“We’re all people. We’re equal,” said Alexander Unesikhin, a Russian student, when asked about his views of Ukrainian students at Exeter Summer. “Some people like Ukraine, some people don’t care about it. I don’t care.”
Alexander’s views reflect how many students at Exeter feel. The people just two generations before us lived in a world of racism, war, and fear. Today, many kids our age accept everyone as equal members of a global community. World conflicts don’t carry over to the campus – a noteworthy lesson.
“By my Ukrainian friends and family members, Russia is viewed rather negatively than positively,“ said Rostyslav Rozhok, a Ukrainian student. Russia is currently in an armed conflict with Ukraine that has killed over 9,000 people since 2014.
Although tensions between Russia and Ukraine are high, Rostyslav doesn’t see Russians as personal enemies.
“I have really good relationships with several Russians,” he said. “Two girls that live in London, my close friend lives in Ukraine, and another friend lives in Moscow but has more of Armenian ancestry. All of them have Russian passports and consider themselves Russian.”
At Exeter Summer, Rostyslav has met other Russians who have reinforced his beliefs. “I know Alexander, who is from Moscow, and Sofia, who lives in California,” he said. “Interacting with them didn’t change my perspective in any way.”
Exeter Summer is one of the few places in the world where students from 53 countries across the globe come to one school. The diversity on our campus is a privilege that few will experience. Students on campus from countries in conflict can interact in a way that they otherwise could not at home.
The Middle East, for example, has been the center of attention in American news for the past few years. U.S.-based media have produced fear-provoking, sensational stories about the Middle East, creating a climate of suspicion and distrust of Muslims in the U.S..
“On my first week, in my global security class we were talking about terrorism and refugees,” said Derin Akdurak, a student from Turkey. “And there was only me and this other kid who were Muslim, and—without meaning to—the American kids, kind of attacked Islam.”
“Of course I tell them it’s not true, but it’s not because they actually think that it is, they are made to believe that that’s actually the truth,” said Derin, who thinks it is possible to show people the truth about her faith and culture. “It’s because of ignorance, and how the media represents it. It’s not their fault, I understand that.”
Although it is hard to overcome cultural barriers, Derin still enjoys spending time on campus meeting people from around the world.
“I love it here,” she said. “I mean sometimes my classes get boring, but the friends I make here… I usually hang out with people from other countries, because I don’t want to speak Turkish all the time. And I think it has been a very big impact on myself.”
More than 40 years after the Vietnam war ended, many Vietnamese have a positive view of their former enemy, said Kap Nguyen, a Vietnamese student. Many want to travel to America.
“They want to go there, because the American Dream is still living in Vietnam,” Kap said. “Because the South and the North are normal now. When you ask most of them where they want to go, they want to go to the U.S. They don’t hate the U.S. or anything. Isn’t that weird? I don’t know why they don’t mention the war. My grandparents are just normal about it.”
But often the younger generation has to resist the enmities of their elders.
“I saw my dad’s perspective on the Chinese, he’s quite racist against the Chinese,” Kap said. “Like on how they take our islands, and how they’re dirty and everything. “
China .and Vietnam have been in a territorial dispute over islands in the South China Sea. “One of our islands in the north got taken by China, so we started hating China from then on,” Kap said. “It’s one of our lands, taking our land is like taking our honor.”
“But asked if he was as involved in politics as his father, Kap said, “No.”
Simon Cai, a student from China, is aware of his country’s clashes with Japan.
“We have a lot of conflicts about Japan because of the history problems like Japan invading China in the Second World War,” said Simon. Japan and China have had a long history of conflict, stretching back far before World War II.
“When I’m here I feel quite equal, especially when we’re having class. Maybe I can talk to them and exchange where we’re from, and exchange ideas about each other’s countries,” said Simon, who isn’t part of a diverse community back home. ”
In China I don’t have such opportunities to get to know so many people from different countries, different continents. There’s really quite a cultural distance between me and other people from different countries.”
Sharon Cheng is aware of the conflict between Taiwan, her home country, and China. “Of course I want Taiwan to be recognized as a country but I know that at the same time if you want to do that it means that we would lose a lot of resources, a lot of businesses, and ties with China,” she said. “So I’m not that extreme.”
Many countries don’t recognize Taiwan as a country separate from China, and there is social conflict between some Taiwanese and Chinese people. Sharon tries to keep home politics separated from her interactions with other students on campus.
Before coming to Exeter Summer, Sharon said she held some negative ideas about the Chinese. “We all do have some stereotypes,” she said. “We all say that the Chinese are so loud, they cut in line, but actually sometimes we do too. I think it’s not good, but we still say that.”
Albert Yao, another Taiwanese student, talked about a time at Exeter when it was hard to separate someone from their stereotype. “I think there are still some people here that are stereotypical. Like a kid from my class, he said that he thinks that it’s good for the Chinese government to censor the media.”
Albert doesn’t think that the social conflicts between the Taiwanese and Chinese get in the way of interaction between people from the two cultures. “If you know Chinese individuals, you don’t hate them.”
Walking around campus, one can see and hear the many accents, people, languages, and cultures that come from around the world. Few campuses have as many students from different nations as there are here. Exeter Summer is an incredible reminder that no matter how far the distance, or strong the conflict, or nasty the prejudice, people from across the globe can still live in one global community.