Talking Politics Abroad- Sticky Situations and How to Avoid Them

Abbey Pignatari is a student at the University of Wisconsin – Platteville and is an ISA Featured Blogger. She is interning abroad with ISA in Dublin, Ireland

I found that mentioning I was studying political science while abroad had its benefits and pitfalls. Some people were genuinely interested and curious about learning the differences between their political systems and ours, while others were more interested in arguing and debating them. With the current global political climate, politics are always coming up in conversation. I have a few tips and tricks on how to avoid sticky situations while talking about politics because while it is an interesting topic to learn about, no one wants to be stuck in the middle of a heated debate.

I’ve experienced many discussions about politics, but one conversation sticks with me from my time abroad. It was with a gentleman in a professional setting. He began the conversation by asking the basic getting-to-know-you questions- where I was from, where I went to school, what I studied, and how I was liking Ireland. The conversation then started to head in a different direction when he started to ask about American customs and American politics.

He was persistent in telling me why the American governmental system was inadequate and why Americans are close-minded. I was taken aback by some of the things he was saying, but I did not want to argue or become upset and knew I needed to act professionally.

Here are some strategies I tried any time I was in a situation where I did not feel comfortable or respected talking about politics, such as during my conversation with this gentleman.

Explain Your Opinion

I attempted to explain my opinion on politics, about how I like to keep an open mind, consider both sides, and think about the pros and cons of each. This was a good approach for most conversations because I was able to pull the tension off of “who I side with” and “what I believe in” and move the discussion towards being open to learning about others’ opinions. This tactic did not work the best for the conversation with this particular gentleman, but it did help to ease some tension in other conversations I had on the bus or in causal getting-to-know-you talk.

Divert the Conversation

I found that trying to change the topic of the conversation could help in these situations. Move away from the controversial topics and try to find something on more of an even ground. I would tell people I did not know enough about the topic to give a proper opinion, or that I could not speak for the United States as a whole, and I’d move on to something more neutral, maybe a question I had about Ireland or places that I had visited.

Move On

Sometimes it is really hard to get out of these conversations. That is when you might have to leave it and find someone else to talk to. After trying to explain my opinion and change the topic, I chose to find my friend, who is also American, and talk to her instead. It was simply not professional or worth to get into an argument about cultural differences with this man, so removing myself from the conversation was the best course of action to take.

In most, if not all, of the conversations, it was not professional or worth the time to get into an argument about cultural differences. It in important to understand and discuss how the cultures are similar and different, but arguing about those are never worth the time. It is best to take a professional route in situations like these and not make anything uncomfortable for anyone.


Your Discovery. Our People… The World Awaits.

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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