6 Important Ways You Can Make a Difference from Abroad

Between Coronavirus, racial injustice, protests, and the lack of clear leadership from the current administration, I think the last few weeks have left many Americans wondering how to make a difference from abroad. As my own answer to that question, I created an initiative—Stimulate Change. It calls on Americans abroad to donate their U.S. government stimulus checks to fight systemic racism and support the Black American community. If that’s not an option for you, there are still ways that you can impact the situation at home. Regardless of your party affiliation, I hope you’ll take a minute or two to read through and consider how you can make a difference from abroad. 

How to Make a Difference from Abroad

I love this memorial to German reunification, symbolizing what can happen when we reach out to the other side.

Register to vote

9 million Americans live abroad, which is roughly the population of New Jersey. But in 2016, only 930,156 overseas voter ballots were sent abroad and only 68.1 percent — 633,592 – were submitted. We are the 51st state. And considering our numbers, have real power to actually influence the election outcome. Again, regardless of your party affiliation, registering to vote (and then actually voting) is the most important—and potentially most impactful—way to make a difference from abroad. 

Want to register to vote but don’t know how? Check out my guide on how to vote as an expat in the U.S. election

Some Americans abroad don’t want to vote because they don’t feel informed enough about every topic on the ballot. Honestly? There’s nothing wrong with voting for the president and leaving the rest blank. 

Request your ballot

For those who are registered to vote, don’t forget to request your ballot! You need to submit your Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) either at the beginning of the calendar year or at least 45 days before an election, to allow enough time to process your application and resolve any problems. The countdown to November is on—do it today!

Sign petitions

If you really don’t feel comfortable voting, you can also sign petitions, which requires only your name and an email address. You might think that petitions don’t do much, but in the past, they have proved effective. There are many petitions circulating out there, so to help get you started, check out this list of #blacklivesmatter causes that need your signature.

Looking for other ways to make a difference? Check out Stimulate Change to learn more.

Advocate diversity in your company

Systemic racism thrives by limiting opportunities for Black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups. How can we change that? By advocating opportunities in our companies—things like: 

  • Widening recruitment efforts. – Oftentimes companies recruit from the same pools of candidates: feeder schools, headhunters, referral programs. That can limit the recruitment process to a very specific group of people. Push your company to widen their recruitment efforts to see a broader range of candidates.
  • Creating mentorship programs. – See if your company is willing to partner with schools or universities to mentor BAME students, and give them opportunities and experience before they graduate. If your company can’t or won’t do that, you can always partner with industry organizations to mentor on a personal level.
  • Holding corporations and firms accountable to the promises they make. – If your company has promised to allot X amount of funds to Diversity & Inclusivity initiatives, follow up. Ask what those initiatives are. Demand transparency. 

Have tough conversations

We’ve all been in these conversations. Someone you know—a colleague, friend, parent, loved one, acquaintance—makes a comment you’d never have expected. In the past, we might have let that slide for any number of reasons. Politeness, fatigue, silent judgment, culture barriers. Not now. Now is the time to correct the narrative. 

Doing that can be daunting, and it does take courage. (“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends”.) So here are some starters to keep in your tough convo toolkit:

  • I think perhaps you’re missing some information that will help contextualize the situation more…
  • What you’ve just said isn’t quite right. Let me explain why… 
  • That joke wasn’t funny. I get that you probably didn’t mean to be offensive, but we need to be more careful with our words. 
  • You’ve never had to experience racism…have you stopped to think about why? 

It’s good to note that having tough conversations doesn’t have to be argumentative. You can also correct people gently and respectfully while still conveying your important points. Part of the progress that needs to happen right now is (snowflake as it to say it) creating safe spaces for people to dialogue in. No one will want to talk if they feel like they are being attacked. And if people don’t talk, they won’t learn. 

Laverne Cox has some great points here:  

Correct Yourself

There is nothing wrong with changing your mind! We are all works in progress. If you’ve seen a shift happen in yourself and your thinking over the last weeks, there’s nothing wrong with owning that. 

  • After what you’ve told me, I can see your point… 
  • I was wrong before, but now I’ve learned…
  • Thank you for pointing that out. I hadn’t considered that… 
  • I thought one thing, but then I read an article and realized…

By speaking up and showing that you aren’t afraid to learn something new, you’ll inspire others to do the same. 

How will you make a difference from abroad?

Non-Americans tend to have a hard time contextualizing how deep and systemic racism in the U.S. is. When you speak up about the situation at home, you’re helping to dispel misconceptions and create a fuller picture of what America is really like. It’s important to do.

And it’s not just limited to racism and prejudice and systemic injustice in America. Look at your new country. What are their problems? What is intolerable to you? 

When you speak out about racism anywhere, you speak out about racism everywhere.
Let’s speak up.