Following a tumultuous election cycle, Trump’s divisive victory astonished the nation, and its aftershocks were felt around the world. On Oct. 2, Student panelists Shane Healy ’18, Vignesh Ramachandran ’18, Dan Adamek ’18 and Eleanor Eagan ’18 shared the unique experience of studying abroad against the backdrop of Trump’s ascent to power. The event was sponsored by the Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs in partnership with International Studies and Off-Campus Study as its 15th Anniversary International Dinner and Panel. The event, entitled “Being Abroad In The Trump Era,” took place in the Atwater Dining Hall.
Healy, Ramachandran, Adamek and Eagan, who studied abroad in Japan, Jordan, France, and Morocco respectively, shared their own anecdotes before answering questions from moderator Tamar Mayer and the audience.
Eagan, the first panelist to speak, focused on the difficulty of finding refuge from American politics while studying abroad and the frustration of being unable to act in a time of political tension.
“When I was getting ready to go abroad, I was actually pretty excited to be leaving the U.S.,” Eagan said. “The rhetoric had become pretty toxic at that point and it wasn’t particularly fun following the news. I was, I guess naïvely at this point, confident that Hillary Clinton was going to win the election, and I wasn’t particularly worried about the Trump phenomenon. In Morocco, I mostly found refuge from talking about American politics and Trump.”
Following the result of the election, Eagan returned to the U.S. for winter break and attended the inauguration. She would later participate in the Women’s March in Montpelier, VT before having to quickly return to Morocco. Eagan noted that returning to Morocco following her brief break was especially challenging.
“I was feeling like I wanted to do something, and I knew going to Morocco that it was easy to become apathetic when you aren’t living in [the U.S.],” Eagan said.
Ramachandran, who studied in Jordan, felt that Trump’s presidency prompted more discussions about politics. Since the Arabic language curriculum introduced the subject of the U.N. very early on, he quickly established the linguistic foundations to facilitate such conversations about the political climate in the U.S.
Exploring the topic of Trump’s presidency in a spectrum of settings between classrooms and taxi cabs, Ramachandran concluded that there was a dual phenomenon of a fascination and disappointment with the U.S in Jordan. The disillusionment with the U.S. stems mainly from its policies against refugees, Ramachandran said.
“There were a lot of people who carried resentment for the United States, and we saw that, especially [toward] the people who thought Trump would be a valid solution [to the refugee crisis],” Ramachandran said.
In Paris, Adamek also engaged in political discussions as France encountered a similar rise of right-wing nationalism.
“In the days following, [the results of the French election] elicited fears that a similar situation was unfolding in France during the French election,” Adamek said.
During his time in Paris, Adamek was often approached and questioned about how the Trump victory unfolded, with many hoping to prevent a similar scenario in France. Thus, despite living abroad, Adamek felt connected to the political climate of the U.S. through a similar rise of right-wing nationalism within France.
Healy noted a fascinating phenomenon during his studies in Japan where interest toward the U.S. election dissipated after the results were released.
“My perception, in general, about how [Trump’s rise] was perceived in Japan was that it was all about the election,” Healy said. “Once the election had finished and there was a candidate who had won the presidency, interest went way down. I felt that a lot of the people around me were just waiting for an answer.”
In addition, Healy spoke about how media coverage greatly influenced public opinion on Trump. During the election, Japanese media wrote unfavorably of Trump in response to his criticism of Japan’s trade laws and security spending. However, after a relatively successful meeting between Trump and Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, the media toned down its criticism and opinions of the President began to neutralize.
Despite the varying experiences and narratives of the panelists who studied abroad, a shared emotion was the discomfort of trying to explain the situation without all of the answers.
Eagan remembers regretting her decision to disclose the news with her host mother, as she quickly became the fount of knowledge on the matter. Adamek faced a similar experience in the classroom setting.
“Everybody would look to me as the American reference in the room,” Adamek said, “But I wouldn’t know what to say.”