Students Overseas See Reaction to Obama's Election

November 6, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Millions of Americans watched the results of the history-making election of Sen. Barack Obama as the first African-American to the Presidency of the United States on Nov. 4. Many of those Americans were overseas, including the 61 Illinois Wesleyan University students studying abroad, from England and France, to Argentina and Oman.

Obama was favored to win in many European polls, and Illinois Wesleyan students studying in Europe watched the excitement for the election build, and the jubilation of many people when the results were announced. At the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, Mark Kasperczyk attended an election party in one of the residence halls. “It was surprising how many people cared about the election here,” said Kasperczyk, a senior physics major. “The party was huge, with people overflowing into the sidewalks until around 3 a.m.” Kasperczyk estimated about 200 to 300 people stayed for most of the night.

Many students studying in Illinois Wesleyan’s London Program stayed up all night to watch the election coverage, even to hear Obama’s acceptance speech at 5 a.m. London time. “It was on the front page of every London newspaper that I saw the next day,” said Carolyn Leonard, a sophomore psychology major. “All of our British teachers were very excited that we stayed up to watch, and very understanding of how tired we all were.”

Sophomore Katie Bayles, an anthropology major, said the world was watching the election closely. “The tension that had been building from the extended coverage over the week came to a peak Tuesday night on the [British subway] Tube. I realized that everyone’s faces were pressed into the papers, reading about the upcoming election, what time the coverage started, even when California's polls would close,” said Bayles, noting they understood the importance of the West Coast polls.

Nicholas Kogelman grew up in Hyde Park, Obama’s neighborhood, and said he felt a special tie to the election. “It was difficult not to be able to go downtown for his rally, but truly amazing to watch from an outside perspective,” said the senior business administration major. “It put the election in a global perspective and reinforced the magnitude of the ramifications of this election. After the election – and many of my fellow classmates share this opinion – that this was the proudest we have been as Americans in London.”

Watching from Spain, senior Ann Chang also found it difficult to be away from home during the election. “It was my first time voting, and not being able to witness people our age joining together to actually vote and show their American pride was rough,” said Chang, a mathematics and Hispanic Studies double major, who still called the chance to witness the election through the eyes of the Spanish “incredible.” The morning after the election, Chang said headlines were splashed across every newspaper she could see. “Talk of him is everywhere. And right now I can hear my Spanish neighbors saying how happy they are that he won.”

Also in Spain, Cara Galvin, an international business major, met with the same interest. “It was a constant conversation topic everywhere you went,” said Galvin, a senior. “Pretty much everyone you came in contact with, acquaintances and first encounters, would ask you who you were voting for and were very interested to hear your opinions.”

Over in France, senior Amanda Sobottka was overwhelmed at the fascination with the election. “It is odd how everyone in France was so interested in the election and were passionate about it as if they were electing the president of their own country,” she said. A psychology major, Sobottka was also surprised by the reaction of a French student. “She expressed how happy she was that an African-American could run for president and gain so much popularity in America, because it would be a very, very long time before something like that could happen in France.”

Even American political parody made the jump across the ocean. Senior Katie Feriozzi spent the evening at a party near the American consulate in Milan, Italy. “They had all the American news networks on big screens, and they even showed Saturday Night Live clips,” said Feriozzi, an international business major.

In Uganda, junior Jacob Weis bought a radio for $5 to hear the election results, and learned of Obama’s victory at 4 a.m.  After listening to Obama’s acceptance speech at 7 a.m., he went to get breakfast. “I walked the streets of my rural village, and as I walked around, there were hundreds of people thanking me and America for electing Obama. Women and children were even crying. It is truly amazing the impact that this election had around the world.” He heard from others that nearby Kenya declared a national holiday at Obama's victory.

International Studies major Christopher Unger became an unofficial tutor, educating his host family in Argentina on elections in America. “In Argentina, you are required to vote,” said the Illinois Wesleyan senior who volunteered many hours for the Obama campaign and for the Democratic National Convention in his home state of Colorado. “They could not understand why all the people were waiting in line to vote.  ‘Why didn’t they just go home and come back later?’ they asked.  It was very hard for me to explain the idea that voting in the United States is a privilege that many people take very seriously.”

Obama’s connections to Africa made the election all the more exciting for Rachel Wright, a senior who is studying in Muscat, Oman. “Oman has historical and trade ties to Africa, and many of the people are Swahili-speaking ‘Zanzibaris,’ as is the family I am staying with,” said Wright, an international diplomatic studies major. “The mother in my household is actually Kenyan, so it was a victory of sorts for her as well. When I came home this evening my homestay brother and I watched the video of Obama's speech in Chicago, and celebrated later with fresh juice.”

With the election, it seems the world was watching the United States, and Illinois Wesleyan students understood that. “People all over realize this is a world-changing event, and they cherish it right along with us,” said Ade Olayinka, a sophomore who is in London. “People here feel just as much a part of the history.”

Contact: Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960