Global Citizen Year is a global bridge year program designed to unleash the potential of high school students as leaders and effective agents of change.
One of my main motivations in taking a gap year and spending time in Ecuador was to better understand the intricacies of the relationship between the United States and the developing world. I feel that this perspective is important, as almost half of the world's population lives on less than $2.50 a day and in similar conditions to the ones which I am currently living in, a small indigenous village in the Andes.
Through living with my large and very kind host family, teaching in local "escuelas" and working various economic development projects, I believe that I now have a good sense of how the people of the rural Ecuadorian Andes live. Through my daily conversations in this community, I am gaining an outsider's perspective on the United States. Random people are always striking up conversations with me because my skinny 6'3" frame, light skin color, and long brown hair makes it very apparent that I am not from Ecuador. They are usually curious about where I am from and I proudly talk to them about my country.
While the people of my host community seem to have a general understanding of what is happening in the United States, it is difficult for them to understand the intricacies of our complex society. However, when I have talked to them about President Obama, they get visibly excited. A smile stretches across their faces, revealing gold teeth and an enthusiastic side of them that is usually hidden beneath bright red ponchos, baseball caps, and overworked exhaustion. It has become clear to me that President Obama has transcended the U.S. and become a global symbol of hope and change.
The results of the 2012 presidential election will likely have no effect on my host community. The people in my community will continue waking up at 4:30 in the morning to tend to their crops, feed their animals and weave their clothes. They don't know what President Obama's views on health care, the economy or homeland security are because they don't have to. They will continue living the same way that their people have for centuries.
On election night, I asked my host mother what she thought about President Obama. During our conversation, she told me that she felt, in some strange way, she related to him and felt that President Obama would understand her, her situation, and what she felt was important; which is something that she had not felt with an American president before. In contrast, my host mother did not know who Mitt Romney was.
President Obama is unlike any other president in America's history. He is of a diverse ethnic background and talks of changing a system that has strong roots in tradition and in the past. It's clear that people in communities such as the one I am living in have a particular admiration for President Obama's rhetoric of hope. People everywhere live in very challenging situations, and President Obama is able to reach beyond international boarders and deliver optimism to those who seek it.
From my time living in Ecuador, I have learned that President Obama's actual success in changing American society or the increasingly connected "global society" is remarkably unimportant to some. He has given people around the world hope in the future and the knowledge that when change comes, it will be for the better. He is an icon of globalization in the eyes of many, and I have seen that the symbolism he represents often outweighs his specifics.
Clearly, the best situation for both the U.S. and the developing world would be one where President Obama thrives in the legislative aspect of his profession. It was difficult to get things done in his previous term, and it is likely that his next will be just as hard. However, even if he gets as little done in his second term in the Oval Office as he did his first, I have witnessed first-hand that he has improved America's reputation internationally, and to this we should not turn a blind eye.