Students studying abroad this semester are having the unique experience of viewing the brewing war between the United States and Iraq from outside the American cultural lens.
With war likely within days, U.S. students in foreign countries have seen the massive anti-war campaigns and a rise in anti-Americanism in some countries, but many say they are not worried about their safety.
“It’s hard to judge the extent of anti-American sentiment in Cairo,” said Veronica Zyp, a junior at Rice University who is spending the semester in Egypt.
“Often it feels like the people I meet on the street are less friendly to me because I am clearly a Westerner. Just as often, though, I encounter people who are incredibly kind and welcoming despite the fact that I’m American.”
One student at Temple’s Rome, Italy campus sees the world response to U.S. foreign policy as an educational experience.
“I think it’s really interesting to hear what the rest of the world, or at least part of it, has to say,” Andrea Marzolf said.
“It’s really great to get out of the American media bubble.
“It is worthwhile to listen to people whose countries have been destroyed and devastated by war. As Americans, we cannot even fathom what that is like or what recovering from that would be like.”
Rachel Ostrow, a Smith College student studying at Boston University’s Madrid campu, said that her time in Madrid has given her the opportunity to analyze the varied responses to the conflict.
Though she is strongly against war, she finds herself disagreeing with the anti-war rationale she has encountered.
“People don’t really offer any alternatives to war, they just oppose it,” she said.
“There’s a sense that Europeans oppose the war primarily because it’s an act of American aggression, which I suppose is an entirely logical backlash against U.S. cultural and political domination.”
The resident director of BU’s Madrid program, Dr. Ray Green, said that anti-Americanism exists everywhere outside of the United States, but that there is a difference between someone who is anti-U.S. government and someone who is anti-U.S. citizens.
“It’s the consequence of being, supposedly, the world’s greatest military power,” he said.
Worldwide anti-war protests have caught the attention of U.S. students who are living in major foreign cities, which have drawn crowds of up to a million in London and Rome and across France and Germany.
“There were over half a million people marching through the streets of Rome,” Marzolf said.
“The city came to an absolute halt. There are PACE [Peace] flags draping many apartment balconies, hanging from windows and flying on flagpoles.”
Similar scenes have been repeated in other cities.
“Although the leader of the government [in Spain] supports Bush, the overwhelming majority of the people in Madrid are “no a la Guerra.” [no to the War],” Ostrow said.
“That phrase is everywhere, on placards that people wear pinned to their jackets, and graffiti in the [subways]. When [Madrid residents] discover that you are American, they often expect you to explain the U.S.’s motives for the war and ask for your opinion.”
Although students do not seem to be concerned for their safety, Green said that they should be conscious of activities that could put them in danger.
He recommended going out in groups of two or three people, and avoiding wearing baseball caps and other things associated with the American style of dress.
“Also, be careful in places associated with American capitalism, such as McDonald’s, because according to the state department targets of terrorism tend to be places that hurt American interests,” he said.
Green said that he doubts that any retaliation by Islamic forces against individual students will occur.
He said that when he was resident director during Gulf War, no overseas program was closed.
He also said that students should stay alert, stay in touch with their famillies and the abroad program, and, if possible, keep their cell phone charged and ready.
“The common sentiment [in Cairo] right now is a dreadful tension – no one knows just how bad it might get if the war begins,” Zyp said.
” Will the economy and the currency continue its collapse? Will people take to the streets in mass numbers? Will terrorist attacks begin on American official targets or the kind of “soft targets” such as our local McDonald’s? Right now we are all just going through our daily lives, checking the news, and waiting for the war to begin.”
Amy Reed can be reached at email@example.com