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Expat’s-Eye View: Experiencing the US Election from Abroad 

Last Sunday, two friends and I sat in the downstairs dining room at Maisha sharing student-discount curries and fully struggling to talk in inside voices. We just couldn’t help it. We’re Americans after all, and it had been just over 24 hours since the associated press declared Joe Biden the President-Elect. Our light, easy conversation that night was a welcome contrast to the anxiety-riddled tones we’d been maintaining, such sweet relief after far too many days, months, even years of political angst bogging us down. As we settled the bill, our waiter asked us about the election. Specifically, he wanted to know which presidential candidate got our votes. He gave us a sideways nod, knowing and sympathetic, when all three of us casually replied “Biden.” His follow up question, though, had no such simple answer: “why,” he asked, “did so many Americans vote for Trump?”

I’m no stranger to that hotseat; in the short time that I’ve spent outside the US, I’ve grown accustomed to fielding questions and critiques about leadership and politics in my home country. These very conversations are a huge part of the value of living and learning in a place like St Andrews. Here, I’ve been presented with opportunities to see my country from the outside looking in, to have my views challenged by people from different places and different backgrounds, and to confront, broaden, and humble my conceptions of what it means to be American. I can say with outright certainty that exposure to these perspectives has influenced my feelings on certain big-ticket issues and enhanced my understanding of what was really on the line this election season. 

That being said, digesting the election – this election – from abroad was in no way a passive experience. There was a brief moment after I mailed my ballot back in early October where I thought I could take my hands off, sit back, and just cross my fingers. In that moment, I felt removed, insulated from the contention of the race going on back home. There were no TV commercials, billboards, flags, t-shirts, or yard-signs boasting campaign slogans here, no dinner time interruptions from cold-calling pollsters, and no clipboard-wielding petitioners canvassing outside grocery stores. Still, though, there were big discussions, big questions, and big stresses grounding me in the reality of the election’s significance.  

Most people in my circles here in St Andrews seemed to be keeping tabs on the election, some out of amusement, some in bemusement, and many with genuine concern, genuine hope, and genuine skin in the game. These people, whether they were American or not, all seemed to have a vested interest in the election of a world leader who believes in science during a pandemic and promises action during a climate crisis, who values foreign relations, promotes unity and social justice, and who, very simply, minds his manners on Twitter. While I was in the majority of people who cared and had opinions about the election here, I was in the minority of people who actually had the ability to vote. The weight of this position – as a participant situated within the election’s global audience – consumed me. 

I spent election week looking on from across the pond in angst as the country that I call home approached the brink of chaos, concerned not only for potential post-election unrest, for my family living in cities blanketed in plywood, and for my friends on college campuses preparing for lockdown, but also for how the election results would impact everyone domestically and abroad – especially those who could not voice their opinions on ballots – for the next four years. 

We all spent too many days on the edge of our seats expecting a blow-up, but in the end, the drama seemed to fizzle out. While Trump clings to Hail Mary claims of voter fraud, the majority of Americans have accepted the Biden-Harris victory, many with open arms and dancing in the streets. While I can’t speak on behalf of all Americans, I’m hopeful that the incoming administration will be a pivot from the leadership we’ve known for the last four years. I’m hopeful that they will make good on their promises and lead with dignity and compassion so that when I eventually move back to the States, I’ll have confidence that my country is safer and healthier, more tolerant and more just than it was when I left. 

Kate Mackie

St Andrews '22

Kate is a fourth year Geography and Sustainable Development student. Originally from Chicago, Kate is a Great Lakes girl through and through, but she's taken to life by the North Sea just fine.
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