No hostility, just hospitality
On a trek across Europe (for college credit), students find that many Europeans still like Americans - even if they don't like the war in Iraq.
Before slipping on his Teva sandals and setting out on a 1,500-mile walk across Europe for college credit last semester, junior Matt Soule took a deep breath and thought to himself, "Should I be worried about being an American in Europe?"Skip to next paragraph
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After all, the US wasn't exactly winning popularity votes among its European allies with the war in Iraq. Would he be caught in the crossfire of anti-American sentiment?
As it turned out, Matt and his peers from Franklin Pierce College in Rindge, N.H., had little to worry about. From the lush Burgundy area of France to the dry, hilly region of Tuscany, Italy, they encountered friendly faces, homecooked meals, and endless hospitality. It wasn't unusual for the locals to bring cakes, plates of cheese, and bowls of homemade soup to their tents.
"We'd ask a farmer if we could sleep on his land, he'd say yes, tell us where to find water, then never come check on us again," says Mr. Soule. "Sometimes I felt like there should have been a catch with some of these people, they were almost too nice."
True, the paths they chose were often country roads, where they were more likely to run into cows, boars, and donkeys than people. But that didn't stop program coordinator Taylor Morris from worrying about their safety.
"I had a little bit more apprehension going this year than I ever had before, simply because of the war in Iraq. But I still found that in general, Europeans are more sophisticated politically, and they are able separate people from their government," says Mr. Morris, who has logged more than 15,000 miles over 13 years on the various walks.
Over 3-1/2 months, 44 students, leaders, and assistants walked 12 to 15 miles a day along the country roads of several European countries (see map, left). The students pitched a tent on a different farm every night and carted a ton and a half of equipment in a large Avis truck. It was part of Franklin Pierce's "Walk in Europe" program. Now in its 35th year, the walk is offered every fall semester, and the route changes each time.
While walking their way toward 15 credits and conversing with the locals, many students were embarrassed to learn that European students were well versed in US politics.
"We had no clue about anything that was going on in their government, and they knew everything about ours," says Soule. "I never realized how massively the United States affects the rest of the world. People came up to us and started talking to us about [President] Bush and the election. They were explaining to us that Europeans don't hate Americans, they just don't agree with the government."
"Walk in Europe" differs from traditional study-abroad programs in that it's set mostly in the countryside. "Students are forced to interact with the locals because they are responsible for everything - all of the logistical requirements," says Morris, adding that the group must find a different site every night for their 30- by 30-foot tent, map out a route, and cook meals.