By Mansoor Alakkas and Lauren Khine, Summer Times Staff Writers

Many students walk into Exeter Summer expecting to befriend dozens of people, if not hundreds. Some even anticipate meeting other individuals from around the world, excited to celebrate different cultures, habits, and opinions. But, as Exeter Summer hosts a diverse student body, students from rival countries are bound to meet.

Result: friendships.

Greece and Germany have a complicated relationship. As Maria Potamianaki, a student from Greece, recounted, Germany burned cities of Greece during World War II, prompting animosity between the two countries. Later, when Greece suffered its financial crisis from 2008 to 2018, the European Union loaned money and Germany took most of the brunt. Greece has yet to repay Germany or any current members of the EU, but some Greeks believe the debt should be lifted due to World War II. 

“When [Germany] started burning cities, they were essentially burning money,” Maria explained. “Greece is poorer now.” 

Maria also acknowledged that “Germans think the exact opposite…they think Greece owes them money.” She said the country dynamics do not change her interactions, despite competing histories. “This does not mean that I don’t like Enno [Behrens] or he doesn’t like me,” Maria continued. “These are just facts.” 

Coinciding with Maria’s acknowledgement, some Germans believe Greece owes fair debt. There is further disagreement concerning whether or not animosity between the countries exists at all. 

“We gave them money, so [Greeks] have to give it back,” said Enno, from Germany. “That’s how it works.” But he said he noticed a lack of tension between Greeks and Germans, and said he did not know about the World War II interactions between the countries or any repercussions. In regards to how friendships are affected because of home countries, Enno claimed nothing really changed with the Greek students at Exeter. Maria from Greece agreed, saying her classmates “are very open-minded.”

Another duo of countries with back-and-forth relations is China and Korea. Recently, the two have reconciled, and “have a tight relationship since Korea’s president hosts meetings annually,” said Alex Bao, a student from China. After China’s most recent ban on tour groups visiting South Korea which was calculated to cost $7 billion, a China-South Korea alliance seemed unlikely. Restrictions came from diplomatic tensions over a U.S.-backed anti-missile system deployed by Seoul, which South Korea claimed was a precaution against North Korea. Beijing suspected it could detect China’s military secrets. More than a month after agreements to end the hostility, China and South Korea still suffered disagreements. China is an important trade partner for North Korea, and has supported North Korean rulers for years. But, strains appeared between them when Beijing sponsored U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, which imposed sanctions on Pyongyang. 

“Kim Jong-un is afraid of China because China is powerful,” Nina Kim, a Korean student from Thailand said. “He feels the need to dominate.” She described Kim Jong-un’s actions as “immature”, and looked on China favorably. “They’re trying to help the environment, too.”

Alex, from China, said, South Korea and China “don’t communicate a lot because they don’t share the same religion or cultures.” Fortunately, as with German-Greek relationships at camp, Alex said there are no barriers between the Korean students and Chinese students in his school at home. Nina added, “I don’t let government feuds generalize people in other countries.”

America has tensions with many countries, among them being Venezuela and Russia. When Hugo Chavez became president of Venezuela in 1999, he denigrated countries he felt were taking advantage of Venezuela, including the U.S., leading to tension. Still, the U.S. is a large consumer of Venezuelan oil, and until Nicolás Maduro took over Venezuela in 2013, the relations between the countries remained civil. Oil prices collapsing in 2014 led to a Venezuelan economic crisis, which piled on top of other massive crises.

In January 2019, Juan Guaidó became interim president of Venezuela, and his leadership was officially recognized by 54 countries, including the United States. The U.S. has also issued targeted sanctions, including against Maduro, his wife, and his son.

Concerning Russia, people are afraid that Moscow and Washington are in danger of an armed confrontation, leading even to a nuclear war. Following U.S. sanctions on Russian officials, similar to the ones in Venezuela, U.S.-Russia alliance has continued to be strained. Allegations accusing Russian interference with U.S. politics have also affected relations of the countries, with constant competition for influence in the world fueling tensions. 

“Sometimes Americans get caught up in the American dream and don’t think much about other countries,” a Venezuelan student, Santiago Caballero said. “But, I think [America] has great culture and is welcoming.” Dariana Post, a student from Russia, added to Santiago, saying, “For some Russians, it’s a dream to visit America.” Despite acknowledging tensions between their own respective countries and America, both Dariana and Santiago deny any student animosity. 

“Even though some Americans think Russians hate them, it’s mostly politicians and government figures who don’t like each other,” Dariana explains. “Normal people in Russia want to get a good education in America, for example.” 

As for Americans, Mia Sousa, a student from Boston, said, “I wouldn’t judge somebody off of where they’re from because I don’t know who they are, or what their intentions are.” Based just on where they’re from, she continued, “I can’t say someone’s just a bad person.”

Exeter Summer students have reached a general consensus to not judge people based on their identities, and to treat everyone as individuals, not simply as a representative or embodiment of their respective countries.