Watching From a Distance

..When you live overseas for extended periods of time, events in your home country tend to impact you differently than if you were actually living there. Immersed in an exotic culture quite different from your own, it’s not uncommon to feel buffered, even exempt, from consequences of political events currently shaping your homeland.

  For example, recent US elections and BREXIT rocked the world. For better or worse, for or against, watching these events unfold from a distant land most likely lessened their immediate impact on Americans and Europeans living abroad. In some ways it’s natural to feel exempt from the current political goings-on back home as the people and landscapes that surround us envelop our lives in a different reality entirely.

  Without debating, boosting or bashing the merits of the US election or BREXIT, ISR asks: How do you, as an expat, respond emotionally to major political events back home? Are you glad to be far away from their impact and living a (hopefully) less stressful life, or are you frustrated you can’t be there experiencing and vociferously participating in person? Although you may be thousands of miles from home, do such events have noticeable consequences on your overseas career? How do YOU feel about watching events unfold in your home country from a distance?

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13 thoughts on “Watching From a Distance

  1. Actually, I don’t particularly care about politics back home. As an Australian I don’t pay tax back home and being removed in the geographical and legal sense in many ways removes a fairly large proportion of the “care factor”. Actually given the circus that international politics is, it is actually great to not really have to be a part of it. I have always been objective about the community anyway, preferring to observe people rather than participate and tend to see things from each side without necessarily emotionally investing in either person’s cause. For example, I was in the UK for Brexit and can see both sides of the argument, same as Trump’s election or the Syrian fiasco.

    I think being an expat (and immigrant before that) insulates me from events like this meaning I can basically go about my own business unencumbered and unhindered.


  2. The UK voting to leave the EU filled me with great sadness. Clearly the biased media in the UK persuaded the poor masses to vote against their best interests. The vote was very close and sadly the leave campaign used xenphobia, fear, misdirection and a huge amount of media assistance to swing the vote their way. Personally the exit vote benefitted me financially as I am not paid in UK sterling. Nevertheless I find the ideas such as ‘repealing the bill of human rights’ being trumpted by the government and their media as very disturbing. Disturbingly language is used to pervert public opinion, such as refugees are referred to as ‘economic migrants’.

    In the UK attempts to bias public do not always work. The leader of the opposition party was voted back as leader of his party despite a concerted attempt by the national media to label him as “unelectable”. This gives me a little hope.


    1. Interesting perspective, though it’s a little presumptive for you to think you know what is in the best interests of everyone based on the face things didn’t go your way. I actually think that’s why things like Brexit occur – too many people presuming to know what’s best for others.


    2. Completely agree with you, Anonymous. I love when certain people try to explain what is in the best interests of everyone in a country based on their political bent or perceived moral high ground.


  3. I took students from my international school in Switzerland to a WWI battle site in France on the day of the US election and as the snow started to fall on the graves every one of them made their own links between the rise of nationalism in the US and in Britain and the catastrophic loss of life in WW1 and 2.


  4. I am working in Southeast Asia. This is my first year abroad and a huge part of the reason I left was the ongoing political climate as well as the almost daily murders of unarmed individuals.
    The election was rough. I teach grade 4 and my kids were very anti-Trump. I didn’t share my opinion with them either way. But watching the election results unfold in real time in my classroom was so difficult. I broke down as soon as the kids left for the day.
    BUT I will say I am much more able to “ignore”, for lack of a better word, the daily political nonsense. I still catch the big stories but the little frustrations that happen every day don’t hit my radar.

    The same happens with the daily ridiculousness from our politicians and their seemingly neverending desire to erode the personal freedoms of my fellow citizens. I miss most of their outrageous statements.

    I plan to stay loosely aware and definitely will continue voting. But being able to detach has been great for my mental and emotional state


  5. I am Residente Permanente in Mexico and had no intention of returning to the US anyway – I have only spent four hours there in the past seven years (a brief layover at LAX en route from Korea to Mexico). Nonetheless, I took the election hard, but I am SO grateful to have the physical and psychological distance that living abroad provides me.

    Of course, here in Mexico it is only so much distance. I teach private lessons to adults exclusively, and my students are extremely alarmed about recent events in the US and talk to me about them all the time.

    Still, the morning after Election Day I unplugged myself from all politically-related blog and Twitter feeds, and I’m no longer visiting news websites obsessively. What is done is done; what will happen will happen. I cannot affect it, and I will not experience it as directly as I would back in the States. I don’t need to know every detail of the “Trump transition”; one can only digest so much garbage.

    I joke a lot that at least I don’t have to drive myself crazy about whether I should leave the US, because it was already a done deal! My life here in Queretaro is good, and I am content to be far from the fray. My friends and family in the US sound extremely stressed and unhappy these days.


  6. I disagree…I’ve been away since 2011 and plan on going home to the US in about 2 years. I started this teaching abroad a little later in life. Staying disengaged is not my operative. I continue to vote and make donations to causes and when I’m home for summer I stay involved with groups that are important to me. I’m still an American and care very much what happens there. I don’t plan on staying abroad more than a few more years due to elderly parents. But I suppose every person has a different perspective. We ride through the waves of the political climate…though, I’m appalled as anyone at that outcome.


  7. Hmm… I wish you wouldn’t use the word ‘impact’ all the time. Anyhow, I like being away from all the political nonsense; distance certainly lessens the effect it has on one. By watching things from a distance I find I seem to be more objective in my assessments of current affairs back home.


  8. I’m an American who’s been overseas since 2010, and I have buried my head in the sand regarding the recent elections. I stay off of social media, and I barely talk to anyone at home (which is heavily pro-Trump). It’s a blessing to be away from it all, but at the same time, I feel like I’ve run away. I think I’m still shell-shocked.


  9. This issue cuts two ways. I was teaching ]capitalist] Economics in [Communist] China precisely when China was booming and the West was in the midst of a horrific economic collapse. Teaching the tools was far more important than “preaching” the outcomes. At the same time, one had to be sensitive to political realities. I told American-bound students that they would face three questions in the US, and needed to prepare answers – or polite disclaimers – to questions and allegations about Tibet, Taiwan, and slave labor. In fact, there was much to say in favor of Chinese achievements… and other things that – to my Western eyes – other things that made no sense at all. Again, teaching the tools helps the Chinese to evaluate their – and our – virtues and vices more objectively.###
    PS The expat who thought he could “just as soon not return” to the US may well discover that China policy is to NOT renew visas to older expats. Work, a Chinese spouse, and/or legitimate job offers have little sway over the Foreign Expert Bureau offices. ###


  10. I’m an American worling as a teacher in Kuwait. My high school students were shocked at results and this generated a lot of discussion. Would Trump ban them from attending American universities. What did the results mean – were most Americans racist? I was in a sepressed mood for a few weeks. But life goes on. Still what it feel like and what discussions will I have when I go back To USA this summer.


  11. I agree that from here in Thailand the results of the US election seem a lot less traumatic to me than to my friends and family with whom I am in regular email contact. I’m not a trump supporter and I deplore what he stands for in terms of equality, education, etc. But being so far away does give me a feeling of exemption. Yes I do feel motivated to help make life better for people I know back home and I am involved by donating to the ACLU and signing petitions on line.

    Maybe I’m fooling myself but since I’m not paying taxes in the US and really don’t own anything there, maybe I can just hang here in Asia. Actually, I have no plans to return to the US to live as life here is so much better for me and now with the all that’s going on in America, I just as soon not return. Looks like I will be a career international teacher.


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