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.”