We have been abroad for over five months now. Each country continues to amaze and impress us with new experiences. No two countries are the same. No two cultures are the same. However, there is a common curiosity that unites them all: President Trump.
It seems we cannot escape the political conversation. As soon as people find out we are American we prep ourselves for the next series of questions surrounding our controversial new President. Most people already have their opinions, but some people ask what we think. It is hard not to engage and I usually make my opinion known.
With the exception of one person (he also favored Brexit and the abolishment of all government which made for an interesting night at the bar!) none of the people we met were in favor of trump. They used words like "crazy", "racist", or worse. However, the most common criticism is that he isn't qualified to hold such an important position. An Australian, who lives in London, asked, "Why don't Americans understand that he isn't qualified to head the world's most important economy?" He went on to explain how the success of America dictates the success of the rest of the world. I had no answer for him.
A woman from Scotland remarked how the world looks to America to be a global leader and we elected a President who wants to run an isolationist regime that won't work in a global economy. She also commented that America is the land of opportunity founded by immigrants, yet we want to build a wall and ban "muslims". I couldn't respond well enough.
A man from Fiji with limited English asked why so many people voted for him when he says crazy, mean things. My attempt to explain the electoral college didn't go well. So again, I had no answer for him.
Another Australian simply said he no longer respects Americans. He wasn't the nicest guy so we just walked away from that conversation.
At dinner in Indonesia our waiter brought up he election. He said in broken-English, "Trump, he has no heart". He then told us to tell Barrack Obama hello for him when we get back to America. If we run into him, we certainly will.
One of the most interesting conversations was with a young man from Germany who was about to start his masters degree is political policy. He was incredibly informed and made some valid points. He started by commenting that Hillary and Trump were both trying to accomplish the same thing: grow the economy, create jobs, and prevent terrorist attacks. The difference, he noted, was that Trump want to do this by isolating America and Hillary wanted a global strategy. He felt that isolating the country from the rest of the world would prove to be more detrimental to the economy and the safety of America. He also said he studied the constitutions of the top ten countries according to GDP in the world and ours is outdated and not that relevant anymore. It is just his opinion, and I am not saying I agree with it, but it made me think considering the constitution originally counted black people as 3/5 of a person. Honestly, I think he knew more about our constitution than 90% of Americans, myself included. It was a conversation I won't easily forget.
Most everyone we spoke with (there are dozens and dozens of conversations) came from a place of concern and were very respectful. We have made some friends through these conversations and hope to stay in touch as we continue our travels and end up settling again in the States. We hope many of them to visit us.
We have also encouraged people to visit America. Many of them had plans to and we did our best to provide recommendations. We spoke with pride of the amazing things to see and do in the States. We even went as far as offering up a place to stay or a meal with friends and family as they make their way across the states. Sorry folks, you have been appointed as Ambassadors of American good will. There were many misconceptions about American cities, American health care and American people. Hopefully we cleared them up and they will enjoy their visit.
We do not expect the conversations to stop but, likely, increase. The travel ban is now a hot topic. I've learned to embrace the conversations. What I realized is that while many Americans are angry right now, most foreigners are disappointed. They feel let down by their Global Leader. I empathize with them.
I guess what I learned from this is that the world is watching and they have high expectations for us. As Americans we often talk about our country as the "greatest in the world". If that is the case then we must act like it. We must embrace our diversity and treat everyone as equals. We must welcome with open arms those seeking a better life. When other countries are in crisis and their citizens are fleeing for their lives we must allow them to find safety and hope in America. We must live up to the great expectations other nations have of us. If we choose not to then we lose the right to call ourselves the greatest country in the world.