News, Top Stories

War is Over! (Or Would Be If Our Students Ran the World)

Many countries have deep-rooted conflicts with others, but that doesn’t stop the students here from continuing to get along with people across borders, even becoming good friends. Students from uneasy neighbors like China, Japan, Vietnam and South Korea have become friends, and students from Russia and the U.S. also get along.

For centuries, Japan was a part of the cultural sphere of the Chinese civilization to its west. But modern tensions in China’s relations with Japan date all the way back to the Sino-Japanese war. This was when Japan marked its emergence as a world power, killing millions of Chinese.

“I’m so bad at history,” Lucretia Hu sighed. She is from Shanghai and was eager to share her views. “But of course, we had conflicts with Japan when they were killing people in Nanjing during the Second World War. We joined the war only to defeat Japan.” 

Many Chinese today regard Japan’s wealth as ill-gotten. Even when the Chinese state was at its weakest, China thinks it enlightened its key neighbors – Korea, Japan and Vietnam- with a root of a common culture.

“We also fought against Vietnam in 1979. I think it only took a month to defeat them!” Lucretia said. “But now, I think we have a good relationship with Vietnam.”

As for her relationship with others here, she “would like more friends, but I’m just not good at it. I would like to meet people specifically from Europe.”

The conflict between Russia and the Ukraine is “kind of stupid- now it’s complicated and no one really understands what’s happening or what we’re fighting for,” says Julia Anisimova, 15, who is from Russia and goes to boarding school in Switzerland.

After a four-hour flight from Russia to Paris, then a nine-hour flight to Boston, Julia made it here to Exeter. Enjoying her experience, she said, “no politics are involved here, so that’s nice.” There are eight students here from Russia, and none from Ukraine.

When talking about the conflict, Julia seemed like she has had similar conversations many times in the past.

“It is all about the government,” she said. First of all, Russia and Ukraine have been intertwined for over 1,000 tumultuous years. Today, Ukraine offers a lot to Russia and both nations trace their roots back to Kievan Rus. This medieval empire was founded by Vikings who established their capital at Kiev. After Kievan Rus fell, Ukraine’s territory was divided up by competing powers. By the end of the 18th century Russia controlled most of Ukraine. But finally Ukraine did break away. The first independent Ukrainian state was declared in Kiev in 1917, following the collapse of the other empires. However, that independence was short-lived. The new country was invaded by Poland, and fought over by different forces. The Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and World War II also greatly exacerbated this divide.

A lot happened during the war. When the Nazis invaded Ukraine in 1941, many locals actually welcomed the Germans as liberators from the Soviets. They hoped Hitler would reward them with an independent state. About one sixth of the Ukrainian population died during the war. But in the end, Ukraine did become independant. “I have friends from the Ukraine, U.S., Venezuela, Ecuador- all over the place,” Julia said. “Where we come from doesn’t matter.”


Leaving Conflicts Behind

Can people coming from countries in conflict become friends? Here in Exeter, friends come before the conflict of countries. Friendship is strong and definetely not affected. 

Greece and Turkey have been at odds for hundreds of years despite many commonalities. The conflict started back when Turkey was known as the Ottoman Empire. They had many other issues after that but friends do not let this conflict ruin their friendship. Mark Butrosoğlu, from Turkey and Dimitrios Kanellopoulos, from Greece, get along very well and they are fully aware of what happened between their countries. They were able to avoid what happened in the past and instead, they became friends.

Dimitrios said: “I would not let the conflict between our countries affect our friendship. I know, a lot happened between Greece and Turkey but such thing cannot determine friendship.”

Greece and Turkey had a lot going on; some people still can’t get over it and they prefer not to interfere with each other, which is totally understandable. Some people, prefer to get over it and try it. Mark and Dimitrios met five weeks ago, when Summer School started.

“We are in the same dorm and we met when we first came here,” said Mark. “We simply avoided the conflict between our nationalities and became friends. Both of us, are more than happy with making the decision of becoming friends.”

Dimitrios agreed. “Either way, what happened between Turkey and Greece was a long time ago,” he said. “We left history behind and became friends.”

Saudi Arabia and Israel had a huge conflict which is still going on. This conflict is based on the Arab-Israeli War. People tend to take this issue more seriously because it still is going on. There are many people from Saudi Arabia here, and there is one person from Israel. Since this issue has many different aspects, people have different opinions. Even though it is hard to control, students here always respect each other. Students don’t judge people by their nationalities.

“It is not my right to judge people by their nationality,” said Faisal Kutbi. “I think it is better to get to know people instead of judging them by how they look.” 

Manaa Al Otaibi said: “We won’t let the conflict between our countries affect the respect we have to show each other.” Beyond showing respect, they get along very well, which is remarkable. Johnny Taic, from Israel said: “I think we understand each other great and I love hearing their opinions and their political reasonings and also their cultures and what they think about all those issues in the Middle East, for example Palestine and what to do with this territory.”

Johnny continued: “I also speak with Lebanese kids. Every single night I talk to my Lebanese friends; they have all these problems in the Middle East and we are not only talking about normal stuff.” Lastly, Johnny said: “I think we always talk and we always have our arguments but at the same time, we always come to this conclusion, and everyone has their own opinions, and we all have the same opinion but we express them in different ways.”


Nationalism? “Zero Problem”

Exeter’s Summer School allows students to interact with others from around the world, despite their countries’ disagreements. The environment here allows for friendships strong enough to overcome home countries’ politics, at least when it comes to choosing friends.

The conflicts between Germany and Greece, countries that are both represented at Summer School, began in World Wars I and II. They fought on opposing sides. However at the end of World War II, Greece was one of 22 countries that contributed to Germany’s bailout or financial rescue. Recently, the tide has turned and now Greece is the country seeking help. Since 2010, billions of euros have been put towards Greece’s bailout loan, with Germany being the largest contributor.

At Exeter, with 15 Greeks and 16 Germans, many of whom are friends, past and current issues are able to be put aside. As Foivos Mavridis, a student from Greece says, “Here at Exeter there is zero problem.”

When asked if politics is a common conversation topic, most students reply that it is not. Attending Summer School allows students to escape their lives at home, and not deal with the difficult situations that may be occurring.

Hannah Scheithauer, a student from Germany says, “The attitude of Greece as a country doesn’t affect my view on the people here.”

Every student here is representing his or her country, whether there are many others that came with them, or they are the only one. With news about Germany, Greece, and their relations coming out during our time at Summer School, it is amazing how many friendships are able to be maintained.

As Dimitris Kanellopoulos from Greece sums up, “Conflict between countries shouldn’t come between friendships.”


Diversity Groups: “Feeling Safe & Warm”

We have all seen those Diversity group posters but very few of us actually know what the groups are all about. When people are walking past those colorful posters, they are missing a lot. The Diversity groups’ main purpose is to help you get through your struggles while you are in a different atmosphere for five weeks. Some of us feel homesick, some of us often have cultural needs that should be supported and some of us feel the need to join a group full of different or similar people in order to adjust to Exeter.

When I first came here, I felt away from home,” said Manaa Al Otaibi, of Saudi Arabia. “Now, I feel like I knew this group of people before. I feel close to them.”

The Summer Times interviewed Heather Pettis, Viviana Santos and several students who attended the Diversity group meetings. Pettis and  Santos work together. “We are a tag-team on this!” said Pettis. Even though they have a  hard job, they have a nice friendship and they manage to go through it, together, in the best possible way.

“We have two parts to our job.,” said Santos. “One of them is to coordinate the diversity of the summer school, the other one is to provide support for kids who are feeling out of place. We are more than happy to help students out and give them the support they need.”

There are five Diversity groups: The Middle-Eastern and Muslim Group, The International Group, The Native Americans, The Black and Latino Group and The Gay-Straight Alliance. All five groups have different strengths and different needs. This year, attendance was poor for the Diversity groups.

“As technology develops, people prefer to go through their struggles using it, which actually can make it much harder,” said Pettis. “A face-to-face conversation is always the best way to communicate with people. Not only do you feel closer to them, but you also go through the struggle in less time, without damaging yourself or others.” Added Santos: “Exactly, and we are here to help you out.”

Diversity groups will make you feel home. Just like you’re home, you will feel safe and warm, here at Exeter.  Faisal Aljaber said: “I basically joined this group to get a taste of home. I miss it there, really.”

It’s good to have people who will listen to your concerns and what you want to do to feel like you’re home. All of us felt kind of homesick when we first arrived here, but we learned how to make Exeter, our home for five weeks. “Joining the group helped me a lot. Now it’a group of home, away from home.” said Alyaah Buachale.  “I got homesick, I missed my country, especially the food. This diversity group helped me to get through this struggle.”  said Faisal Kutbi.

As time passes, teachers start to observe the progress students make as they go through the struggle. “We are seeing a lot of progress in a very small amount of time with our students,” said Pettis. “We are here to make kids understand how to make the best of a situation, students who attend our diversity groups really do understand how to do such a thing.” 

Every year, Diversity groups change due to students’ different cultures. Santos said: “Diversity groups are based on students’ interests and their desire. For example this year, the five groups we have are pretty standard.”

Students! It’s still not too late to join the Diversity groups. If you ever feel bad, visit or join the Diversity groups. Tell them about your feelings, tell them what’s good and what’s not. “I love it here,” said Faisal Aljaber. “This is the best place to be. If you miss home, if you miss someone or something, join the diversity groups, seriously. Not only will you go through your struggle, but you will make the best of what you are dealing with, whether it’s good or bad.”