My shadow, like my study abroad, taught me many things. Flexibility being a main component of not only my trip, but my day. I had set up my shadow experience about three weeks ago with Hilary Clinton’s office abroad. My contact, Guiliana, asked me to be a half-hour early to the event that they were tabling at, a July 4th picnic (on Sunday, July 3rd) for American Democrats abroad.
The picnic was a very festive event. Volunteers transformed Portman Square into a patriotic private space for homesick Americans. After talking to many of the attendees, they feel most homesick around the Fourth of July. And while this picnic isn’t the fireworks and BBQs that we love so well, it had food stalls representing some of America’s most festive foods, face painting, and plenty of stars and stripes. As I walked around while the event was setting up, I noticed there were no Hillary people. I started asking questions. Nobody at the event seemed to know where they were. People knew my contact, Guiliana, well and were very surprised she was late. After a while, there was talk of taking their designated tables and using them for other booths that had actually showed up.
Hillary’s people did actually show up, but almost two hours after the event had started. By this time, I had already posted up shop with the Democrats Abroad UK Women’s Caucus, a brand new segment of Democrats Abroad. The co-founders were exceptionally kind, and very willing to help me with my shadow experience. Their booth was very cute and well-decorated, including a photo booth area encouraging people to take Rosie the Riveter inspired shots. Brimming with volunteers, everyone at the booth was happy to chat with me about what they thought about both American and British political climates. I am happy I found them, and decided to stay with them for the remainder of the event, instead of hanging out with Hillary.
So, while this shadow experience was not what I expected it to be, it did impart a lot of wisdom onto me. First and foremost, it taught me to be flexible. I am a planner at heart, and I can be a little inflexible at times. I like to stick to the plan, but sometimes it’s out of your control. I honestly believe that the Democrats Abroad Women’s Caucus taught me more than shadowing with Hillary’s campaign would have. These people were much less politically motivated, and likely less inclined to amend their responses for me. I felt like talking to them warranted honest, frank answers and great lengthy responses. They did not hold back when I asked very politically charged questions.
They also were very kind to explain the process of voting abroad to me. It’s a lot more difficult than I thought, and it’s crazy how little ex-pats are considered when it comes to American politics. Most of the ex-pats at the picnic I spoke to were very well informed about politics, but they feel like the American government doesn’t care about their votes at all. Especially since there’s an electoral college system, their votes kind of just get cast into a void, but they still vote because it’s so important to them to remain involved and feel like they have a say in American issues. This was super enlightening to me, because while I have always voted, many of my friends don’t. It made me realize how important one vote can be, even if it’s not in the US, it makes someone feel like they have a say. British Americans feel sometimes voting isn’t really about who you vote for, but playing a part in politics. Voting is a big way for Americans abroad to stay connected.
Other than these things I observed, this experience also reinforced some of the differences I have noticed about British versus American events. Not only the lateness of the Clinton group was indicative of the lack of distinct scheduling here, it was likely due to an unforeseen reason. Whatever the reason it still was very unprofessional, but lateness happens in London. Between all the traffic jams and tube shutdown, nothing ever goes as planned. Also, the event still had a lot of British people, despite being centered around and mostly run by Americans interested in politics. British people must like American things just as much as former Americans. Especially with the current American political climate, maybe it’s especially interesting to them. Either way, it was certainly and interesting and intriguing experience, despite a few setbacks.
Though my shadow wasn’t what I thought it would be, it ended up being exactly what I wanted it to be. I learned more from Democrats Abroad than I would have learned helping Hillary’s people sign people up for email lists. I am grateful that the Democrats Abroad Women’s Caucus was willing to give me the Shadow Experience I needed and impart so much wisdom about both American and British politics. Everyone I talked to at the picnic could not have been nicer or friendlier. I am very thankful for the opportunity to learn about politics abroad.