Watching the 2016 election from the other side of the world

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I remember exactly where I was the moment I found out Trump won.

It was before 8 a.m., and I was getting dressed and ready for the day when the phone rang down the hall. My roommate picked it up. I heard her speaking to one of our friends, and though it was a little odd to receive a call so early, I was not prepared for what hit next: “Trump won,” she called out in a disbelieving tone after hanging up the phone. I shifted away from the closet so I was in her line of sight: “What?”

After the initial wave of incredulity, another hit. And then another. And another. Not only did I feel unmoored by this news, but I was also 6,000 miles away from my family and home. It was the first presidential election in which I had been old enough to vote, and I wasn’t in the United States to see it.

Luckily, there are mail-in ballots. But it felt strange to hear about such a critical moment in my country’s history playing out while I was immune to the immediacy of the situation at home. I had been in Bulgaria for seven months, and I would be there another nine — I wouldn’t be able to go through this with my loved ones anytime soon.

Part of me felt grateful. In my stunned state, I could feel no desire to become a witness to the anger and despair I imagined unfolding in people who strive to uphold human dignity and everything Trump decries. “You should be glad you’re not here,” my friend told me. And, feeling powerless in the wake of hearing the election results, I was indeed glad not to be there. I joked about never wanting to go back to the United States, and the truth is, I was in no hurry. I dreaded plunging into a caustic political reality that I could hardly fathom in the first few weeks after Nov. 8, 2016.

On the other hand, I knew I was going to go home. I longed to be with the people I loved and to support those who were afraid, though I didn’t know exactly how. I wanted to regroup with my community, to be educated, to be active, to be aware, to listen, to be present. I knew that no matter how far I traveled from my little green spot in the Pacific Northwest, the United States would always be home. And if I had any say, I would try to make it a better home than the one it was shaping up to be right then.

Back in my apartment in Bulgaria that morning, I knew I had to go outside. U.S. politics aren’t exactly a secret internationally, and it soon became apparent that the election results would be everyone’s favorite topic of conversation. Every taxi driver, every passer-by, upon finding out we were from the States, would ask what we thought about “Treump.” (Pronounce the vowel sound like you’re getting punched in the stomach.) His orangeness popped up on every metro station television screen in the city. For most Bulgarians with whom I interacted, our president-elect was a joke — a hilarious anomaly that Americans would have to deal with. They didn’t care much about the politics; they just knew a lot of people were upset. And as grateful as I was to be spared the immediate chaos of the situation, I sometimes wanted to say, “This isn’t a joke! This is real life! I have to go home to this.”

Eventually, I did go home. And most of the things I loved about home were still there — most importantly, my family. Yes, a general (and perhaps naïve) faith in human decency had been at least temporarily dampened. I came home to a nation damaged by divisive rhetoric and harrowing discourse. I came home to see that the majestic cottonwood tree that towered above my house for my entire childhood had been cut down. I came home to stories of graduations I missed and photos of people I would never meet, and, yes, a lot of political catching up to do. But for all this, I wanted to be home.

As I walked into the airport under the sign that read, “Welcome to Oregon,” tears welled up in my jet-lagged eyes. I felt my beautiful, green wonderland rushing to embrace me after a year and a half away. I felt profound gratitude to live in a country in which I can vote. To be from a place where I can openly dissent. To be able to learn from and listen to those around me, and to belong to a state that I can have a hand in forming. I’m inexperienced and hopeful and clumsily doing my best to make this a place my children will long to come back to. It’s good to be home.

Grace Newsom is the night editor. Contact her at [email protected] .