When you live abroad, sometimes it's easy to put your home country out of your mind, at least somewhat. You blend into the society where you live — picking up new habits, eating new foods, talking to your new friends about things going on in the city where you now live. However, when you're an American abroad during an election, none of that is true.
I've made a life for myself in the Czech Republic. I go outside in the morning onto Prague's cobblestoned streets, walk past the local farmer's market, hear the dulcet tones of Czech spoken around me, see the gorgeous Art Nouveau architecture on the streets in my neighborhood — but, right now, none of that matters. The streets I'm walking down might as well be in downtown Chicago. I'm living in a bubble of my own creation, my thoughts dictated by what I see in the American news media and what the poll aggregators are predicting today, barely leaving any space to register what's going on in the place where I physically live.
Based on the conversations I've had with other American expats and students, I know I'm not alone. And for all those who are curious or just want to commiserate, here is what I believe every American expat or study abroad student has been going through for the last 18 months, as the election has roiled around us.
1. You Really Have To Know What A Caucus Is
If you bring up the election at all with your foreign friends — or even if you don't — you're going to get questions about every aspect of the process, so you'd better be prepared to answer them. How do the primaries work? How do they figure out which states get the most electoral votes? What's a caucus? Your 9th grade civics class knowledge is going to come in really handy — even if you have to bolster it with some strategic Wikipedia-ing.
2. You Gain Appreciation For How Far Right Our Political Spectrum Really Is
In most European political spectrums, Bernie Sanders would fall in the center-right area. Free college, free universal healthcare, and improved infrastructure, along with higher taxes to pay for it all? These things aren't even up for discussion. Tax day in Finland is practically a national holiday. The whole country freaked out when the Czech Republic instituted a 30 crown fee (about $1.60 at the time) on visits to the doctor. I could go on, but you get the picture.
3. You Lose A Lot Of Sleep Thanks To Time Differences
It doesn't really help your sleep cycle when you're dying to watch the presidential debates in real time and they get started at your 3:00 in the morning. You long ago resigned yourself to the fact that you're not going to get any sleep on the night of Election Day, as the first major round of results won't roll in until 1 a.m.. Will you still have to go to school or work the next day? Yes you will, but you're just going to have to power through it.
4. Your Vote Takes A Bit Of Advance Planning
Luckily, there are a number of organizations dedicated to making absentee voting very easy. You still do have to go through the motions of requesting the ballot and then sending it back, though. On the bright side, if you have a printer and your state sends email ballots, you can vote without ever leaving your house. Oh — you also don't get the cool "I Voted" sticker, and that sucks.
5. You Go All Out On Your Election Party
Enough American snacks to feed an army? Check. A betting game for the Electoral College? Check. Explanations of various political processes prepared in writing for non-American attendees? Check. All of your favorite politicians, pundits, and political comedians taped up on the walls, plus a "Wall of Shame" with a marker all ready for doodling devil horns onto Rush Limbaugh's head? Oh yeah. And the best part? The foreigners who you've invited aren't even familiar with the concept of an election party.
6. You Really Hope That Your Friends Don't Ruin Your Election Party
True story: a German friend of mine spent our entire 2012 Election Day party complaining about the faults of the Electoral College system. Due to the anger this ignited in all Americans present, this lead to a new rule at the 2016 Election Day party: there will be no complaining about the Electoral College system at the election party. You can complain about it on any other day — but on the day when we have to use it to determine whether He Who Must Not Be Named will be our next president.
7. You Have To Answer For Every Problem Anyone Has Ever Had With America
Why do Americans have to drive everywhere? Why do Americans love guns so much? How is there so much religion in American politics? How on earth did someone like Donald Trump become a major party nominee? As the resident American in a time when everyone's following American politics, you get all of these questions as well. Even if you've never owned a gun and you've been a member of the Democratic Party since you could vote, you're still going to have to come up with answers for questions like this. Which leads me to ...
8. You Get Frustrated With Having To Stand Up For A Country That Has Trump As A Major Party Presidential Nominee
America becomes the uncle that you have to invite to Thanksgiving, but whose opinions you're really not interested in defending. There are only so many times you can try to come up with an answer before your brain just automatically starts short circuiting when someone says "but really, how is it that so many people support this man?"
9. You Somehow Have To Live Your Normal Life With All Of This Going On
The most important thing to keep in mind as an American living abroad during an election is that most people's moods aren't entirely determined by what they saw on the FiveThirtyEight Election Forecast this morning. Life goes on outside of America, and you have to live in it — so you do.
When you're living abroad during an election season, your life is both an escape and an encumbrance — but at least all of the American expats are in it together. And to all of the Americans back at home, now our lives can be an escape for you. On Election Day, we'll all be in American — or at least on American time.