Americans abroad in the age of Obama

07/07/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

For Jordan Blum and Amanda Smock, the plan for their seven-month backpacking trip was to say they were from California.

The San Francisco couple in their early-20s received enough verbal harassment on a previous trip to Europe during the Bush years to know not to say "American."

"We hoped that people would understand that we were from the part of America that was on the world's side, not Bush's," they said. "Everyone always had something negative to say when they heard we were from America. It was as if they'd been waiting to meet an American so they could voice their concerns and feel as though they'd been heard by those directly responsible."

That's why they were surprised on their most recent trip when a woman in her sixties in northern Vietnam shouted, "I love America!" Days later in a market in Saigon, Blum bought a Barack Obama T-shirt.

"Now, the reaction is always the same," they said. "People's faces would light up and they would shout 'America! Obamaland! We love Obama!'"

Currently only about 30 per cent of Americans have passports, meaning few get to see what foreign policy decisions mean for everyday people worldwide. But, these street-level foreign relations ultimately mean just as much to easing tensions as boardroom dealings between politicians.

As Blum and Smock quickly observed, Barack Obama has indeed brought change. Even if these shifts were unintentional, his efforts have made a world of difference.

According to the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, this change in global attitudes came almost overnight. According to a briefing presented to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee last month, "By mid-2009, opinions of the United States in Western Europe, as well as major countries in Asia and Latin America, were about as positive as they were at the beginning of the decade, before George W. Bush took office."

In the interim years, it wasn't uncommon for Americans to feel such resentment abroad that they sewed Canadian flags on their backpacks. Blum and Smock spoke of friends who were denied a visit to the Vatican when their trip corresponded with that of the former-President. Their tour guide feared those speaking American-accented English would be targeted by protesters.

"We live in an era in which the global image of the U.S. can affect policies and actions in many, if not most nations of the world," writes Pew Center President Andrew Kohut. "In the past decade, we saw the extent to which opinion surveys and media are now able to tell the story of how the U.S. and its policies are regarded around the world. And we have seen how that story can, and has had consequences."

Take Pakistan for example. The U.S. and Pakistan have mutual interests in keeping the country from being a safe haven for al-Qaida and the Taliban. But, United States often has to tread lightly due to waves of anti-American sentiment caused by various policy decisions.

In our increasingly globalized world, American domestic policy increasingly has ripple effects. It's even been joked the international community should get 50 per cent of the vote in the U.S. election.

Today, while Obama's approval rating may be at all-time lows domestically, the international community have only seen campaign promises of improved diplomacy strengthened by actions like the nuclear summit. This comes as a relief after years of go-it-alone policy - and the world wants Americans to hear it.

"Jordan would wear his Obama T-shirt and people would stop us every ten feet," says Smock. "They wanted us to know that they loved him, that they loved 'Obamaland' and we were overwhelmingly grateful to hear it.

"The sad part is, most Americans don't travel and will never see the difference Obama has made in terms of the way the world sees us."