What It’s Like to Study Abroad During Political Crises

What It’s Like to Study Abroad During Political Crises

The top 6 things I noticed as I studied abroad in London.
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London is truly an amazing city. It’s a city of gray skies, royalty, amazing theater and art, beautiful sights, endless food options, and some of the best chocolate ever. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have just spent the past 6 months one of the most wonderful city in the world.

As much as I’ve missed Cornell, being in London was a change I welcomed in my life. For 6 months, not only did I have no prelims to worry about or toe-numbing weather to be caught in, but I also got to be free in a new environment.

Upon returning home, there were still so many things still pouring in my head. Was it the best time of my life? Yes, I’d like to think so. It felt completely like a dream. I spent a majority of my time outside of studying just exploring the city I called home, meeting the people who offered to show me what a lovely place London can be and helped me make it a home and learning about their brilliant culture. Did I miss home? Yes, I did. More so as the days went on, but I made sure to keep up with American news outlets and with politics so I would know what to expect when I came home. In addition, I was sure to keep up with UK politics so I would know how my peers reacted around me. Did I feel in danger at any time? For the most part, no. Despite living in a city subjected to three terror attacks in the span of three months, I had felt safer than ever because I knew that despite being a stranger to this land, London was looking out for me. I felt safe, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t cause for concern.

One of the best things I felt I could do to digest the realities of my time in London and wake up from this dream was to write it all down: how did it really feel to be in London while their government and American government were dealing with new crises and situation?

1. The British are much more aware about American culture and politics than you may think.

Even as I was just learning about who exactly Theresa May was and what the Members of Parliament (MPs) did, (and exactly why there were MPs in London but Scottish MPs still in Edinburgh who weren’t part of the English Parliament...) my flatmates were already in the know. I’m imagining this has more to do with the United States’ current position as a global superpower, but I was surprised to find my flatmates protesting against Trump’s policies and other cabinet members’ positions when I had no grounds for comparison. Of course, their knowledge on American politics made it easier for me to bond with them and further explain the way events would play out--especially when during the Women’s March in London and during the protests on Trump’s travel ban.

2. You will be expected to be the point person for the American perspective.

Even for those who may not be as aware of American politics, you may still be expected to offer explanations or opinions regarding American politics. For the most part, I was never the one to bring up our current President in conversation. But if he would come up, I’d be met with frequent eye rolls, complaints, and worries about the future--the same as I’d experienced back at home. Even though I considered myself as being in a safe, liberal environment, I couldn’t explain the politics or respond further in political conversation than “I’m not sure, but I can tell you I didn’t vote for him.” I attribute this trait to my acclimation to the politics of my hometown, where politics is very divisive-- I spend most of my time listening to others’ opinions defending Trump rather than trying to argue against it.

3. Although in a different country, you get to see your country through a foreign lens.

Seeing American politics through another country's point of view is an interesting experience. Not only is there the degree of separation, but you get to see how American politics affects the world, not just you. Trump’s presidency did not just mean politically correct culture was dead in America, but that it was dead in places others wanted to see it. Trump’s stance on the travel ban was not just about America’s stance on the refugee crisis, but it also encouraged the European dialogue on ordeal, and whether the current method was commendable or unacceptable. It not only became about Trump, it also became about Theresa May and their “special relationship,” specifically how she still has not yet publicly denounced Trump.

4. You became an honorary member of your host country by engaging in their concerns.

As I stated before, during my time abroad I became engaged in British government practices. I learned about the Parliament, the duties of the Prime Minister, the previous PMs, the Royal Family, and a lot of other information I did not know of before. Most importantly, I learned about Brexit and the General Election in depth. I remember being approached on the street in Oxford and asked if I had registered to vote. Though I was glad to have left England before the election could take place, part of me still regrets not being able to vote and contribute to the Labour Party’s cause. Perhaps if I had voted with the other over-18 population in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn would’ve become PM or an Independent Party seat would be given over to Parliament. I’ll never know.

5. You’ll be a point person for your family and friends as to how bad global crises are.

Despite feeling completely safe on my East London campus, I still received text messages and phone calls from family members and friends who’d seen the news, reacted, and wanted to know if I was okay. The Manchester attacks happened four hours away from London, and the Westminster and London Bridge attacks were less than 20 minutes away from me by tube. Not only was I okay and safe from harm, I was nowhere near any of the attacks. Though not devoid of sympathy for the victims, I felt completely detached from the attacks. I can only attribute this to feeling the same way I do at home--when violence breaks out or a shooting happens, what is the first thing we do if we aren’t in the immediate area? Message our loved ones and carry on with our lives. And this is exactly what I did-- I kept calm and carried on with my finals, my writing, and my adventures. I didn’t worry because London gave me protocols to use in the event of danger. London had trained and efficient police officers who knew how to calm crowds and assure the safety of each of its citizens. I’d love to have that same feeling of safety because I couldn’t guarantee that feeling would stay with me once I returned back to New York.

6. Despite how hectic things were getting, part of you will miss being in your home country and wish there was more you could do to help.

After I had returned to New York, I felt like I was returning to an alien nation all over again. Once again, I had new customs to adjust myself to, a new home, and new adventures to live day by day. Except none of it was new--I had experienced them all before. They had only become foreign to me over time. As cliche as it was, London really did feel like home, even more so than New York did. Even as I was flying back on my plane, I kept the desire to come back once again, and see those resilient people I had come to know through happiness and through crises. I had to return home and let go of situations that weren’t mine. Gone were terrorist attacks and General Elections, in were the Presidency and the American politics of today. In the end, I figured I would miss London, but now it is New York that needs me to stand up for her.

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Ilhan Omar Is at Best Foolhardy and at Worst, Yes, Anti-Semitic

Her latest statements seem to lack substance, motivation, or direction.

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I find the case of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) to be a curious one.

Specifically, I am referring to the recent controversy over select comments of hers that have generated accusations of anti-Semitism. In all honesty, prior to doing research for this article, I was prepared to come to her defense.

When her comments consisted primarily of "Israeli hypnosis" and monied interest, I thought her wording poor, though not too egregiously deviated from that of most politicians in the current climate of bad behavior. After all, Israeli PACs surely do have a monied interest in the orientation of United States policy in the Middle East. Besides, if President Trump can hypothesize about killing someone in broad daylight and receive no official sanction, I don't see the need for the House of Representatives to hand down reprimand to Rep. Omar for simply saying that Israel may have dealt wrongly, regardless of the veracity of that position.

And yet, seemingly discontent that she had not drawn enough ire, Omar continued firing. She questioned the purported dual loyalty of those Americans who support the state of Israel, while also making claim that the beloved former President Obama is actually not all that different from the reviled current President Trump.

In short, the initial (mostly) innocuous statements about the United States' relation with Israel have been supplanted by increasingly bizarre (and unnecessary) postulations.

Those latest two controversies I find most egregious. Questioning the loyalty of an American citizen for espousing support for a heavily persecuted world religion and in defense of a refuge for practitioners of that self-same religion that has existed as an independent state since 1948, seems, in really no uncertain terms, anti-Semitic.

After all, is it not her own party that so adamantly supports persecuted Palestinians in the very same region? Is it not she and fellow Muslim Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) (who is not without her own streak of anti-Semitic controversy) that have rejected challenges to their own loyalty in being ethnically Somali and Palestinian respectively? Is her claim not akin to the "racist" demands that Obama produce proof of his birth in the United States, and the more concrete racism that asserted he truly was not? And (if you care to reach back so far) can her statement not be equated to suggestions that President John F. Kennedy would be beholden to the Vatican as the first (and to date only) Catholic to hold the presidency?

From what I can discern amongst her commentary, in Omar's mind, the rules that apply to her framework on race, ethnicity, religion, and culture as sacred idols above reproach do not extend to her Jewish contemporaries.

Oh, and may I remind you that over 70% of Jewish Americans voted for Hilary Clinton in 2016.

And yet, beyond even this hypocrisy, is the strange disdain Omar suddenly seems to hold for Barack Obama. Even as a non-Democrat, while I can find reason for this, it is still largely perplexing.

To begin with, I recognize that Ilhan Omar is not your prototypical Democrat. She would scoff at being termed a moderate, and likely would do the same to being labeled a traditional liberal. While she doesn't identify as an outright democratic socialist, one would have to be totally clueless to avoid putting her in the company of those who do, such as Tlaib or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

As such, she's bound to have some critical evaluations of President Obama, despite the lionizing that the Democratic establishment has and continues to engage in. Two points still stick out to me as obvious incongruities in her statement, however.

First, Obama and Trump are nothing alike. Again, this coming from someone who does not regularly support either, I can at least attempt to claim objectivity. While Obama might not have been faithful to all the demands of the far-left during his presidency, his position on the political spectrum was far from the extreme bent that Trump has ventured into.

Secondly, there is the style of the two men to consider. While Obama had his share of goofs and gaffes (I still think it somewhat juvenile that he often refused to say "radical Islamic terrorism" when referring to Islamist extremists) he pales in comparison to Trump. Every week Trump has his foot caught in a new bear trap. Obama is enormously tame in comparison.

And in addition to all of that, one must beg the question of Omar's timing. With Republicans emboldened by her controversies and House Democratic leadership attempting to soothe the masses, why would Omar strike out at what's largely a popular figure for those that support her most? There seemed no motivation for the commentary and no salient reasoning to back it up, save that Omar wanted to speak her mind.

Such tactlessness is something that'll get you politically killed.

I do not believe Barack Obama was a great president, but that's not entirely important. I don't live in Ilhan Omar's district; her constituents believe Obama was a great president, and that should at least factor into her considerations. Or maybe she did weigh the negative value of such backlash and decided it wouldn't matter? 2019 isn't an election year, after all. Yet, even if that's the case, what's to gain by pissing off your superiors when they're already pissed off at you?

You need to pick your battles wisely in order to win the war, and I'm highly doubtful Omar will win any wars by pitching scorched-earth tactics over such minute concerns.

Her attitude reminds me not only of that of some of her colleagues engaging obtusely and unwisely over subjects that could best be shrugged off (see the AOC media controversies), but also some of my own acquaintances. They believe not only in the myth of their own infallibility, but the opposition bogeyman conjured by their status in a minority or marginalized group. As the logic goes, "I'm a member of x group, and being so gives me the right to decimate anyone who has any inclination to stand against me in any capacity, tit for tat." So much for civility.

I initially came here to defend Rep. Ilhan Omar, and I still do hold to that in certain cases. The opposition to some of her positions is unwarranted. She is allotted the freedom of speech, as are all Americans.

And yet, in certain other cases she has conducted herself brashly, and, one could argue, anti-Semitically.

All I can say is that I am content living adjacent to Minneapolis, not in it. You'd be hard-pressed to find me advocating for leadership that makes manifest in such impolitic fashion.

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