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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.

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One of the most intimidating jobs, students found, was knocking on a stranger's door to ask if they could spend the night in their backyard. "I didn't go over there with [many] language skills," says sophomore Taylor Peraner. "But it got easier once we got accustomed to their culture."

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To help students learn the language of the land, Franklin Pierce offered a "Language for Travelers" course before the trip, which taught basic communication skills. They prepared a letter of introduction in French and Italian, but students were encouraged to carry on a conversation in the native language. "There is a certain kind of charm in making conversation, rather than thrusting a letter in someone's face," says Morris.

Every morning, students folded their tent, cleaned the stoves, and loaded their equipment into the van. Every eight days, three students were assigned to "van team," during which time they were responsible for driving the truck, finding a campsite, handing out directions to the next destination, and cooking dinner.

This wasn't the first time Franklin Pierce students have been overseas during times of international tension. Rachel Garceau learned about the terrorist attacks on America on 9/11 while camping on the island of Corsica with other students.

The next day, the group headed to Florence. "We were walking around the city and people were very compassionate and very sorry. There was a handwritten sign in English hanging in the window of a jewelry shop: 'We give our support to the Americans.' "

Ms. Garceau encountered a slightly more hostile climate two years later in 2003, when she returned on the walk as an assistant. When she arrived in southern France, the college grad noticed more graffiti, one of which said "Go Home America." She was a bit more nervous about the trip - and so were her parents.

"That's when it was Freedom Fries, everything was anti-French in America, and we were going to be spending a lot of time in France," says Garceau. "It was pretty obvious at times that they didn't like what our country was doing politically, but we had a place to camp every night. They were very giving.

"If we had been more in heavily populated areas, I would have felt a little differently." But, she added, "there was a realization to me in 2003, something bad could happen. In 2001, that thought never crossed my mind."

It's amazing in this day and age that this program can continue, says Morris. "The project hinges on the kindness of strangers out there. It's very idealistic in its goal, and it's something the students feel proud of."

Mr. Peraner says this trip opened up his eyes to the world around him and made him realize that other people are more accepting than he'd realized.

"Americans are close-minded to think that the world hates us because they're not backing us in this situation right now. I think that's really naive of us. The world is a lot more accepting than we tend to be toward people."

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