As a student majoring in Political Science at a university in the small town of Waco, Texas, I am often immediately stereo-typed by my peers as being “too political” or “too opinionated,” just because of what I study. At my university, as is common with many young people throughout the United States, politics is often seen as a taboo topic of conversation, and one that should be avoided so as to prevent any potential conflict that could arise from it. It appears that students either feel as if they personally do not know enough about current political affairs, or they feel that the other student has an opposing or contradicting opinion. Regardless of what the reason is, avoiding political debate in a discussion seems to have become an unspoken rule that, as a Political Science major, I tend to break all too often.
With that being said, upon arriving in the United Kingdom for a semester abroad, I was pleasantly surprised to find that young people are not only open to political debate, but actively seek to engage in it with one another. I can name countless occasions – whether that be on the tube, at a coffee shop, or even at a lively pub on a Friday night – where I have encountered students discussing their opinions on Brexit, the new Prime Minister, etc. They seem to be unapologetic about their views and opinions, and have strong arguments to support why they believe what they do. Furthermore, whether one student agrees or disagrees with the other, they are still willing and able to listen to what their peer has to say (contrary to many American students). After each side has expressed their views, they then either continue their debate, or take the discussion with them to ponder on later.
Over the past few months in the UK, my admiration for British students being unafraid to “talk politics” has only increased, and since dwelling on the subject for quite some time, I have established numerous benefits to young people engaging in political discussion:
- The possibility of participating in a political debate creates the incentive to actually make oneself aware of what is going on around them, whether that be in the affairs of their local government, or matters involving the state and federal governments
- Political debate increases ones argumentative skills and public speaking skills, which are invaluable skills to have when entering the job world
- Opposing opinions on political matters allows both parties to consider their peers’ arguments and evaluate whether they were convinced by any specific points made
While there are many additional reasons to engage in such discussion, it is so important for young people to hear from various different perspectives on politics, instead of shying away from these opinions. Because we are young and impressionable, we are in the unique position to take all that we learn from class, from the media, and from the perspectives of our peers, to then form our own, unique political opinions.
Upon completing my semester abroad, I will be eager to return to the States and encourage a more positive connotation in regards to political debate, instead of the negative connotation that currently exists. Thank you, the young of Britain, for showing me the benefits of engaging in healthy, interactive political debate, and that by doing so, we are bettering ourselves and the society around us.
Isabella Haelen – B.A. International Studies, Baylor University 2018, FIE Intern at Office of Jon Cruddas MP