Politics are always a touchy subject. I rarely bring it up and always feel uncomfortable discussing it. I am not a confrontational person. So, the thought of a political debate to discuss different view points sends signals to my brain to flee the scene IMMEDIATELY! I get it, politics and the government, are important things in our society. It’s how we live our lives, the laws we follow, and ultimately how the rest of the world perceives us! Imagine my surprise that while living abroad, there were foreigners who knew MORE about my political system, than I did! Y’all, I felt pretty embarrassed. These are 5 things I learned about US politics (from foreigners) while living abroad:
The 2nd Amendment
Before I met the boyfriend, I tried my hand at Spanish Tinder. Yes, please judge me, because I have no idea what I was thinking! While I had my fair share of creepy people, people who asked for “language exchanges”, and all sorts of things, I did end up having a pretty good conversation about our 2nd amendment with a few Tinder men. The usual question was: “Why does the United States have gun control problems?”. Well, Tinder men, I have no idea.
Although we, as a nation, have the right to keep and bear Arms, our history with gun violence is seen all over the world. What the rest of the world sees is a “crazy” United States that has trouble controlling their gun policy, but still continues to allow the public to purchase and carry a weapon. I had never thought about these things before. After this past year, watching about the tragic events that unfolded while I was abroad, and hearing opinions from foreigners, I was shocked. Our 2nd amendment states that we have the right to keep and carry a firearm. Watching events of police brutality and mass shootings has made me question our policy and the strictness of this law.
Coming from a country that only offers private health insurance and then living in a country that offers universal healthcare, I was VERY confused. I’ve had to explain to my coworkers, students, and my boyfriend how the healthcare system in the United States works. I don’t think I even understand it very well! The stereotype I’ve faced is that our healthcare system will let a person die if they don’t have health insurance. Y’all, if you’re reading this and you’re not from the United States, this is NOT true! Although our nation doesn’t offer universal healthcare, it does offer doctors to make a fair wage on their practice. Our salaries are not heavily taxed to provide healthcare, and we are able to come home with more of our salaries in our pockets.
And then, I started thinking about universal healthcare and how beneficial it is. It allows everyone in the country to be treated, without the worry of money. Countries that do have universal healthcare may be taxed more heavily on their income, but seem to be less stressed. While living in Spain, I saw that Spaniards worried less about the money it would cost them to go to the doctor. They never took into account the “severity” of their symptoms, just that they wanted to get better. It made me think about what could actually work in our healthcare system, and that affordable healthcare should be available to everyone. We shouldn’t have to worry about going to the doctors or the bill that will follow.
The European system is extremely different than the United States. In some ways, we can call the European government as somewhat a “Father” figure to the European Union. They have a strong role in businesses, taxes, social security, and more. One of the biggest differences from United States politics and European politics are the amount of taxes that an individual pays. To pay for social security and universal healthcare, Spain pays extremely high taxes. For example, Spain pays 21% on taxes for items such as utilities, clothes, alcohol, tobacco, homes, cars, etc.
Whereas the United States has taxes, but not as high of a tax rate on certain items like in Spain. On one part, it balances out to pay for universal healthcare and other necessities when you are older. But, I’d love to be able to have more of my income to myself, to be able to invest it or spend it whichever way I please.
If I couldn’t understand too much about the political parties within the United States, understanding the political parties in Spain is on a completely different level! I’ve lived there for two years and have tried my hardest to understand what the political parties are, and what they stand for. After all conversations, and lots of explanations, I leave still being very confused. The United States has two major political parties that dominate polls, the Democrats and Republicans. Spain, however, has a parliamentary monarchy. This means that there is a King, King Felipe VI, and also political parties. The King of Spain serves as a representative of the country to the rest of the world. He is the Captain of all troops within the country.
Now, the United States and monarchies don’t get along too well. Take the Revolutionary War, for example! As I’ve watched and tried to understand Spanish politics, it gets confusing with so many different parties that all represent “one” political view, but in various degrees. I wish I could explain more, but I would completely butcher Spanish politics. What I’ve learned about our political parties is that having two main ones to choose from, makes it easier on us, but doesn’t allow for other voices to be heard. Spanish politics may have many different parties, with many different view points, but from my understanding, represents many other groups.
From everything that I know about the flaws of US politics to the triumphs and highlights, is that we have a global presence. This is the biggest thing I learned about US politics while living abroad. Hollywood blockbusters and American TV shows, to serious questions and debates about our next presidential candidate. The whole world is watching. As a nation, we are one of the superpowers of the world. We have global trades, a skilled workforce, and have the largest and most influential financial markets. What we do ultimately affects other countries.
It surprised me to learn that the United States has all this power, especially when I’ve lived here my entire life, and didn’t have “global awareness”. It’s sad to say that I don’t understand our political system as well as I thought I did. The difficulty of explaining about our foreign policy to foreigners who were generally interested in our political system, explaining about gun violence and our 2nd amendment, and the big one is our private healthcare. As the Presidential Election is quickly approaching, I’m paying closer attention to what our nominees have to say. After all, the President of the United States of America is supposed to be a representation of our country. And from the looks of it, we’re in for a very interesting next four years!
Has someone who isn’t from your own country, made you realize something about your political system? Share in the comments below!
4 thoughts on “5 Things I Learned About US Politics While Abroad”
Thanks so much, Ines for the comment! I totally agree with you. I think that’s also what the “American Dream” is built on, the idea of “every man for himself”, so we work hard and try to make it for ourselves and our families. But if someone were to compete with us, we instantly deem them as an enemy. This is also plays a huge part in our economic situation in the United States. I think a lot of people believe we should help everyone have a “fair starting point” but there are also a lot of people who think that if they came from nothing and became successful, than other people should be able to do it, too, with hard work and determination. But, I think that our system doesn’t count in the social and economic privileges that hinder a lot of people who WANT to be successful, but can’t because they don’t have access to those opportunities.
After this presidential election, I’ve tapped into my political science interest that I had my freshman year of college! I actually wanted to switch my majors, but decided hospitality management is more my calling haha! I think you’re right though, in regards to the US be so extremely scared of communism! We were always taught in school that communism is BAD! Always bad!
Definitely, there is no doubt that the United States has so much opportunity for people. It is the “American Dream” to be able to make money the way you please and live a good lifestyle! There are so many different opinions of the United States that I never knew existed until I started meeting people from all over the world!
I recently met a guy in philly who turned out to be a study abroad student from England. I asked him if he ever planned to return to the states, to which he replied “yes” with much enthusiasm. I thought he was crazy when he said he wanted to live here, because I had in mind the future possible presidents. he told me that the US has more opportunity and cheaper goods than England (no thanks to Brexit apparently) and that the futures for many younger people in England are not looking too good. I guess he kinda made me a little more thankful of where I am in the world
Having lived in the US and Portugal (and Canada… and Ireland…), I’ve ended up very critical of political systems in general. There are flaws and benefits in all. But I have to say, the biggest difference (in politics) between the US and most European countries seems to rely on one simple perspective on life. In the US you have an individualistic “every man for himself” kind of attitude: this is great because this means every man/woman can achieve their dreams given the opportunities in the US. But it’s not so great because, in reality, not everyone has the same *access* to those opportunities. That’s why in the US there’s no universal healthcare, college is stupidly expensive and the 2nd ammendment is still defended. This baffles Europe because here we are all socialists – in varying degrees, of course. But ultimately we believe that we as a nation (in each individual European country, of course) have a duty to take care of each other. So we pay high taxes (in Germany, they get a 40% tax on their income alone!) but we know it’s so that we can help those that can’t pay even a penny to go to the doctor, or families who can’t afford to pay for their children’s education (and we all know education is the best way to break the poverty cycle). Of course, you can argue that the government can use your taxes in a corrupt way or not in the way you want them to – and those are absolutely fair points. But I think this is the major difference that divides US and European politics in very general terms.
I think also the US has a huge fear of communism and usually thinks communism=dictatorship (which is not right) or that communism=socialism (which is also not right) lol But that would be an entirely different (probably lengthy) discussion.
Can you tell I have a background in Poli. Sci.? haha Anyways, great post! I loved reading it and I think it’s always important to discuss politics – it’s a huge part of our lives and what will dictate our future too!
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