Watching the US Presidential Election from India

Studying in India, at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), during the build up to one of the most historic elections in US history was a valuable experience. In addition to being surrounded by Indian students, there are forty exchange students from all over Western Europe. What continuously amazed me was the level of knowledge and insight these students had on the American Presidential election.

On the days following the presidential debates I always had people ask me what I thought. Did I watch it? Did I read the commentaries? Who do I think won? I have to admit that I have never watched political debates from another country outside of a classroom setting.

All of the students I spoke with had an opinion on how the next US President would affect their country and the world. Most of the Indians favored McCain, because his policies are thought to increase outsourcing therefore creating more jobs in India. As far as the Europeans go, I don’t think they could get their head around how McCain was even an option (some are still stuck on how the US elected Bush for a second term). Obama was hands down the European favorite, but that’s not surprising.

Honestly, I have to admit that without doing some research I don’t know how a change of leadership in most other countries would affect the US. This point was a difficult realization for me to accept as a student of public policy. I’ve read about other elections out of interest or because that was what the BBC was covering, not out of concern for the direction of my own country.

The experience of having conversations with the other students here about the election and the US Presidency is one reason that I choose to study abroad. Talking with people from all over the world provides an opportunity to gain insights not only about other cultures, but also my own. The majority of the time these discussions lead to questions about American culture, ideas, and perceptions of the world. What does it mean to be American?

America’s image on the world stage—good, bad, and otherwise—was in many ways what the election was all about. Some may argue that America should not be focused on what the rest of the world thinks – it is too late for that. The rest of the world cares and was paying close attention on Election Day. In May 2008, The Economist published a special report, “America and the world.” The article provided insights into America’s declining global image, the effects, and why it should matter to the US. Obviously different views and goals translated into support for one candidate or the other. Regardless of which candidate one preferred, the bottom line was that Americans needed to acknowledge that there is a huge world all around us, one that the US needs to engage with in a constructive manner.

For me, one of the greatest things about traveling abroad is that it opens my eyes to the cultures of the world. While I sit around and discuss American politics and the future of the world with other students, I think of my friends, my parents, and the place I call home. My beliefs and values are constantly challenged in a positive way through conversations about American society. These are some of the most intellectually rewarding conversations I have had in my entire life.

India is currently ten and a half hours ahead of east coast time. With limited access to a television I was dependent on the BBC’s continuous coverage streamed via internet. Knowing that nothing concrete would be established until the early morning hours of November 5th, I went to bed with a feeling as if it were Christmas Eve; the anticipation of the next day overwhelming my thoughts. Who would be the next President?

I work up early to continue watching the BBC webcast in my room with the one other American on campus. As a native Virginian, I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see if my home state would turn blue. Virginia goes to Obama!! Then it was announced, Barack Obama would be the 44th President. We were overcome with emotions. As we watched his victory speech from Chicago, sitting in my small dorm room thousands of miles away, I was filled with hope, joy, and pride for America. I do not know if I have ever been so proud to be American.

A number of students congratulated me on the election and said it had renewed their faith in the American people. Many have seen it as a sign from the American people that we want to engage constructively with the world through words and peace, not force and might. While some Indians were concerned about how President-elect Obama’s policy will affect outsourcing. The Times of India, ran an article putting these fears to rest and laying out how Obama would be a good change for India. With each passing day the questions are now on how Obama will handle the chaos that he has inherited.

Part of me wishes that I could have been there for such a historic election. However, to feel the power that Obama’s win had all the way on the other side of the world made it an even greater victory. There are great challenges that lie ahead, but this feeling of hope and pride makes me feel that we are at last as a nation back on the right path.

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