Millennial Must-Read: Celebrating America's Birthday Abroad

Katie Walsh is the Communications Chair of the IOP's Student Advisory Committee.

Millennial Must-Reads are student-contributed posts by members of the "Millennial" generation - America's 18-29 year-olds - on current events and politics and public service. Viewpoints expressed are exclusively attributed to undergraduate authors and not endorsed by Harvard's Institute of Politics.

Those were the words I heard as I touched down in Paris on Independence Day.  After spending my July 4th on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol last year, it was a pretty strange feeling to not be home, surrounded by enthusiastic Americans, but that didn’t stop me from embracing the holiday. My July 4th celebration actually began on July 3rd in Venice, Italy where I am spending the summer studying with a Harvard Study Abroad program. The 51 Americans of the Venice program decided the best way to celebrate the fourth was to show our Italian classmates what a classic American barbeque was like, so myself and IOP MAL, Jake Levin, took the reigns on party planning. We had big plans - burgers, dogs, corn-on-the-cob - but quickly realized we had no access to grills, stoves, ovens, nothings.

So, instead we got ourselves some watermelon, made fruit salad, a classic American Flag strawberry and blueberry shortcake, located some coke, sprite, and cheese puffs, and called it good. We took over one of the few Venetian parks to eat, dance, and toast the U.S.A. the Italians around us laughed at our chants of American pride and smiled as we sang our national anthem. A few of the Italian students took this time to ask me and some of my friends about the 4th of July and American political traditions. I had an unexpected, but great conversation about health care and immigration policies in the U.S. with an Italian pre-med student. It turned out to be an evening of both celebrating and sharing America. But that was just July 3rd, July 4th was the day I got to get on a plane to Paris….

“To all of our American travelers, we want to wish you a happy 4th of July. You may not see fireworks, but we hope you enjoy Paris.”

Amy Weiss Meyer is chair of the IOP's Community Action Committee.


To me, welcoming Katie to Paris, where I am spending the summer, felt like one of the most appropriate July 4th celebrations imaginable. Katie and I know each other in the first place through the IOP, where Katie is communications director and I chair the community action committee.

What better way to celebrate America than to celebrate a friendship based on a shared love for politics and public service that has gone beyond that to encompass a shared love for others of America’s finest exports? (Destiny’s Child, Disney Channel Movies, and Reality TV Gifs, to name a few examples in case you were wondering.)

I, too, had done my share of picnic-ing, though the picnics I attended were of a distinctly less American flavor. My French literature professor had organized a class picnic earlier on Thursday on the banks of the Seine—a classic Parisian affair. But as we looked out at the passing boats and the flying buttresses of Notre Dame, for the first time all summer (in the presence of our professor, at least) our conversation about French electoral politics drifted into being one in English about American politics.

“It’s the fourth of July!” I told my teacher, by way of excuse and explanation. It didn't change much, but he didn’t protest either. It was an experience, I knew, that many Americans had had before me and many would again—as outsiders in Paris, we were able to see ourselves and our Americanness more clearly than before.

A classmate of mine who is from Massachusetts and I talked about how we had successfully voted absentee in the recent special Senate election, since we were both in Paris on the day of the election, and I felt proud to be sitting on the banks of the Seine, eating quiche on a yellow picnic blanket, and knowing that I lived in a country that would let me vote anyway, despite my extended absence and despite my extensive efforts this summer to cultivate my inner Parisian.

So when Katie arrived, after we exchanged quick “Happy 4th of July!”s and tales of our respective picnics, the conversation turned to Paris. We may not be political participants here, but it’s nice to know we’ve got time to explore and experience the foreign, without sacrificing our participation in the political process at home. From two proud participants experiencing Europe, Happy Birthday, America! Joyeux anniversaire! Buon compleanno!

See ya soon,

Katie and Amy