Sitting in one of the many cafes surrounding Place des Lices in the heart of historic Rennes with two of my fellow American friends, the typical grey skies of Bretagne threatening rain matched our mood. Attempting to warm our hands with café crèmes we had just ordered, we stumbled upon a subject that had been troubling us for the past few weeks: Donald Trump. His inauguration on 20 January less than a month before felt surreal, like an episode of the Twilight Zone you could hardly remember. Although there were daily reminders of his abuse of power on nightly news clips in addition to the many questions fellow students and French professors would pose, it was easy to feel disconnected and even useless here in Rennes. While our friends and family across the Atlantic marched on Washington, protested Trump’s racist and xenophobic travel bans at airports, or went on strike to show solidarity with oppressed minorities, I continued my daily routine in Rennes, enjoying the vie quotidienne and immersing myself in French culture.
I was torn between an overwhelming sense of relief that I was not in the United States to witness first-hand Trump’s abuse of power and an envy for those who remain in the United States, able to protest and strike. How could we possibly show our solidarity with those fighting against Trump’s racism, sexism, and xenophobia? How could I, the daughter of an immigrant, a proud feminist, and a human being, combat the Trump Administration here in France? It was a sentiment shared by many of us, mixed with feelings of anger, shame, disbelief, and embarrassment. Yet, after a few weeks of contemplation and several discussions with friends, I slowly came to realize that the very act of being abroad is an act of protest. A willingness to live with people from entirely different backgrounds, an effort to learn a foreign language, and an enthusiasm to embrace cultural differences directly contradicts what the Trump Administration represents. An inclination to be open-minded rather than judgmental and welcoming rather than alienating is exactly what the Trump Administration lacks and exactly what we need. I’d like to think that if Donald Trump and those working under him had perhaps studied abroad and truly immersed themselves in another culture in order to appreciate the wonderful diversity the world has to offer, perhaps they would not advocate a policy of fear and exclusion. Simply being here in Rennes and being open to differences is an act of defiance.
Siân Hanson, St. Olaf College