In Taiwan, Students Struggle With American Elections

"My dad say that Hillary got more of the, what, the, the paper things, the things where you say who you want to be president," she announced, launching into her already indignant tirade without even a, "Hi Teacher, I have a question."

"Votes. Yes, Hillary got more votes," I replied to the Taiwanese ten-year-old bouncing with unrestrained frustration, confusion, and a heaping of youthful energy in front of me.

This is my second year teaching English in Taiwan, and the sweet spot in a dismal two weeks has been my students' reactions to the U.S. election. As we munched on cream-filled "car wheel cakes" during snack time at school, the students wanted to know what the heck was going on in America.

"But why she not president?!" the student screeched at my unsatisfactory answer. I wanted to scream with her, but instead I switched my mind to the daunting task of explaining the Electoral College at an adolescent level in what is her second language to an attention span that was already rapidly dissolving.

"America doesn't vote as a country," I began. "We vote as states, and Trump won more states." While that explanation clearly has some gaping holes, I was proud of myself for distilling the simplicity and clarity of a decidedly not simple or clear topic.

At her confused look, I continued. "It's the math," (as an English teacher who majored in the fine arts, I can always blame things on math). "It's possible to win more votes but not more states."

"But that is not fair!"

While my students' fixation on fairness sometimes borders on the obsessive, in this case, I nodded my agreement.

"Why can't Obama change it?"

Given the overwhelming fascination and frustration my students of all ages have with the results of the election, I decided to devote an hour with the oldest class (including the young girl and her righteous indignation) to the election itself. I've never stood in front of such an engaged and focused group of children, and in the whole hour, we barely covered a fraction of the material I'd prepared, so consistent, and insistent, were their questions.

They ranged from disbelieving ("But Teacher, why is he so mean?" "Why did anyone vote for him?" "If he's mean to everyone, who does he like?"), to borderline accusatory ("Did you vote?"), to naively optimistic ("Will Hillary be president next time?" "If he decides not to be president, will Hillary be president?"), to childishly impertinent ("What's wrong with his hair?"), to innocently heartbreaking ("Will I be able to go to America?"). And over and over again, "If Hillary got more votes, why she not win?" "Can Obama make Hillary president?"

Although their reactions are of course cushioned by virtue of their age and geography, they followed the path of many Americans in their transition to their current frustration from initial shock and sadness. The election results came in on Wednesday afternoon in Taiwan, smack in the middle of class.

"My mom say if she can vote, she vote for Hillary," said an eight-year-old. "My dad too," added another. "He wants Hillary to be president." Other students chimed in, presenting their parents' opinions as their own currency in the discussion.

I took heart from the fact that not a single one mentioned Hillary's gender. Of course, having a woman president is nothing new to these children; earlier this year, Taiwan elected Tsai Ing-wen to the presidency, by popular vote, no less.

As I sat at a table in shock after the race was called, a student walked over and put her hand on my shoulder. "Don't worry, Teacher," she said. "I'll vote in eight years." As a holder of an American passport, she can, and if my students' reactions have shown me anything, it's that Donald Trump's election has lit a spark not only in America, but also around the world, sizzling all the way to the youth of Taiwan.

Though most of them will never be able to vote in U.S. elections, you can bet they're going to do their best to make sure that decency and hard work win out over anger, fear, and hatred. Or, in the current parlance, that love trumps hate. Given their intense passion for justice and childlike incredulity in the face of grown-up meanness, I'd be willing to hand them the country right now.