Student to Student
Students Share Foreign Perspectives on War
By Amy Johnson
It's one of the most popular programs at Boston College. Regardless of race, religion, likes, dislikes, or any other factor that distinguishes one BC student from another, many will name the opportunity to study abroad as one of their most rewarding experiences stemming from Chestnut Hill.
Yet the 404 students studying in more than 25 countries this semester are seeing firsthand something that most of their predecessors never sawa world at war from an outside perspective. While here in Boston it is natural to question the well-being of friends overseas or one's own plans to travel in the future, students studying in programs around the world recognize that they are in a unique position to experience the far-reaching effects of American foreignpolicy in a way CNN can't provide.
The principal concern for students abroad right now is the idea that there is an overwhelming sentiment of anti-Americanism across the globe that may in turn manifest itself in the form of harassment or violence toward American students.
Although those overseas are definitely in contact with attitudes more potent than those displayed in O'Neill Plaza, students report that the most common emotion directed at them is curiosity, not anger or resentment.
"From the moment I stepped off the plane, my first taxi driver wanted to know what I have to say about the war," said Sarah Fox, who is studying in Berlin, Germany. "Occasionally my German friends tease me about supporting Bush or being a warmonger, but beyond that it seems that the German people are really more interested in hearing my own opinions." Erin Goulding, a student studying in Galway, Ireland, agreed. "People here, especially the taxi drivers, are always dying to hear the American opinions on the war," she said.
As for the issue of safety, students generally agree that the citizens of most countries, regardless of whether they or their administrations support the war, are able to distinguish between American foreign policy and Americans.
"I've had some interesting conversations with French people I meet about politics, and they all generally say that the French are not against the American public at all, only against American politics," said Kristin Smith, who is spending the semester in Paris. "I feel safer here than I would in America right now, and I really am much more afraid for the people at home than myself," she said.
Fox expressed a similar feeling of security. "I have at no time felt in any danger in this country," she said. "I think the German people have been really good about making the distinction between the American government and the American people."
Melanie Getreuer can offer a slightly different perspective than other students studying abroad from her program in Poland. "An interesting thing is that even though the government is supporting the war, the average individual on the street is not," she said. "I think this may come from Poland's awareness of what war can do to a country. Historical memory of the destruction and death of World War IIand communism for that matterare still quite vivid, and, as such, they do not wish war on anyone."
Although most students regard their host countries as welcoming and sensitive to American opinion regardless of their personal views, Robert Shenk described a slightly more unreceptive sentiment in his Moroccan peers. "People here are sensitive to my concerns as an American, but they tend to be a bit closed-minded regarding their viewpoints," he said. "While people are open to my point of view, they seem to condemn America without sufficient arguments."
"They have a hard time stepping back and looking at issues as a whole," said Shenk. "Overall, my experience has been awesome and I'm learning a great deal about how others view America."
Shenk's last statement effectively captures the dominant viewpoint of students studying elsewhere right now--that the perceived dangers of being away from the BC safety net are negligible compared with the opportunity to learn about another culture at such a disruptive time. Regardless of students' feelings of relative safety, the Center for International Partnerships and Programs (CIPP) is taking steps to assure both students and parents that if there were in fact an emergency at any time, there are plans in place to secure students' protection.
"I don't think people want to come home, but they want to know they can come home," said Marian B. St. Onge, director of the CIPP. "I think it's a great learning experience for people to be in the world at this difficult time, as long as they're not uncomfortable."
St. Onge also described several of the procedures that had been planned in case of emergency, highlighting strategies such as telephone trees and established meeting points between the on-site coordinators and the students in any given city. As of now she doesn't think these will become necessary as long as students take basic precautions, but she acknowledged that having solid plans available is a crucial step in maintaining the comfort levels of both students and parents.
As for the feeling of anti-Americanism abroad, although students report that it is not as severe as those in the U.S. may think, the CIPP encourages students to remain open-minded and not to take any offending remarks personally.
"For better or worse, Americans have for many years been loved or resented," said Maryelise Lamet, Study Abroad interim director. "And we have that combinationright now it's at a height."
AMY JOHNSON is Asst. Features Editor at The Heights, the Boston College student newspaper. Our thanks to the writer and The Heights staff for permission to reprint. The full text of the article can be found at www.bcheights.com, April 1, 2003 issue.