Slumped in a small chair, I can hardly believe what is playing out on the TV propped in the corner of the ceiling.
Donald Trump is beaming as he speaks to a rambunctious crowd, the clicks and flashes of cameras adding to the discordant chorus. His words are drowned out by a Romanian news anchor, but as I sit alone in this small laundromat in Brasov, located in the heart of Romania’s Transylvania region, no translation is needed.
This brash celebrity has just become one of the most powerful figures in the world. Even in Transylvania, this surely tops the list of strange, spooky occurrences.
As my clothes, fairly battered after two months of traveling across Central and Eastern Europe, whir away in the washing machine, a part of me dreads my return to the States next month. There are many reasons to opt for a life abroad (cultural immersion, a better job market, personal growth) but my strong desire to avoid living in a Trump America has hatched a plan.
I resolve to find a way to return to Europe on a more permanent basis as quickly as possible.
Just less than a year after that moment, in 2017, I moved to Slovakia.
I’ve been living in Europe for over three years now, and while the experience has been everything I hoped it would be and more, one thing it hasn’t been is an escape from Trump America.
The election of Donald Trump had an obvious, global impact. Diplomatic relations soured, international reverence for “the West” diminished and many of us Americans abroad found ourselves talking about Trump ad nauseam with absolutely everyone. In fact, a part of me always dreaded it when, during my early years in Slovakia, someone asked me where I was from, knowing full well Trump would most certainly be brought up next.
I think there’s a common misconception that Americans abroad are out of touch, uninformed and in no position to comment on the affairs of the country they no longer live in. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I remember having a discussion with a fellow American shortly after the Black Lives Matter protests last summer about what our roles as Americans abroad are. She believed that we are, willing or unwilling, ambassadors for our country. We are cultural representatives, on whom foreigners who haven’t come across a lot of Americans will likely base their perceptions of the U.S. While ambassador seemed like a title that needed to be earned at the time, I understood exactly what she meant. Living abroad is as much of a responsibility as it is a privilege.
So as I sit at my computer in my Bratislava apartment rewatching some of the Biden inaugural highlights on YouTube, laundry whirring in the background as neighbors speak Slovak outside, I feel a renewed sense of purpose in the role I stumbled into. Even during the worst of times, I have always remained patriotic while looking at my country from the outside. Now, during this new, Biden era, I’m looking forward to being drawn into those inevitable discussions with friends and friends-to-be about who the United States of America truly is and who it unequivocally isn’t.