On Being an American Abroad

We interrupt your (somewhat) regularly scheduled lighthearted and faintly snarky blog posts with a much more serious one. I wasn’t planning to write about politics on this blog – and in fact I’ve been trying to avoid even knowing about the current state of affairs in American politics – but recently it’s been affecting my time here to such an extent that I can’t not address it. If you’re tired of hearing about it, or if you think this blog is no place for politics (which, agree to disagree), feel free to skip that section.

But first, a brief recap of this past week in bullet points and pictures:

  • Wednesday was Burns Night! It’s a night devoted to celebrating the birthday of Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns. He’s most well-known for writing Auld Lang Syne, which you’ve definitely heard even if you’ve never heard of it. I ate haggis and drank some whisky.
  • I had my second aerial dance class on Friday. More about that in my goals post, which should be published relatively soon. I also went to a concert Friday night for Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival. The first group sang songs in Gaelic, and the second group performed some songs on the bagpipe. ‘Twas a very cultured night.
  • We went on a day trip to Dundee, Aberdeen, and Dunnottar Castle (the castle that the one in Disney’s Brave is based on)!

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The North Sea at Aberdeen

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Dunnottar Castle

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  • On Sunday we went to Pollok Park in Glasgow, and then to a Hippo Campus concert that night.

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Okay, that was it for the brief recap of my week, so if you’re not into politics now is the time to bail.

Still here? Okay.

One of my goals for this blog has always been to be as honest as possible, to let you guys know when things are okay and when they’re not, because I’m really tired of reading sugar-coated articles that say “don’t worry!” and “everything will be okay in the end!” Sure, maybe it will be, but that’s not helpful. I don’t want to know that everything worked out for you and you loved your study abroad experience, I want to know that you were homesick and had moments of doubt; I want to know that I’m not alone. And I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting that. So, from the beginning, that has been my goal with this blog.

Things are not okay. I mean, they are, until I log onto Facebook and see the newest executive order penned by a man I still can’t believe actually managed to get into the White House. They are, until I scroll through my news feed and very nearly start crying in the middle of a cafe while eating lunch.

It’s difficult watching everything happen from afar. I’m thousands of miles away and across an ocean, and I feel absolutely powerless as I watch the vast amounts of progress we’ve made in America over the last few years – equal rights, environmental protection, work to decrease gun violence, among many others – begin to come crumbling down in just two weeks. I feel ashamed to be an American, and to be honest, at the moment I don’t even want to be American.

One of the things I’ve noticed about Glasgow over the past month is that it’s not a very diverse city. I might even go so far as to say that it’s less diverse than Boston which, if you’ve ever been to Boston, you know is saying something. This is nothing against Glasgow, but it’s made me realize how truly amazing it is that America is as diverse as it is. Diversity is what makes America great, what sets us apart from other nations – our diversity is what makes me most proud to be an American. You don’t “make America great again” by closing our borders (and our minds), putting up a wall, and taking away our diversity. That’s just really not how that works, and it’s breaking my heart to watch.

I’ve always tried to live my life with the philosophy that compassion is the ultimate show of strength. It takes a lot less energy to be kind to someone than it does to be mean, and kindness will take you farther in life anyway – so why do we insist on being so harmful to one another? The world needs compassion more than it needs anything else. Love has always and will always trump hate, and I know this, but it still breaks my heart to see so many people’s hearts filled with so much hate, and to then see their hate fueled by the now-president of our country. To see their prejudices and discrimination and hate supported and encouraged by the leader of our nation – to see our country do an about-face on my principle ideals and core values – and to watch it all happen from a place where I cannot do anything about it (or at least not as much as I’d like to)… it’s difficult.

As much as I’m hurting watching the news and seeing the terrible things done in the American name, I am still able to find pride in my country. Seeing the hundreds of thousands of people rallying all over the country, marching in the streets for women’s rights and crowding the airports in support of refugees and those detained, seeing lawyers flock to airports to volunteer their time to help people – good people – being held on the basis of their country of birth and their religion, seeing the press fight back against censorship and bias and discrimination – seeing all of these people not back down from Donald’s intimidation tactics is amazing and fills my heart with hope. All is not lost.

It’s hard, being away from my home country at this difficult and heartbreaking moment in history. It’s hard not having an easy way to make my voice heard, to feel powerless to help. Part of me wants to just move to Scotland permanently, but a larger part of me knows that that would be the ultimate display of the very privilege that has blinded us and gotten us into this mess in the first place, the very privilege we’re seeking to dismantle. So instead I watch the news, and I watch the protests, and yes – I feel helpless and lost and like crying some of the time. But I also feel pride in my country and in the knowledge that we will not sit quietly and let years of progress be undone without a hell of a fight.

If you are involved with the protests, please stay safe. I will join you as soon as I can.

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(Not my photo – a sign from an anti-Donald rally in Glasgow being held even as I write this post)

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4 thoughts on “On Being an American Abroad

  1. Martha Byam

    I share your pain and anger over the direction our country is taking at the moment, but history has a long lens. We all must do our part to speak our truth with respect and try to change the course to a more humanitarian, thoughtful and informed approach. Great rally’s all over the world and more to come – the White House even shut down its comment line after awhile! Take care

    Like

  2. carolinemashni

    This is an awesome post Melissa! I love hearing about your super cool adventures and you are such a wonderful writer. Have a great time, and I am sure you are representing America well to all those you meet 🙂

    Like

  3. Carolyn Byam

    Hi There,
    Keep the blog and pictures coming. I really enjoy them.

    Politically speaking, try not to get to emotional, it controls you. and consider that the news may be bias, Maybe you could round out your information with the drudge report or the
    Australian.com report.
    I like Martha’s comment about a more humanitarian thoughtful and informed approach.
    LOVE YOU Gram

    Like

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