Friday, June 24, 2016

What Brexit Means to an American Abroad

When I went to sleep last night, it looked like it was all going to be okay. The earliest reports indicated a narrow margin of victory for Remain, buoyed by a dramatic pro-Remain response in Gibralter. Even Nigel Farage, the bombastic face of the Leave movement, had come close to delivering a concession. When I woke up this morning, the world had changed.

I'm not British. I'm not even European. But the announcement that the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union has huge implications for me.

When I first arrived in Luxembourg in September, it seemed like everyone -- my housemates, my students, my lycée coworkers -- found nothing funnier than asking their new token American about the upcoming presidential election. "So," they would whisper conspiratorially, "how do you feel about Donald Trump?" I would roll my eyes and play along: "Great. Love him. I'm so glad that's what you associate me with." Sometimes, the conversation would turn to politics, with me attempting to explain the concept of primaries and caucuses (or, 'why my country's election is dominating your country's news 13 months before it happens'). Sometimes, we'd discuss our fears about the sobering rise of xenophobia and far-right parties in our respective countries. But most often, we'd move on. Because, you know, it wasn't actually going to happen.

Over the past ten months, things have changed. Within the Republican Party, seventeen candidates has turned to one and politicians who once scoffed at Trump's candidacy are now making their own reluctant endorsements. Meanwhile, the friends who teased me about Donald Trump have now watched and responded in shock as far-right movements gained traction in their own countries. The Luxembourgish coworkers who once began conversations by asking "So ... what about Trump?" have fallen silent on the issue. (Are they worried that I'll burst into tears if forced to confront my country's failings?) And my response has changed. I no longer laugh off references to the November 2016 election and to the increasingly contentious, nationalistic, and xenophobic rhetoric that accompanies it. Because it's not funny anymore.

When I first heard of it, Brexit seemed like nothing more than a fringe movement -- a crazy idea with a crazy name, brought forth by the radical right and destined to attract little attention before failing. Much like the concept of Donald Trump as the presidential nominee of a major political party, it seemed truly inconceivable. I shrugged it off. Even as it became clear that a Brexit was a legitimate political concern, I didn't let myself worry. Given those who opposed it in the UK and abroad -- President ObamaJ.K. Rowling! John Oliver! -- it seemed evident to me that cooler heads would prevail, that the obvious merits of Britain's EU membership would outweigh the criticisms, that the UK would ultimately decide to stay. In discussions with students and housemates, where it became an increasingly popular topic of conversation, Brexit was almost a joke. Because, you know, they weren't actually going to do it.

But they did. This morning, it has become all too painfully obvious that Brexit is not and, in fact, never has been a joke. The result of the referendum -- 17,410,742 to 16,141,241 -- was read aloud on the BBC. The value of the pound plummeted overnight, dropping to the lowest rate in over three decades. David Cameron announced his resignation, perhaps inevitable under the circumstances, as Prime Minister. Political groups in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where citizens voted overwhelmingly to Remain, have called for new independence referendums. The implications, for citizens of both the United Kingdom and the European Union, are numerous and I have no doubt that the next days and weeks will bring a number of major changes to the political and economic landscape.

In the meantime, however, I want to make things about me.

Of course this referendum has implications for Americans abroad (including those planning more-affordable-than-ever trips to London). But we should all be paying attention. Because Brexit is about so much more than membership in the European Union. At its core, Brexit is proof that cooler heads do not always prevail. It is proof that fear is a powerful motivator and nationalism, a powerful manipulator. It is proof that an idea that seems radical, crazy, and downright impossible can, under the right conditions, become reality. And it's definitely not funny.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Musée Méindeg: Bastogne War Museum

Méindeg, 20 Juni.

Today's Musée Méindeg takes us outside of the Grand Duchy to the Bastogne War Museum. Located just across the Luxembourg-Belgium border, the museum is within easy driving distance of Luxembourg and makes for a popular day trip destination.

History buffs will surely recognize Bastogne for the strategic role it played in the 1944 Battle of the Bulge, an event that was immortalized in the 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers. (Haven't heard of it? Ask your dad.)

Just a few months after being liberated by Allied Forces, the town of Bastogne became the site of the one of the most dramatic events of World War II, when it was attacked by the Germans in December 1944 as part of Hitler's last-ditch attempt to recapture Antwerp and change the tide of the war. The siege lasted for a week, during which time the town -- and the small number of American soldiers defending it -- suffered many casualties. At one point during the Battle of Bastogne, German troops at succeeded in fully encircling the town and even gave the Americans the opportunity to surrender ... an offer to which General McAuliffe famously responded: "Nuts!" Ultimately, Patton's Third Army came to the relief of the exhausted forces: within a few weeks, the battle was won and the town of Bastogne re-liberated. Given the historical importance of the Battle of the Bulge, it's no wonder that Bastogne continues to be defined by its role in World War II.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

When Moms Come to Visit: Leslie in Luxembourg

Donneschdeg, 16 Juni.

I'm officially feeling like the luckiest duck in the world. After listening to me brag about Luxembourg for the past nine months, my mom finally got to come check out the Grand Duchy for herself. She arrived last Friday morning and we have spent the past week exploring some of my favorite corners of Luxembourg.

Selfie time after an obligatory excursion to the Casemates du Bock!

In addition to Luxembourg City and my hometown of Esch-sur-Alzette (après neuf mois, je me considère comme une vraie Eschoise...), we spent a day exploring some of the more distant corners of Luxembourg. I loved having the opportunity to revisit some of my favorite places from the past year, including Larochette Castle. It rained on us a bit during our second day, but we didn't let the bad weather dampen our spirits. And hey, at least my mom got to catch a glimpse of the famous Luxembourgish weather! 


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Notes from the Classroom: "Hamilton" in Luxembourg

Denschdeg, 7 Juni.

Today, I began my lesson with the 4e students at my lycée by asking them to take a trip back in time to 2009. Seven years ago, President Obama had just been elected, no one had yet heard of swine flu, and I was a fresh-faced student in an AP U.S. History class. We had been studying American history for a semester when a particularly timely video went viral: Lin-Manuel Miranda's performance of "Alexander Hamilton" at the 2009 White House Poetry Jam.

A theatre geek, I knew Miranda from his hit musical In the Heights, a musical to which we were rumored to have secured tickets on an upcoming school trip. (Spoiler: We did not see In the Heights. It's okay. I'm fine.) I don't remember if we watched the video in school, or if it just filtered down to me through the news feeds and wall posts of my classmates. I do, however, remember that Miranda's pop culture approach to history had a big impact on our end-of-year projects. While no one succeeded in creating a hip hop musical, I do vaguely recall a musical version of the life of Teddy Roosevelt...?

Either way, while the video was at once intriguing and inspiring, I eventually forgot all about it. It was only relatively recently, as hype began to build about a new off-Broadway musical, that I even remembered watching the 2009 video. Needless to say, Hamilton has been a runaway success. But although it seems like everyone in America is going ham for Hamilton, the musical is -- to my knowledge -- relatively unknown outside of the United States. But not for long. Enter Elisabeth, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant and fan of musical theatre / alternative historical narratives.