For two weeks, junior environmental studies major Claire Burrus went off the grid. Without any internet or media access, Burrus was effectively cut off, not only from her loved ones back home in Houston, TX, but also from the current election cycle. Burrus wasn’t in San Antonio “” she was half way around the world in Tanzania, Africa.
“It’s kind of nice to be away from the drama of it all, but it’s also hard not to be able to participate in the discourse other than on social media,” Burrus said. “We never spent more than two weeks at a time without connection to the internet, but when we were on these excursions, participation was completely impossible.”
Even though Burrus has spent this semester studying abroad, she said it is not uncommon to come across local Tanzanians debating American politics. This means she is never uninformed about the state of the election.
“It’s also fascinating to me how polarized Tanzanians are also getting over this election. On multiple occasions I’ve encountered people debating the candidates. Most of the locals we encounter lean left, but several, mostly older men, have been extremely pro-Trump “˜because he is a strong man.’ I am surprised both that people know about what’s going on and that they are picking sides,” Burrus said.
Junior English major Emily Wood has also spent her fall semester studying abroad. Wood is currently studying in England and has noticed the American election become increasingly important.
“As nice as it is to have some distance from the presidential race and give more attention to things going on in the rest of the world, the rest of the world is very aware of how important the election is,” Wood said. “It’s often one of the first things other students will bring up after realizing I’m American, and I’ve heard more than one Brit express a desire to vote because of how much the outcome will affect them as well.”
While Wood engages with British students about the current election cycle, being out of the country has reduced her exposure to the U.S. political atmosphere and U.S. media. However, this has not stopped her from voting.
“Absentee voting requires a little more planning, but it’s not any more difficult than voting in person “” and not waiting in lines is definitely a plus. I applied for my ballot in mid-September just before I left, and I got it in the mail at the end of the month. U.K. mail is really reliable, which makes it pretty easy to vote from here compared to other places,” Wood said. “I sent my ballot out two weeks before election day, and the guy at the post office said it should arrive within five business days. “˜As long as you’re not voting for Trump,’ he said, but I’m sure he was joking.”
Burrus also took advantage of absentee voting. Using online voting tools, she was able to vote early in Bexar County.
“Bexar County actually made it easy for me through their online voting system. I set everything up before leaving the U.S. so that it would go swimmingly. Many of my classmates here had similar setups and plenty have already submitted their ballots as well,” Burrus said.
Burrus said she has also noticed a significant focus on American politics in Tanzanian media, something she never expected to see.
“I was exposed to a good amount of Tanzanian media, much of which covers American news, among other things,” Burrus said. “There is a huge glorification of all things American culture here, and American politics affect the economy of Tanzania more than I ever expected, so people tend to be relatively tuned in. This is because a large portion of the Tanzanian economy is dependent on ecotourism, which is heavily filled with American tourists.”
Wood said she does not know what to expect when she returns to Texas. But no matter the outcome, she is proud to participate in her first presidential election “” even from 5,000 miles away.
“I’m not sure what to expect when I get back to the States “” it depends a lot on the outcome of the election, I suppose. But I’m glad that I at least made the effort to exercise my right to vote while I’m out of the country because I know I won’t regret making my voice heard,” Wood said.