What will probably be one of my biggest regrets about studying abroad – if not my only regret – will be having done so during the 2004 election. With so many issues at stake, and so much that I could and should have done to campaign, it’s easy to feel a bit guilty.

On a personal level, however, there was a lot to gain from seeing the election through another country’s eyes. It was a hot topic of debate within our international program, and everyone’s different background made for different perspectives than I had seen during the campaign.

It was thought that all of Europe would be tense the day before the election, with anti-Bush protests throughout every city and anti-American sentiments flying high – at least, this is the image I got from media and activists back home.

Here in the “New Europe,” however, there was only one thing to do.

Dance party. All night long.

Some mysterious organization called “The American Community” – no one, including the consular officials present, seemed to know exactly who these people were – threw an all-night election party, with music and food as a prelude to the returns coming in early in the morning. Americans were welcome, but it was intended mostly for Polish students.

Somewhere between Futbol Club Barcelona’s victory over Milan – which pre-empted the CNN election pre-game show – and the 2 a.m. closing of East Coast polls, the purpose seemed to be lost.

After all, when everyone woke up, there was going to be a president in the United States, regardless of whether they watched. Why lose some sleep, or more importantly, some drinking time?

Poland, when not forgotten by political candidates, has proven itself to be a statistical oddity. The people here, when asked whether they would vote for President George W. Bush or Senator John Kerry, broke rather significantly for Bush. Does this mean that people here are in favor of conservative principles and greater involvement in Iraq?

This is a conservative country, and there is some empathy on that side, but the issues are rather different. Iraq is a contentious point, as most people support it in principle but are much, much more hesitant about sending their troops to fight than the American public. Poland has suffered more casualties than any country besides America and the UK.

Basically, their support for Bush means that people, especially young Poles, are satisfied with the direction their world is heading. There are a lot of problems still to overcome in catching up with the West, but people are optimistic.

I think the prevailing attitude could be seen in the clothing of the Polish students at the party – lots of American flags, lots of Bush stickers and lots of Kerry stickers. Usually, these were all worn by the same person.

People like America, but it is just not as personal to them as it is to us.

This is a lesson that is easy to forget, especially when you are trying to explain to foreigners what your country means to you. It can be easy to get carried away.

Within my specific program, which is about half North American and half European, the students generally have an international relations background, so we’re all a little overly interested in each other’s business. This may be a little unrepresentative, but it does make for some good debate.

Those of the Europeans who watched the pre-returns with us were much more interested in the election, and felt like they had a stake. Yet they too weren’t nearly so obsessed with the outcome. In general, they would have liked Kerry to win. They knew, often better than we did, that it wasn’t their choice to make.

The questions that came were not along the lines of, “Why are you Americans so dumb as to vote for Bush?” but rather “Why are these issues important to America?” asked in a sincere manner.

As a Kerry supporter, I, of course, wanted to say that I didn’t understand why certain issues had become important, or why people felt the way that they did. But that wasn’t the attitude they took when we asked about their countries, so I felt a little obligated to try and explain it. When you have to describe the opposition to someone outside the issue, and someone who you can’t theoretically “win over to your side,” you start to have to understand the opposition.

I’m not likely to change my views because of it, but I do think I learned more about Bush supporters from that night of having to explain their earnestness, than I did from hearing months of rhetoric from their side and my own.

As 2 a.m. drew near, the most obsessed of us found an apartment with CNN International, and took our leave of the party to the sounds of “Flashdance.” Our brave band stayed up through the finish at around 8:30 a.m. to see the final count.

When we dragged ourselves to class, our well-rested and well-partied comrades wanted to know the outcome. Once we told them, the discussion stopped. It’s a long way from America, after all.

Brown can be reached at


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