Once while I was studying abroad I had a dream that I was back at Penn. I was at a crowded party with loud music and colorful pulsing lights. I was flitting between conversations, trying desperately not to be seen standing by myself. I woke up and was immediately filled with relief to still be lying on my floor mat, surrounded by my mosquito net in the home in rural Thailand I was staying in. I noticed my body was shaking and damp with sweat and I realized I had been having a nightmare. I spent my last two days in Thailand ceaselessly sobbing. I cried at our final party. I cried while packing. I cried in the cab to the airport. I cried so much that people stopped being concerned and just interacted with me as they normally would, except for the fact that I was crying. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much, and I didn’t think I would until this week.
When it dawned on me that Donald Trump was going to be the next President of the United States I was filled with a sense of dread and panic. I felt the tears running down my face even as I told myself that this couldn’t possibly be real. I kept waiting to wake up, for the nightmare to end, but it never did. I cried on the walk home from the DP office when I realized that nothing would be the same. I cried when I woke up from an hour of trying to sleep. I cried when I heard my grandmother break into tears on the phone. I cried when I watched Hillary’s concession speech instead of finishing an assignment.
Then and now I found myself standing at the precipice of the unknown, terrified of what the future might hold. When I left Thailand I was leaving a program where every day was fulfilling, every hour spent exploring ideas of progress, justice and human rights. The burden of coming back from a life-changing transformative abroad experience is that the comparison made the loneliness, the exclusivity, the superficiality, the callousness that existed at Penn all the more painful.
I threw myself into it anyway. I joined new groups, and tried to meet new people. Because although Penn's pre-professional status-obsessed students may not have felt like my people, they were the ones I was stuck with and I was determined to make the best of it. And many of my worst fears were confirmed. I felt depressed, I felt anxious and I felt lonely. But I learned a lot about myself and what I want out of life and for the future.
Right now the transition between the Obama presidency to the Trump presidency feels all the more striking. Since the age of 12 when I first became politically aware I have only known a president for whom I feel an overwhelming amount of love and respect, who routinely comforts and inspires me. Seeing him replaced by someone I find so abhorrent feels wrong, it feels shameful, it feels downright dirty. The idea of Trump sitting in his office, filling his position, standing at his podium makes me feel nauseous, angry and powerless. A Trump presidency might not be as bad as we think it is, or it might be worse, but it is the one half of my country has chosen. And whether they be educated or not, racist or not, we are stuck with them.
I didn’t isolate myself from my peers and we can’t isolate ourselves from ours. We need to confront why these people were not represented in the polls, why they were not swayed by countless celebrities, newspapers and politicians, and why they somehow found his rhetoric appealing. When Hillary Clinton told me I owed Trump “an open mind and the chance to lead” I was filled with a childish sense of anger. This is all wrong, I wanted to shout at her. You weren’t supposed to console me, you were supposed to by my President. But I want to believe her when she said I should “never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it.” And when I look at the tattoo on my wrist that says “keep fighting” in Thai I know that someday this new world might feel normal. And I know that while I’m not there yet, I might just be okay.