One More Jewel in the Corona: On Doing Exchange in the US in 2020
This year, I cast aside the dirt-encrusted vouchers for disappointment and bought the VIP Backstage Experience for the United States 2020.
In late August, I boarded a desolate flight from Heathrow to Boston to pursue my Master’s degree. My first morning in the city had me tuning into the local news channels to scope the general vibe. Amidst the chaos of the 2020 Presidential Election and ongoing pandemic, one story took precedent above them all – The Girl Scouts had unveiled a new ‘French Toast’ cookie. Those sweet crumbs of democracy were the delicacy of America’s last chance saloon, which has long awaited a blue coat of paint.
I am reminded that it is a rare and unique experience to be swallowed up by an American city in the wake of an election. The atmosphere is electrifying. In the days preceding Election Night, restaurants were entombed and shops were clad in wooden shields. Socially-distanced commuters crossed the street in a star formation, dogs saluted postmen and Starbucks became a temporary shrine.
There is nothing like this back in the UK. Sauntering into a polling station, nodding to a crusty council volunteer and knocking an ‘X’ on the paper seems lacklustre in comparison. There are no adverts on the television spreading wild fantasies of conspiratorial candidates. The supermarkets do not stock up on patriotic hobnobs and voters reward themselves with a sticker and a nice cup of tea.
Bostonians do not sip the proverbial tea, they brew it in the waters of the Atlantic and set fire to their kettles. Election Night was a glorious off-brand Eurovision, with states calling in over the span of an entire week to award their hotly contested electoral votes. Swing states flirted with both parties. Some tucked themselves back into the Republican marital bed whilst others eloped with their blue lover in the early hours of the morning. Biden’s victory sparked joyous dancing in the streets and raging tears in parking lots. I didn’t sleep for the entire week for fear of missing and watching it all at once.
Amusement aside, this was the election that would redefine the state of the world for the next four years, no matter who was stationed in the Oval Office. Tensions surrounding this decision transcended all borders, and we must accept that U.S. foreign policy will continue to have a significant impact on global communities. Since 2016, many of us have seen the U.S. indulge in chaos, experienced it as dark tourists and bought the Four Seasons Total Landscaping t-shirt to prove it. We continue to stay indoors and wear masks this year to protect our loved ones. To the UK, I ask that Brexit policies are kept at bay with masks too. Biden has warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement is at stake and I now fear that complacency will destroy what little stability exists between the two lands I call home.
I crossed the big pond to test the waters on the other side and do not regret it for a second. But I can’t help looking across the harbour and wondering if a swampy mess awaits my return.
Cover by Tiffany Tertipes