Experiencing an Election Abroad

Zach Cohen
November 16, 2016

Election Night in America!  Democracy in practice!  What an exciting time!  Or at least, it used to be?  


My politically conscious life began during the 2008 Presidential Election.  As the results poured in, my brother and I would race back and forth from the TV to the Computer, figuring out just how many electoral votes Obama needed to clench victory until we gleefully realized that there was no way he could lose.  From there, the 2012 election was equally captivating; I soaked in the primary drama, the contentious debates, and again, on election night, I was glued to my TV, continuously updating and drawing up paths to victory, until I was sure that President Obama had secured re-election.


So, naturally, 2016 wouldn’t be any different.  Right?


After deciding to study abroad last spring, I realized that I would be experiencing the last part of the election cycle in Germany.  This time, I would not be anxiously sprawled on a couch, watching with my brother and family - instead I would be an ocean away, likely biting my fingernails with the incessant glow of my laptop illuminating my face.  Since then, I had been committed to pulling an all-nighter to watch the ordeal, to continue my Election-Night tradition and watch the hours of results live.


I thought it was going to be fun.  After all, it was probably going to be Clinton who would come out on top, so there wasn’t much to worry about.  However, I never expected that the ten months in-between applying for study abroad and election night would go down the way they did.  Thus, come November 8th, I was terrified.  Perhaps cautiously optimistic, but terrified nonetheless.


I sat with two friends, armed with a boat-load of snacks and a battlestation of laptops and phones, ready to brave the night.  It was 11:00 p.m., about 5:00 p.m. on the East coast, and it would be over an hour before any results came in.  We were ready.


Fast forward to 9:00 in the morning.


It’s one thing for your country to turn on its head overnight.  It’s another to be watch it happen from thousands of miles away.  Eyes red, head spinning, sleep-deprived, in disbelief and disappointment, I felt helpless.  I wanted to scream, but besides the bubble of our program, there was no one to listen.  That isn’t to say that Germans were apathetic towards Trump, but rather that its difficult to truly understand what’s happening if you aren’t from the country.  I spoke with my flatmates in the aftermath, and though they were empathetic and reassuring that things would eventually sort themselves out, I don’t think that we shared the same sense of frustration.  


Throughout the past few months, I’ve felt a little bit dissociated with my own country; as though I can care a little bit less about what’s happening back home because I’m not there.  But the election shocked some sense back into me.  In the 40 consecutive hours that I was awake, I watched the world drastically change, and the reality of the situation sunk in.


In the collective post-election sadness witnessed across my Facebook feed, people jokingly told me that I should stay in Germany. You don’t want to come back, they said. Get out while you can! But that’s the opposite of what I wanted to do.  If anything, I want to return to the U.S., to be there alongside my friends and understand how the situation has affected things first hand.  I’ll be sad to leave Germany come next month, but given the current atmosphere within my own country, I can’t help but be drawn back home.


Zach Cohen

<p>Hello! &nbsp;My name is Zach and I am so happy you are here! &nbsp;I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and am currently a Junior at Occidental College, where I am double-majoring in History and International Relations. &nbsp;I&#39;m fascinated by the connections between the past and the present, and the role that history plays in modern diplomacy. &nbsp;Be sure to keep up with my travels as I explore Freiburg and the European Union this semester!</p>

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