The state of U.S. politics has long been a hot-button issue, but in recent months it seems as though the controversy surrounding our government has increased. However, for study abroad students spending the spring semester in Oxford and Leipzig, they get the unique opportunity to observe American politics while living in a different country.
Dr. Neal Coates, chair of the political science and criminal justice department, is one of the professors staying with students in Oxford, England this semester. He is teaching two courses: Politics of West Europe and International Law and Organizations. He said he keeps up with American politics several times a day through the internet – the British press, Google news alerts and the Middle East press.
Coates said he’s had several interactions with Britons about American politics, and recently the biggest topic has been Trump’s executive order on immigration.
“Everyone here and on the Continent has had an opinion on the executive order,” Coates said. “They say things like, ‘The U.S. is a country of immigrants,’ or ‘The U.K. is made up of people from all over the world.’ There is quite a bit of opposition here to the immigration order, including from the professors at the various Oxford colleges that we have heard speak in different venues.”
Coates said that he and his wife, who is in Oxford with him, met an elderly Jewish woman who escaped Germany as a child during World War II. Since then, the woman has lived in Israel and the United Kingdom. Coates said the woman has seen so much in her life and very much wants the U.S. to take more refugees and for Trump to lift his order.
“I have been struck again, and the ACU students are also seeing this, how important the U.S. and America are to the world and that we can make a difference as individuals and as a Christian university,” Coates said. “Whether the U.S. government makes mistakes, or what it says or does, is watched closely elsewhere and debated and considered. And being on a study abroad and building relationships with local persons and going to events here in Oxford is so valuable to better understand U.S. and even Texas politics.”
Savannah Buchanan, junior psychology major from San Antonio, is living in Oxford this semester and is bad about keeping up with politics, even when she’s home. She said she’s not making it a priority while she’s abroad, and it seems as though what’s happening in America is distant and irrelevant anyways. Instead, she’s immersing herself in England and paying attention to the current events in Europe. She also said she’s had several interactions with Europeans who brought up American politics.
“A few brought it up almost as soon as they found out I was an American,” Buchanan said. “Because politics tend to be a hot-button issue, I prefer not to discuss them with strangers. Most of the time they don’t want to debate it at length so much as just bring it up or see how I react. They say something like, ‘So, how do you like your new president?’ One or two Britons have been more interested in telling me their opinion than finding out mine. I politely listen to them rant.”
However, the interest in foreign politics can go both ways. Buchanan said she met an English woman who travelled to the U.S. over the summer and was asked about Brexit by every stranger she met, making our country the same to English visitors.
“I did not leave America to keep talking about it,” Buchanan said. “I am in Europe to experience Europe. One Briton told me he pays more attention to American than British politics because, ‘As America goes, so the world goes.'”
Interest in American politics spreads far beyond just England. Lauren Meandro, sophomore multimedia major from Austin, is studying abroad in Leipzig, Germany, and said she mainly keeps up with American politics through social media. Just like in Oxford, Meandro has interacted with Europeans who are interested to hear her opinion on U.S. politics.
“I wouldn’t say everyone here is very involved in American politics, but they definitely keep up,” Meandro said. “Probably more than a number of Americans. Basically, the analogy I’ve heard is if the U.S. sneezes, everyone else gets a cold. Most people I’ve talked to aren’t really happy with the election results. I’d say people range from sad, mad, to straight up confused or worried.”
Meandro voted for a third party candidate in the Presidential election. She said when she tells Europeans she didn’t vote for either of the main candidates, they seem to be put at ease because they can’t automatically assume her position on political issues.
“I also kind of feel even more aware of every decision that our government makes,” Meandro said. “Not necessarily that I’m more informed about the decisions, but that as an American in a foreign country, I now represent the U.S. to whomever I meet. I almost sometimes feel the need to be more apologetic about the actions my country is taking, though I have almost nothing to do with any of the decisions.”
Meandro said her time in Leipzig has helped her realize that she needs to have a more objective view of U.S. politics, seeing how Americans run things politically and thinking about why we run it the way we do.
“I feel removed from (U.S. politics) all a bit,” she said. “I suppose as anyone would. I think for one, I came to feel even more removed when my Scottish tour guide in Berlin said I’ll be returning to a different America. That really struck me because I feel like it’s true.”