April 4, 2003

Students Abroad React to War

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While Cornell’s own campus has been the site of many discussions and protests both for and against the war in Iraq, a number of Cornellians have experienced a completely different environment as students studying abroad in foreign countries.

Currently, according to Richard Gaulton, director of the Cornell Abroad Office (CAO) and CAO associate director Beatrice Szekely, there are over 400 students studying abroad in 42 countries. There are only two Cornell students studying in the Middle East, one in Israel and one in Egypt. Gaulton said that in the interest of the students’ privacy, their names are not being released.

Since the beginning of the war, the CAO has contacted students to discuss the implications of the war.

“We wrote to all of the students before the war began,” Gaulton said.

According to Gaulton, no students have changed their abroad plans since the war began. “Certainly, no students have left their programs,” he said.

Szekely said that the war “adds a whole new dimension to what students are doing abroad.” She added, “It’s an odd opportunity. It’s one we wish weren’t taking place.”

Students in two of the Cornell programs abroad discussed their experiences during this time of war. The programs are the Emory, Duke and Cornell Universities (EDUCO) in Paris program and the Cornell, Michigan, Penn Program at the University of Seville in Spain.

Tony Patroni ’04 is studying in Seville. He said that since the beginning of the military campaign, he has noticed an increase in protests against the war.

“There were a lot of antiwar/anti-American protests before the war started. However, now they are going to be held every Thursday until the war is over. I was a little shocked when I saw an American flag with 50 Nazi symbols instead of stars and ‘Bush = Hitler’ signs too,” Patroni said.

Sarah Reed ’04 is currently participating in the EDUCO program. Reed said that since the beginning of the war, she has felt “much more like an outsider than I would at home.”

According to Reed, “On the Cornell campus I’m sure there’s a pretty active antiwar movement among the students, but they wouldn’t necessarily ostracize those who are prowar. … Here in France, though, where the sentiment is almost completely antiwar and anti-American government, I feel like more of a target, more of an enemy simply because of my American nationality.”

Sahar Hakakian ’04 is studying at L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques, or “Sciences Po,” in the EDUCO program. She said that while there may be quite a bit of antiwar and anti-American government sentiment in France, she did not experience any purely anti-American sentiment.

“In Paris there is a lot of antiwar and anti-Bush sentiment present, and many French people stand in firm support of [French President Jacques] Chirac’s position against the war. Antiwar protests are commonplace, and daily conversations inevitably return to the same arguments about the justification — or lack thereof — for war. However, I have not experienced any openly hostile anti-American sentiment,” she said.

Patroni also stressed the importance of understanding anti-U.S. government feelings versus anti-American sentiment.

“Now that I have made friends with many Spanish people, I realize that they are against the United States government and not the American people,” he said.

Gaulton addressed the opportunities students have to learn about different viewpoints while abroad.

“It’s such an intense political environment,” he said.

Hakakian also discussed the effects of the war in Iraq on the French popular opinion.

“Feelings of unrest are creeping up from different corners of the Iraqi crisis: the diplomatic battle between Washington and Paris, the breakdown of the European Union in the face of creating a unified stance in response to the crisis and now the uncertainty that is typical of war all exacerbate the anxiety people feel about the effects of the Iraqi war,” Hakakian said.

Students said that they have been much more cautious of their behavior and actions as Americans in foreign countries.

According to Reed, “I’m much more cautious in going about my daily routines than I would be at home. Part of it is because I’m living in a big city, but another part of it is the fact that I feel so conspicuous as an American in a country which doesn’t think too highly of my country right now.”

Added Hakakian, “Although I have received reminders to be more cautious after March 20, as an American student in Paris I do not feel in danger.”

The war has not affected students’ plans to travel while abroad.

“We particularly caution [students] to keep security in mind” when traveling, Gaulton said. He added that the CAO encourages students to provide their study-abroad programs with their travel itineraries. However, Szekely said that she “didn’t notice people not making travel plans.”

Several students said that while they have exercised caution while considering travel, they have made no significant changes in plans.

Szekely stressed the importance of the news students follow while abroad. According to Szekely, the CAO encourages students to “read periodicals from their host countries before they leave.”

When asked about how they are following what is happening around the world and back in the States, several of the students interviewed said that they continue to follow American news as well as news from their host countries.

According to Patroni, who watches both Spanish and American news networks, “the difference between what is shown on the two channels is incredible. The Spanish channel expresses a neutral viewpoint and is more concerned with Iraqi civilians. Also, the Spanish channel has showed pictures of dead Coalition and Iraqi soldiers along with dead Iraqi civilians.”

Hakakian also said that she noticed a difference in the war reporting in American and French media.

“The radio station France-Info reports all day long on current affairs and the updates are very informative, so in the morning it is the first source of information. [Journalistically,] it’s always interesting to compare American and French papers … whereas the American papers did not hide much in their critique of the French stance [of resistance], the French papers have thus far handled the different positions in response to the Iraqi war more equally,” Hakakian said.

According to Gaulton, there are possible situations in which students could be pulled out of the countries in which they are studying.

“If the U.S. State Department orders Americans out of the country, we obviously would withdraw our students,” Gaulton said. He added that the decision “depends on where they are or under whose auspices they are studying.”

Gaulton said that the CAO has not yet established restrictions on where students may study.

“Some universities do have a policy of not allowing students to study in countries where there are State Department warnings. … We do not have that policy,” Gaulton said.

Szekely added that the CAO advises students on studying in countries with State Department warnings “on a case-by-case basis” and normally does not deny requests to study in a particular country.

Gaulton related the current situation in Iraq to the Persian Gulf War. He said the Gulf War “had a big impact on people who were going to go abroad when the war began. … A number returned from abroad or did not go.”

However, Gaulton added that “we don’t see that happening t
his time.”

Both Gaulton and Szekely said that students abroad are interested in what has been happening on Cornell’s campus.

“When one is away, one’s identity with the University strengthens,” Szekely said.

Archived article by Kate Cooper