What It’s Like Watching the US Elections abroad

What is it like watching the US presidential elections abroad?  Six individuals share their stories that include encounters from foreign media filters, casual conversations, and classroom discussions. Their experiences reveal how internationals view Americans as reflected by candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

My curiosity led me to stay in Mexico during the 2016 US presidential election and watch it unfold from a foreign lens (I voted through overseas absentee ballot). I will touch upon my experience last but wish to start off with stories from France and England. China is the only non-European country I was able to reach from an American student’s perspective (others didn’t respond for security reasons).

Jathan Caldwell:  Atlanta, GA 

Paris, France

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It was yesterday in a museum of evolution when the topic of American politics was served on a Parisian plate. While observing the bones of dinosaurs, I was bulldozed by a completely random, unasked, and unexpected shout about none other than Trump himself. “Hey, look!” sneered a guy with a very thick French accent. I swerved around and stood to glance at some disgusting plastic specimen of conjoined twins (note, both males with blond hair). “It’s Donald Trump at birth! (he guffawed, looking at me, then at his two laughing kids) What an idiot. Stupid Americans right?!” My first reaction was: yes, what an idiot. Yes, how stupid of Americans to introduce this man anywhere past the muck of a superficial entertainment industry. Yes, it is a catastrophe worthy of the mockery of a casual French family. I liked that moment because I felt right. But the tide quickly changed, and I felt some balance effortlessly teeter my emotions and soul towards some other state of mind.

Why is this the eighth time Paris locals have thrown up politics with the sole focus on Trump and his stupidity. (apparent) verbal womanizing, and recklessness? Granted, I can’t stand the guy, but there’s an equally furious feeling towards our other gift from above, Mrs. Clinton. You take a stroll and ask any Parisian about their opinion on Hillary, and they’ll note (a) she’s a savior and (b) that they’re terrified of a Trump presidency. French news hardly ever dares to speak of the trove of WikiLeaks revelations over the internal corruption of government officials, DNC members, and Clinton, much less connect that to any relevance in America’s election. The general opinion has been locked and safely guarded, from what I’ve seen.

Observing the volatile teetering of polls in the States in the past few days has especially contrasted that situation with this city’s solid groupthink. It is slightly superficial, but it is a decisive complex labeling process. From having conversations with my French teacher, a millennial, and other French people here, it seems that each candidate is not only readily “adjective-labeled,” i.e. Trump as “con” and Clinton as “presidential,” but also connected to a particular global outcome. Trump will lead to the end as we know it and Clinton will progress everything that has already been fought for. But let me be honest; groupthink is stereotyping many people in an unfair way. The beauty of Paris is observing their sincere intentions to be a progressive interact with pertinent global circumstances. Immigration, above all else, has led some Parisians to identify with some of the sentiments of the anti-establishment campaign of Trump. Many Parisians have strong feelings towards controlling the recent influx of refugees. Recently the biggest Syrian refugee camp in France in Le Callais dubbed “The Jungle” in rather bad taste, was emptied out per the earnest request of many passionate French, leaving these refugees scattered and divided. It was a moment that really captured this heart-wrenching crisis and the difficult political maneuvering necessary to alleviate it.

The Parisian take on the constantly revolving totem of politics is respectable in their (said) appreciation for human rights, but I’m afraid that the overall grip has not yet moved far enough to classify manipulation and corruption as in itself a threat to conscience and global progress.

Pierce Guillet: San Francisco, California

Paris, France

I didn’t notice too much discussion about the election, but they were sad Obama was leaving. They had this huge love for Obama, which I think was almost delusional.

Elon Wood: New York, NY 

Paris

Paris hates the idea of Trump as an entity. I didn’t talk to one person in Paris who was down with anything Trump. They not only endorse Hillary but even like Hillary. I don’t think their sentiment is a neutral thing: ‘Hillary should win, and you guys are stupid for supporting anybody like Trump’– that seems to be the Paris sentiment

Netherlands

Next, we went to the Netherlands. We hung out in two places: Prague and Amsterdam. In Delph, we were in what they call a coffee shop (a pot shop). In the Netherlands, pot is legal all around. If you go to Colorado, you go into a pot dispensary. But if you want pot in the Netherlands, you go to a coffee shop- which is a pot shop. But remember, the American idea of pot is like, “oh they’re stoners,” but in the Netherlands, it’s actually kind of sophisticated. It’s like a pub from Oxford mixed with the American stoner idea– if that makes any sense at all. So I’m with five of my friends from MIT (which are all liberal and smoke). We are talking to these guys, who realize that we are American. The first five minutes just get really dicey. It’s a toss up when you’re in Europe. You can flip a coin, and it’s a fifty-fifty chance that either Europeans will say “America is great” or “America is a D*** terrorist state.” I totally got that vibe in the coffee shop. This guy blazed out, “If you talk about terrorists from the Middle East blowing up the twin towers, Hillary Clinton is the biggest terrorist that’s ever touched this planet. Have you not heard of what she’s done? She’s done horrific things.” Then he said something sexist. “Plus how can you think that you can have a female leader ever? Ever?” This was said in the Netherlands, which is a highly advanced country! This was feedback from a young guy. That’s an isolated instance that took me off guard about Hillary Clinton and certainly the kids from MIT. This guy was very aggressive with his attacks against Hillary.

Amsterdam is certainly a multicultural hub with international young people. It’s like New York City/Vegas of America. If you just melded Vegas with NYC but made it a smaller city, that’s Amsterdam. Prostitution is legal, pot is legal, and the whole 9-yards! In Amsterdam, many of the international people we bumped into in some locations expressed annoyance with Trump and didn’t really know much past that. In Amsterdam, it was a totally mixed bag [of thoughts and opinions on the US Presidential candidates]. The first question many people asked is, “do you like Trump?” and I think that was their engaging metric. In comparison to other places, nobody started with that question. In Delph, they wouldn’t begin with questions; they would just start with opinions about the election.

Germany

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In Germany, there is a very strong dislike for Trump. There are parts of the Berlin Wall that are free to graffiti by anyone still to this day. So a lot of these parts have sayings like “Dump Trump,” “We already built a wall, look at our failure,” “F*** Trump,” “#NoWalls,” “Don’t make our mistakes in history.” So the German sentiment from the ground up equates Trump to Hitler in a very real sense. So the people at the ground are probably going to think Trump is more like Hitler than the people on the top who know a lot about him and know he is obviously not Hitler (or not yet). Berlin has been through massive warfare. Berlin is a very international city and is known as the city of youth in Germany, which means that in Berlin, there’s an intense dislike for Trump: that was extremely apparent. Even if they didn’t like Hillary, they think along these lines, “America is making a mistake, and we’ve already made this mistake. If you guys decide to make this mistake, you are all just complete idiots.”

China

To the Chinese students, Trump is the manifestation of America. When they think America, they think Trump. Chinese students would often say, “We think Trump meets the profile of an American- big fat loud white man.” A lot of the Chinese students didn’t think that Trump was a super big turn for America. They Imaged it was pretty much what Americans wanted. They believe that Trump is a threat, but not to them because China is an emerging superpower. I don’t think a lot of the Chinese students that I’ve talked to are really concerned about Trump. Many of them I’ve spoken to have seemed to move past America– if you will. There’s still some who want to move to the USA to get an education, work, and learn English. These are all graduate students. These are not pub conversations but classroom discussions. They see Trump as a bad thing for the USA but believe China is going to be fine. At the end of the day, China is not the one electing Trump. China is looking down its nose at America, and probably it’s because I conversed with highly educated people.

China is very male-centric. They don’t seem ready to say, “hey elect Hillary.” Even the women in the towers of scholarship say, “no males should be at the help.” So they’re not ready to endorse Hillary, and they’re not ready to endorse Trump because they think he’s a complete buffoon. The Chinese students I talked to almost have a neutral stance. A lot of Chinese students look at this and say [with their attitude], “your democracy sucks. This is what your democracy has led you too.” Even some Chinese professors were pointing to us American students and said “This [the U.S. presidential candidates] could show a deficiency in your democracy. Maybe you should revise things. Your democracy is leading you to a tyrant, yet Americans make fun of the Chinese for having a tyrant.”

Oxford, England

They’re legitimately scared for the West. Just from reading the news in the UK, from the ground up everybody is anxious. Especially after Brexit, it was a huge move for the UK. Right now, the UK is very concerned. They don’t like Trump. They think that Brexit is forcing the UK to redefine itself and decreasing in power and hegemony. They see America is now facing her angst. Most of the UK seems to support Hillary. In the educated quarters of Oxford at least, many of them support Hillary. I remember one conversation we had: it was a friend who was talking to a guy working at the Rolling Ritz and me, and he shouted, “Hey look! Women are taking over the world. And it’s a good thing. Look! The leader of UK: woman. The leader of America, going to be a woman. There’s not a problem. Women are taking over the world, and we need that. Women are easier going and do not want war.”

Morgan Craven- Dallas, Texas

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Italy

I am lucky enough to have spent two election cycles abroad. First in 2012, when Barack Obama and Mitt Romney ran and again during the primaries for 2016. For both elections, I was in Italy, and I was struck by how knowledgeable they were of US government systems and candidates– Maybe more than some Americans! People have enormous adoration for Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton and stay actively engaged in the outcomes. You know that “American” stereotype foreigners make fun of? Uneducated, inarticulate, fat, and racist? Unfortunately, about half the country this year is politically supporting someone that brings that stereotype to mind in other countries. Whether we see it or not at home, people abroad are watching.

Julia Adams:  Austin, Texas 

England & Ireland

One conversation I had was with a really nice older woman in England who showed me the way to the nearest grocery store. She’d been to Austin before and asked if Trump was really popular there. I said that Texas had had their own guy, so Republicans were mainly putting up with Trump. She talked about Hillary and how she didn’t seem like a good option either. Later in Ireland, I took a taxi to the Airport. The taxi driver talked about how Hillary gave him the chills and bold-faced lies she’s told and how if the Republicans had any other candidate, they’d be a shoo-in. I think I’d characterize it all as morbid fascination.

Britney Lopez: Orlando, FL

England

Every airport I was at had the US elections playing on the news. My first day in London, I went to see the Wellington arc, which at that park, there was a nude bike meet up with about 100 nudists on bikes, which they were going to all ride together for a couple of blocks. One of the nudists on a bike had the words, “dump Trump” painted on him and a portrait of Donald near his butt. Paris and Munich or not so much into what was going on with the elections in the United States, but every country had their eyes on Orlando for that week of the Pulse Shooting.

When I was in London, I left Orlando the day after the pulse shooting. I saw Orlando on all the newspapers [in London]. On the street and the train, I would see people reading about Orlando. To every cathedral and church I went to tour, they had a vigil for Orlando. This was days before the Brexit vote. I also witnessed some campaign events for Brexit. It seems as if the countrymen were more for Brexit than the urban residences were for remaining in the European Union. What appears to be third-party English people, they leaned more towards Brexit because they thought it would be a good change more than it would be a benefit. So you have the conservative party and people in between voting for Brexit versus the far left. However, the campaigning to remain in the Union was far less and then it was to leave. From London, I took a train to Bath, and as I was getting more into the country, I saw more campaigning materials for Brexit. There were hardly any campaigning materials out to remain in the union. Also, I was in England when British lawmaker Jo Cox was stabbed and shot. There were vigils for her along Parliament, and everyone made it more about her than about politics. Everyone respected her position in government and paid their respect.

Charity Ana Lewis: Atlanta, GA

Mexico City, Mexico

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Donald Trump & Hillary Clinton Piñata

Donald Trump made his speech in Mexico City the same day my mother and I arrived. I didn’t get a chance to watch it until three days after and evaluate the speech for myself. As one would imagine, a different vibe is felt in Mexico than the vibe of Americans who hate Trump. In America, anti-Trump sentiments are announced out of a moral principle against hate speech, racism, and prejudice. In Mexico, Anti-Trump sentiments are deep. The media, the protestors, and my family from the country describe Trump’s visit to Mexico as a disgrace. They are insulted on how Trump gave a warm speech in Mexico with President Enrique Peña Nieto, and then the next day, spoke harshly about Mexico in Phoenix. Two of my cousin’s friends who attend La Universidad de las Americas (Puebla) mentioned this was the conversation in their international relations class.

As for Hillary Clinton, the news sources acknowledged the danger of the Clinton emails and other records she is being held accountable for. Nevertheless, as the election day is comes closer, many Mexicans are more embracive of Clinton as a safe option for Mexico’s future.

The closer the election day draws near, the more people ask about my thoughts concerning my country’s presidential election. For instance, I was invited by a friend (a high school English teacher) to come visit her class. She wanted her students to listen to an American accent and ask questions about American culture. Common questions involved what I enjoy most about Mexico or what I thought about the US presidential candidates. One question struck me deeply and had me choked up more than I expected. One student hesitantly asked if the stereotype of Mexicans being criminals is true. I had a hard time answering that question. When I came up with the words to say,  I mentioned how it depends on which state one is in: whether it’s an educated or uneducated area, since uneducated areas are less likely to have prejudices against Mexicans. ( I get mixed reactions when I tell people I’m part Mexican).

It’s difficult sometimes to watch Trump’s speeches with Abuelita (grandmother in Spanish). I usually laugh at some of his statements, but its not funny to her. She is appalled by his statements, his character, and the threat he poses to Mexico.

From my observation, Educated people such as professors, business leaders, and those politically informed seem more worried about what a Trump presidency means for Mexico than others I’ve talked too (based on economic issues and immigration). Others have expressed offense at Trump’s comments but also shrug their shoulders since they’re not the one’s voting. They just beg me not to vote for Trump.

My  observations are only  a few highlights out of many in the sea of political discourse in Mexico. I hope readers have found these stories not only engaging and humorous but also help Americans rethink how the US communicates itself to the world.Travelers must keep their eyes, ears, and hearts opened in order to learn. I am thankful to be an American citizen and am thankful for the privilege to travel around the world; doing so forces me to listen.

Things I didn’t Know About Mexican Culture

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Since I grew up with consistent trips to Mexico, I thought I knew all there is to know about the Mexican culture and the people. I thought all I needed was my animated personality, an appetite for spicy things, and mi español. Apparently, I wasn’t that prepared!

1. Humor isn’t Dark

The humor in Mexico city usually doesn’t involve putting others down. Dry humor isn’t popular; neither is it well receivedl. It’s been hard to keep my dark jokes low since it can offend others rather than give them a good laugh. I was hanging out with an amigo at a conference, and two of his freinds asked us if we knew where their their sibling was at. My typical reply is, ‘in the world,’ which I said in Spanish. I could tell they didn’t get the joke. My amigo explained to me afterward to be careful with negative humor in Mexico (I didn’t consideer it dark humor, but still took notes). I had several flashbacks of how my mother never liked demeaning jokes and would discourage my sisters and me from teasing in such a manner. This is not to say dark humor is never for Mexicans; one must discern which audience would receive it well. In the U.S., dark humor is also not for everyone, but it’s widely accepted.

2. Hospitality in the South (USA) vs. Mexico

I am more familiar with southern culture than the rest of my country so I will compare Mexico’s hospitality accordingly. What I mean by hospitality is the acceptance and openness of individuals when building relationships. Both cultures are hospitable; there’s no doubt about it. But when Mexicans say, ‘mi casa es tu casa,’ they mean it! In general, there is less pressure to impress when inside a Mexican home or a social outing. The word ‘stranger’ or ‘extranjero’ doesn’t seem to be in their vocabulary. In southern homes, they welcome individuals as friends. In Mexico, they welcome people as family. One isn’t better than the other, yet it’s a distinction made from my experiences. Sometimes, I feel like people are over welcoming in Mexico or that people are under welcoming in the U.S. (especially college students). Balancing hospitality is key. Nevertheless, I prefer to be over welcomed than under welcomed. I hope my guests feel at home, but sometimes I can be stiff and worried they don’t have enough to eat, sleep, etc.

3. Spicy can be Too Hot for Mexicans too

It was offensive for a while when my tios and primos (uncles and cousins) kept asking, “Is that too hot for you?” or “you may not be used to it.” They know full-well I grew up eating some of the hottest salsas. As more time passed by, I noticed friends and family would ask the same kinds of questions to one another: it’s not because I’m a gringa ! One of my cousins told me she didn’t prefer really hot foods. Therefore, questions about whether my food is too hot aren’t meant for gringos only.

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The Complete package: Salsa Rojo, Salsa Verde, Mole, Guacamole, &  Jugo de Jamaica!

 

 

4. Mexicans Take Their Time

Lunch breaks are up to 2 hours long, college classes take time to start (it usually starts ten- fiftten minutes later), and they walk slow to nearly everything. For someone who’s lived in New York City the last four years, taking your time to go to and from a place isn’t what I’m used to. I know that its normal for friends and family to spend hours at the table during meal times and fiestas, but everyday tasks? It’s a foreign language to me. However taking life at a slower pace has helped me savor little happy moments and sit inside deep reflections (although I always try to make time for deep reflections).

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Roaming around el Castillo de Chapultapec 

5. Feelings towards White American Christians

Throughout most of my experiences, I’ve heard positive feedback on the American church from Latin Americans. They tend to look up to pastors and well-known churches in the U.S. The only criticism I may have heard in the past is on the materialism of the American church and culture. However, this year is a little different as one would imagine. Some Mexicans are aware that some American Christians do support a presidential candidate who is threatening their country; others are not aware and can’t wrap their heads around why. This year’s presidential election has slightly changed how Mexican Christians feel about American Christians. The most common explanation I hear from brothers and sisters in Christ in Mexico is something along these lines: “Many Christian leaders are white, and therefore want to vote for someone like them.” (All feedback is from educated people). In short, they sense this group of American Christians don’t care for them.

This part of my Mother’s culture is a temporary part of Mexico’s political discourse. I happened to find it interesting to list the things I didn’t know. It’s hard to escape American Politics, even in another country.

 

 

Insecurities In Being Part White – Why I go Tanning

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While sitting in the sun by my cousin’s pool in Acapulco, I thought furthermore why I’m so obsessed with tanning. I don’t like tanning beds, but I love to nap in the sun then cool off in the water. I find it reasonable to tan when I wish to blend in with natives of certain countries and avoid standing out as a naive American tourist. It is not valid to tan so I can be excused from the label of ‘white girl.’ Desiring to be brown is rooted in insecurities of being white. The optimistic view of tanning has hidden deep wounds I never knew lied in my heart. I have tanned and patted on bronzer to be accepted by Mi Familia (Pardon my Spanglish).

1. To Fit In

This is where it all began. Every Christmas gathering with my Mexican family, some of them never fail to mention how pale is ugly and brown beautiful. I caught onto this at age 11 in my house in Texas. Because these family members indirectly hurt my feelings, I said things I didn’t mean such as, “Mexicans are ugly” to get back at them. I remember being excited to receive my brown skin after a long day at the pool, only to hear one of my cousins say, “it’s orange, not brown.” No matter how much Spanish I learned, no matter how much I love Mexican cuisine, and no matter how much the sun brought out the Latina in me, I could never impress them. It seemed like strangers and friends appreciated my multiethnic look more than my family. Accepted or unaccepted, I will always be the white girl.

To be fair, I have fond memories of the days spent with Mamita’s side of the family: sharing the traditions, stories, and adventures will never cease to be a part of me. I love them very much, and I know they love me. Families are not perfect, but I forgive every way in which they (some) have made me feel left out. I do not have to bake in the sun for my family to love me more. At my cousin’s pool, I felt defeated discovering the sad truth of why I was cooking myself in the first place. It may be the last time I will.

2. To Be Unique

Before BLM, Trump’s campaign, and white privelege awareness, I tanned to show off my multiethnic self, in spite of the fact that the Mexican American mix (mestizo) is common. For me, my occasional brown skin and caucasian features are a symbol of multiculturalism I carry proudly. I happen to think people are approaching me in another language other than English is a compliment. If friends or acquaintances mistake me for another ethnicity, I would ask what lead to their guesses. Main Answer? My brownish (more like olive) skin. It’s almost a competition to see who is the most multiethnic. The more these compliments came in, the more I began to think that being a white person is anything but interesting.

Looking back, I realize I may have hurt some people by making them feel ordinary and unattractive. To my white friends: I am very sorry if I have planted a seed of low self-esteem based on your inability to tan or Anglo-heritage. Having European immigrant parents from 12 generations ago (approximately) doesn’t make you less unique than current immigrants from other parts of the world. White Americans can appreciate his/her heritage while learning from the mistakes of their ancestors. Feel special for what you can learn and contribute to your community, country, and the world, not your ethnicity.

3. Avoiding The White Girl Stereotype

Since awareness on white privilege, BLM, and the Trump’s campaign took off, I identify myself as a minority as much as possible with the 50% of my Mexican blood. I don’t want to identify as a racist based on the other 50% of my blood. Articles on white privilege were never meant to encourage white people to look like minorities, yet this what I got out of it. My unconscious self (now conscious) wants a tan to escape the white girl stereotype, even though my Anglo-Saxon name gives it away. This is the disturbing truth.

Admitting this can cause my friends of color a lot of anger and frustration. I don’t blame them for it. Being a person of color comes with challenges I will never have to face. Being informed of injustices concerning people of color and keeping the justice system accountable will make a change, not my summer tan. Being a white girl is ok as long as she opens her mind to the world beyond hers; I’m convinced this is what white privilege awareness is trying to do. In this case, I apologize for my shallow response to such movements I hope will make a positive difference in our country. I long to see the justice system and civil life treat black people with the same respect as white people; I don’t want  white privilege to exist.

Final Word

This topic consumes my day-to-day conversations. Family and friends are probably weary of my complaints about being pale or bragging about my tan. This is why tanning will no longer be a priority in my life. I made my decision after leaving my cousin’s neighborhood pool. If I happen to soak in the sun while swimming or playing sports, great! If not, it doesn’t make me less than who I am. I will be part Mexican no matter how pale. I will be part white, no matter how brown. Although being mixed has its advantages, it has its insecurities in feeling like I don’t entirely belong to any culture. As a Christian, my security is found in being a child of God. Second, I know my Mexican family loves me regardless of being a Gringa. Third, an one’s way of thinking and experiences determine if he/she is multicultural, not ethnicity alone (I have met white people who are more cultured than non-white people). That said, goodbye insecurity, hello contentment!

Dressing In Style Doesn’t Require A Bunch of Clothes

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I prefer to be well dressed, but doing so doesn’t require a room full of clothes, shoes, and accessories. Here’s 2 tips on how:

1.Quality Over Quantity

Quality over Quantity: this principle is something I’ve learned from Parisian fashion tips in books and eyeing street styles in Paris (summer 2014). This means having investment pieces that are timeless and can be worn for many years to come.

When someone’s closet is made up of high-quality classics, there is LESS OF A NEED TO GO OUT AND BUY MORE CLOTHES. In a ten-year span, I would rather spend $150 on a classic wool sweater from a fair trade brand than from a fast fashion chain, adding up to  $200+ for replacing each sweater that went out of season. Instead of owning 30 dresses, 25 cheap tees, and other frilly things I don’t need, my closet consists of key basics and a few trends.

Minimize your closet to something like this: 4 basic tops (white button up, black blouse, striped cotton tee, navy blue cotton v-neck etc.), 2 business casual coats (one cardigan, one blazer), 3 dresses (little black dress, red dress, and one sun dress), and 4 bottoms (jeans, black pants, pencil skirt, A-line skirt). Of course basics can be switched out in cooler and warmer seasons. For example, long sleeves can replace short sleeves when the weather is warm.

Below is another example of key pieces to always have in your closet from my favorite stylists book, Parisian Chic. There are various ways individuals can organize their simple wardrobe that best fit their lifestyle.  I would suggest to own no more than 18 articles of clothing.

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Currently, my small wardrobe is not made up of all high-quality clothing. I still wear some of my cheap fashion clothing from three years ago (or more). I don’t demand everyone to trash their cheap clothes immediately; it’s a process. I recommend replacing poor quality basics with high-quality basics one piece at a time. For now, Individuals should dress well with what they have. If people can’t wear what they have well, who says they can with new clothes? Only give away items that never flatter you or never see the light of day (the kind that sits and rots in the bottom of your dresser).

  A small closet means repeating outfits, but a small closet also means expanding creativity by mixing and matching. My philosophy? Fewer Trends, More Classics!

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I accessorize the same top and bottoms in different ways (pardon the iPhone quality)

2.For Trends: Buy Less & Make It Special                                                                        

Trends are not annihilated out of my life entirely. I think one must buy less of it. Trends become quickly dated, more so than the upgrades in our technological devices!  But if I do want something trendy, it must hold  significance other than what’s in season. shop in thrift stores or Grandma’s closet. Chances are vintage looks influence trends. It would be more special if an item belonged to a family member from the 60’s or 80’s!  However, there’s no guarantee that the fashionista will find every item on Harper’s Bazaar’s In/Out List. Secondhand stores can be a hit or miss.

If one is fortunate enough to travel the world, the traveler can buy trends inspired from another country. Instead of buying bangles from Icing or Forever 21, why not buy bangles from India? Why buy acrylic oversized cardigans from TJ Max when you can find one made from the herds of Northern England? Fashion pieces from around the world are wonderful souvenirs and will carry memories of your trip every time you wear them.

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I bought a polka-dotted dress in a little vintage shop my first day in Paris. It has served me well for two years! I wear this little sun dress in  eventful and uneventful moments.

It’s up to travelers whether or not they’re focused on looking for globally inspired trends. Personally, I would rather run into something that catches my eye than go out looking for it. Tourism should be about experiencing a place, not focusing on stuff (unless it’s the purpose of your trip). If no one has the time or money to travel now, they can still buy trends from across the globe in middlemen websites like eBay (no, not plastic jewelry  from Wal Mart that’s labeled ‘made in Vietnam’ ). Even when globally inspired trends go out of fashion for the moment, you can store it until it comes back around!

In a Nutshell..

Invest in good quality classics; purchase trends only when they have meaning outside of fashion. I know this advice is not for everyone, but it has helped me in the last two years of shopping sweatshop-free and simplifying my life to be about ideas & people rather than fitting in the fashion industry’s standard(s) of being in style.

I would discuss ethical reasons why having a small wardrobe is best for the planet and taking a stance against labor exploitation in the fast fashion supply chain. Nevertheless, there are credible sources readers can look up on their own. I would start off with an informative yet entertaining documentary, The True Cost (on Netflix!).

 

The Broken Side of My King’s College Experience

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The college I graduated from changed my way of thinking and imagining the world  in ways I didn’t see coming. At an apologetics conference in Atlanta, I would fully realize what my college experience had planted in my heart, and it was ugly.

In the middle of June, I attended the RZIM summit, which is a world-class Christian apologetics conference featuring Christian intellectual speakers–many of whom are Oxford scholars. They didn’t carry themselves like the most brilliant people in the room. My sister and I held a few lunch and dinner conversations with individuals we didn’t realize were speakers until it was their time to lecture (they didn’t have a green room?!), some of whom are well-known authors. I made a second surprising observation in worship. Every morning before the lectures would begin, John Lennox, an Oxford Mathematician, would lead every devotional and raise his hands in worship. My impression of intellectual Christians, especially from what I picked up at my college, is that being emotional about God is cheesy and overdone. It was powerful to see rows in the Georgia Tech lecture hall full of the brightest minds gathering together in worship and singing with passion. Unfortunately, I have not encountered many Christian intellectuals who love the Lord with their mind and heart. The leaders and speakers with RZIM were very knowledgeable, yet humble. Their knowledge challenged the attendees, not tear them down. They didn’t focus on how not to be like other Christians who can’t share the Gospel effectively. Sure, points on how Christians have failed to reach their culture were made, but no one was coerced to feel demeaned, uneducated, uncultured, or stupid for the kind of background they may have come from (such as a conservative Christian background). The atmosphere of this conference held positive incentives to build each other up as the body of Christ, no matter what denominational background, disagreements, or different convictions each person chose for him/herself. I was able to diagnose what was happening inside my heart: I am trained by my college to focus on  being a particular kind of Christian.

Moving out of NYC after graduation and coming home for the summer was a culture shock in itself. Attending a Baptist church is another. I grew up in a Baptist church all my life until leaving for NYC to attend the King’s College. There, Baptists and evangelicals are made to look like ignorant, irrational, irrelevant, legalistic monsters. Needless to say, I bought into it (and trying to deprogram that concept now). Even though evangelicals have weaknesses like the rest of the Church, professors and students ridiculed them as if it’s the solution to solving the problems of Christians engaging culture.

I am aware that conservative Christians are often too concerned with their outward appearance by abstaining from tattoos, alcohol, and cursing, to not be ‘affiliated with darkness’ and act as if those are absolute commands rather than lifestyle preferences. However, there is a difference between holding convictions to please God and having rules to maintain a reputation.

I believe my college is taking another form of focusing on the outward appearance rather than the heart. Instead of pursuing Christ, it is more concerned with not looking like another group of Christians than it is growing spiritually. Of course, this issue is only the symptom of the problem. In the four years of my experience at King’s, I can only speak on one of the observations that I believe is a root: many of the staff and students are frustrated at the form in which pop Christian culture, ultra conservative culture, and prosperity Christianity are presenting themselves. Many of the staff and students are hurt by American Christianity, from both liberal and conservative denominations. The younger generation is still recovering from a Christ-against-Culture approach from the church: this is the angle of which I have witnessed professors and students make sarcastic remarks about their frustration and desire to change that. Even I am burdened with the same concerns. The question is, is there a way any of us can be the change without mocking a particular group of Christians? Is there a limit as to how much we can laugh at ourselves to the point where we belittle one another for not being the right kind of Christian? What is the idealized Christian The King’s College has in mind?

To be clear, King’s vision of the idealized Christian isn’t inherently wrong. Most of The King’s College’s big picture mission statement has a unique vision of equipping their students to make a difference in areas of influence, where believers are desperately needed. The mission statement, its location, the house system, the degrees offered, the quality professors, and the overall community is what makes King’s a solid college. But like any human institution, the King’s community and their vision of the good life, has problems.

The idealized Christian, from my impression of the college, is someone who is well-rounded, cultured, involved in almost all social activities non-Christians are but can still be a Christian (on gray issues like drinking, smoking, clubbing, cursing, etc.), and is not irrational about faith. This kind of student is a moderate savvy Christian, who sports out the business casual outfit, is well grounded in philosophy and economics, is expected to have an internship in a strategic institution, and God-forbid be emotional about their faith (because that would just ruin the reputation of Christians being irrational believers). Engaging NYC with the message of Christ hardly gets outside a scholarly discussion.

As a reminder, Jesus didn’t come through an earthly strategic institution. He was born in a barn to a peasant woman and a carpenter from Nazareth (a town that was anything but significant to the Roman Empire). Jesus crossed paths with powerful people in both Jew and Gentile circles, but he was clear that his kingdom is not of this world.  Some of Jesus’ disciples came from uneducated backgrounds. They would be considered unfit to influence strategic institutions because being fishermen doesn’t make the cut (some fit in better with the redneck believers today than the intellectuals). Nevertheless, their eyewitness records and oral teachings are changing the world. Without their testimony of Christ, the King’s College would cease to exist (Paul, the educated apostle, depended on the disciple’s testimonies). May believers in Jesus and a Christian college never forget their humble beginnings.

There are many instances where God has placed people in influential positions in the history of Israel: Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, Esther, Daniel, Paul etc. God has used people from all walks of life to fulfill his purposes and ultimately bring glory to Him. I remember going to fall retreat as a sophomore (2013) and hearing one of the staff members kindly console the student body, saying that the pressure is off to influence strategic institutions. He confirmed that it’s not every student’s ambition or calling. I’m thankful someone stated this timeless truth.

How can King’s improve? Should the college continue promoting their anti-legalistic anti-emotional approach on the church’s problems? Or would the solution be to acknowledge the church’s problems with grace? Only a movement of the Holy Spirit can redirect people’s hearts. It is not my place to dictate what the next generation of students or current professors are to do; I can only speak of what I have seen.

There are believers in the college who sincerely don’t see anything wrong with activities like drinking or smoking. In other words, their motivation for doing is not for the outward appearance or giving Christians a well-rounded reputation. I respect their preferences and freedom in Christ. What I ask of them is to not ridicule students or stereotype those who don’t drink or smoke, etc. Students with stricter convictions are simply following their conscience.

I have one request to the next generation of students and present professors. Please don’t give each other a hard time for having different convictions. Let a student think cursing is wrong. Allow people to express their excitement for Jesus. Don’t pressure students to loathe the Bible Belt (since when were we taught to hate others?). There are plenty of people who speak Christianese, who have made an impact on strategic institutions, (whether you respect them or not). Every member of the body of Christ is wired differently. Some are outspoken and passionate while others are stoic and quaint. To silence the passionate personality from campus is to say no to diversity. I am not asking anyone to agree with individuals with lifestyles that appear dry. I am asking that we have disagreements peacefully and respect one another on personal convictions with the common goal to pursue truth.

Although King’s is a school and not a church, it is made up of members in the body of Christ (assuming the majority are professing Christians). Remember, when one hurts a part of his/her body, the rest of the body becomes weak. It’s the same with the church! I am also preaching to myself.

This scripture is what I pray for myself and for the future of The King’s College.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind,

sympathy, brotherly love,

a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

1 Peter 3:8 ESV