the talk of the ‘Muslim Ban.’ It’s being away from my friends at school and everyone I work with at the Office of Multicultural Affairs worried about the spike in hate crimes and normalisation of racist behaviour. I guess that’s just something that comes with being abroad.

To digress a bit, it’s been amazing to see the application of things said on the campaign trail in the U.S. on public opinion internationally. When watching the campaign, notably the debates, in the U.S., we debate about Syria, U.S.-E.U. relations, adherence to the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law, the U.S.’s place in the world, etc. It’s a very different experience discussing and reading about these topics, maybe even talking about them with people who have traveled to or come from these places and actually being in a room full of worried E.U. allies, those fleeing the Syrian conflict, hearing the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. addressing members of the E.U. Parliament (I got to see that too! Maybe that’s a story for a later post), etc. The phrase “All politics is local politics” has really stuck in my mind the past few months; it’s truer than you would think.

Zander E. Willoughby ’18 is a Political Science & French major & Peace Studies minor, and a former Multicultural Affairs Programmer, Student Senate Vice-President, Model U.N. Secretary-General and more. He is currently studying in Strasbourg, France at the Institut d'Études Politiques at Université de Strasbourg. His future plans include working in International Relations or International Law, hopefully within the U.N. system.

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