Students get a broad view of US

by Sharon Albright

With confusion over the impending war with Iraq, it’s rare to hear of people belting out the lyrics “I’m proud to be an American”; especially with American travelers overseas.

A group of 12 students departed for the study abroad program in Germany on Jan. 8, entering into a climate that requires the students and advisor to make some conscious adaptations to their habits for the sake of their own safety.

While junior Kristen Erickson says that the German people are “generally quite welcoming” to the Simpson students, there have been isolated situations where this was not the case.

“One instance that comes to mind was when a group of us were eating at a restaurant in Urbach (just over one mile away from Schorndorf),” Erickson said. “A man asked us if we were Americans, and then proceeded to yell at us in German about how America needs to watch out and Europe is just as powerful as America.”

According to Patricia Calkins, trip advisor and assistant professor of German, the best way for the group to avoid situations where they could be potential targets for anti-American sentiments is for them to blend in by not speaking English. This conversion is necessary for any trip, Calkins said.

“All trips abroad involve a process where students are forced to see things from a perspective that is foreign to them, and it easily confuses and concerns them at first,” Calkins said. “The impact is greater when students face such a situation in a foreign language, because it is hard enough to deal with tough political issues in one’s native language. This is something that happens to every group that studies abroad, it is simply that there is the added problem of a possible war this time.”

Calkins also attributes some of the more vocal opinions expressed by the Germans as being fitting with the wider cultural behavior.

“Unlike Americans, who prefer to be polite with everyone to the point of fibbing on our own real feelings, Germans are open, frank and direct-none of them has had a problem telling our students that they are against a war,” Calkins said.

Erickson said that she does not feel threatened as a result of these confrontations. “People will have their own opinions and can express them how they wish,” she said.

But, parents of these students, back here on American soil, have mixed feelings about their children being singled out for these verbal attacks.

“I guess my first reaction was ‘why are they doing this to my little girl?’, when these students are obviously some of the most pro-German people there are,” said Sharon Carey, mother of Erickson. “The point is, here are these people in Germany, wanting to learn the customs and culture of another country, and it is unfortunate that certain individuals have chosen to take out their dislike of Americans on this group.”

Although the negative encounters have been “few and far between” from Erickson’s perspective, the Schorndorf group has found helpful ways to work through them.

“We talked about this (the restaurant scene) a lot in class, and we realized that they were not in any danger,” Calkins said. “We also did discuss what one does when one really is in physical danger, which is something that can happen in Indianola, Iowa.”

Also, the group is reassured by the fact that it has official contacts in Germany.

“In terms for preparing for something that might happen, the American embassy in Germany has all of our contact information and travel schedules so that we can be reached at any time should there be a need,” Calkins said. “And, I have a German cell phone that is turned on at all times so that I can be contacted from home or by my students themselves.”

So, the lines of communication are definitely open for these American students studying abroad, and a basis for new understanding has resulted from this fact.

Junior Amy Duscher said that having access to the German media has allowed her to develop a broader base for her political views.

“Being in Germany has helped me to see how the war is going to affect everyone in Europe a lot more than it will affect us in the United States,” Duscher said. “It is not unjustified that France and Germany are so vehemently opposed to the war. I think that American foreign policy needs to take other countries’ opinions more seriously…At home I saw a very one-sided debate for the war.”

Junior Elizabeth Ellyson is spending this semester in Pau, France, which has given her a similar taste of America’s impact abroad.

“There are definitely a lot of demonstrations here, but they seem to focus more on France not participating rather than supporting national hate towards the U.S.,” Ellyson said. “If you were there for the cause, they were happy.”

Still, when Ellyson attended one demonstration in particular, she decided to say that she was Canadian. She said that Americans are misunderstood by the French because it is not as ingrained in our culture to protest and demonstrate to the extent that the French do, so this translates as all Americans being in favor of the war.

Calkins said she is encouraged by the way her students have adjusted to life in Germany.

“This is going to be one of the best learning experiences of my students’ lives,” Calkins said. “Some of the experiences have come a little more quickly than with past groups I have accompanied here, but they all come to the same end-a better understanding of what it is that makes us Americans and what makes Germans Germans.”

“In spite of all we have in common, there are some areas in which Germans and Americans will disagree. It’s not good or bad, it’s just how it is. Every time I come over here I leave with a greater appreciation for how America is, and I get home with great hopes for how America could be better,” said Calkins.