Despite the fact I’m studying abroad in London at the moment, there’s one American thing that’s been following me everywhere I go — the election.
I noticed the faces of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump watching over me through ads for the British newspaper, The Sunday Times, as I went through Gatwick airport this past week. I’ve seen the same ads when making my way through London on the tube.
And whenever I open up my foreigner mouth, people know that I am American. As soon as that’s established, they follow up with something like, “Oh my God, what do you think of Trump?” or something vague about Clinton’s emails. It seems the two candidates are the current symbols of America to everyone born outside our country.
But these statements aren’t usually meant in a condemning way. In fact, most political conversations I’ve had abroad haven’t been serious at all. For most students I’ve encountered here, the American election is sort of a horrifying, reality TV-like joke. Some students have jokingly offered me a place to stay in England if I don’t like the results of the election, while others just simply give me a look of pity.
Sometimes when I’m watching the storm of arguments between Clinton and Trump in the disconnected manner that comes from being thousands of miles away, it feels unreal to me, too.
I’ve tried to keep up with the politics leading up to the American election. I couldn’t watch the live debates — they all aired in England sometime around 2 a.m. — but I’ve read the transcripts and fact-checked conversations, followed the news, sent in my absentee ballot, the whole shebang.
Since I’m 20 and this is my first time voting for president, I’ve paid much more attention to this election than any in the past. The most common thoughts I’ve had in this past year regarding the election have been: “Were all elections this dramatic in the past? Has everything always felt a little too strange to be true? Do the choices always seem so complicated and, at times, kind of crappy?”
The fact that I’m thousands of miles away, only able to really encounter the presidential election through the internet and joking remarks from local students, makes it hard to wrap my head around the reality of what’s happening.
I recently visited a friend who’s studying in Dublin and she shared a similar experience. From so far away, it has become easy to see American politics as more spectacle than politics.
She summarized her experience abroad by telling me about a burrito restaurant’s advertisement she’d seen while walking through the streets of Dublin. It pitted the restaurant’s luchador mascot against an image of Trump labeled “El Diablo” (the devil).
I was growing tired of election chatter even before I began my studies abroad in September. So I think it’s pretty easy for me to boil these politics down to a funny image in an Irish ad campaign for Mexican food.
But it’s not just burritos. When I return, the U.S. will be led by a new president. Whoever is elected, it’s going to change things. For the first time, I’ll be a part of that. It’s more than just choosing a person. The elections have already rippled out of the states and impacted other countries.
Just the fact that I can’t escape this election while visiting London means something: The world is watching us. Even if it seems strange or funny at times, U.S. politics affects the world and how people perceive the states and Americans in general. And that perception may follow you wherever you go.
Manola Secaira of Tacoma is a journalism and English major studying at Seattle Pacific University. She is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.