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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.”