Everything got quiet suddenly with everyone seeming to hold their breath. We were tightly packed together in a gym hall with blue signs of "Hope" and "Change we can believe" flaring across the crowd. Then out of the speakers blasted U2's song "City of Blinding Lights" and the crowd of students and community members erupted into a jubilant choir of cheers upon his arrival: Barack Obama.
Back in February of 2008 I had the opportunity to hear Obama speak during his campaign trail for the Presidency. It was a surreal, cool event to see a charismatic political figure give an eloquent speech only several meters away from you. Of course, one couldn't help but being taken in by the crowd's passion along with Obama's charisma, charm, humor and outstanding oratory skills. At the end of his speech Obama made the rounds toward the crowd and fortunately, I had the chance to shake his hand twice (I still enjoy bragging about it to my American friends :)). To this day I think that that was one of the coolest events in my college career.
In my 6 years of being here I had the privilege to witness two presidential elections. Overall, I have always found the time of elections here very interesting, in particular when it comes to the expression of preference for a candidate. It's not like every day that you suddenly see yard signs with political slogans or candidates' names decorating peoples' front lawns and properties. Whenever you drive or walk through the streets you can't help but noticing the multitude of bumper stickers glaring at you from passing cars. In addition, it's a time when you can encounter many political ads in social media, TV and radio and it's always fun to see how creative both campaigns tend to get with their messages.
Apart from the candidates and slogans, I also enjoy the effects that the elections have on the people. One thing I have always appreciated deeply about the elections is the amount of passion and energy that is emanated from campaign volunteers, mostly consisting of students and community members. Often you see them on campus or in the community, spending countless, unpaid hours handing out literature or encouraging fellow citizens to register and vote in the elections. Back In 2008 I volunteered along some of them to knock on people's doors to remind them and obtain their pledge to vote in the election. It was a great feeling to do something for the common good with other Americans.
One may wonder then why as an international student who can't vote in this country I care about the elections here. For one, it's the fact that the selection of the next president will also affect the relationship with the leaders of my country and will have an impact on foreign policy in general. More so, I come from a household where being informed and having discussions about politics is important. Consequently, I enjoy hearing peoples' opinions and take on the politics that occur in their country. I remember having some of the best, profound conversations about politics with American friends of mine because they often asked for my opinions and views on the elections. Sometimes these conversations could become heated and emotional when disagreements occurred. But with all fruitful and healthy debates, we could all agree at the end of day to respect each other's' opinions and appreciate the opportunities for an enlightening discussion with insight into another person's beliefs.
Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that if you have a chance to talk politics with people here don't hesitate to do so because it's a great way to explore people's passions and beliefs. My experience has always been that they also like to hear a foreign perspective on their elections or on politics in general. And if you have the chance to see a politician or candidate speak, don't hesitate to do so because it can be another insightful American experience for you. Make sure to check the news on Tuesday because it's probably going to be one of the tightest and most exciting elections in U.S. history. Until next time, my dear friends.