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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI students take ‘a step off the tour bus’

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KINGSTON, R.I -- April 6, 2005 -- While riding a train from Munich to Budapest last summer, University of Rhode Island student Sean McIntyre found himself alone in a compartment with another man for three hours. The two men began to talk.

The South Kingstown youth was surprised to learn that his fellow traveler was an Iraqi because he was drinking and clean shaven. The Iraqi was surprised that the American student didn’t own a home, follow football or own a car.

Assumptions, McIntyre inferred, tend to evaporate when individuals from various parts of the world meet face-to-face.

Serving as moderator and facilitator, McIntyre, a history and English double major, and four other URI students who either studied, lived, or worked abroad, talked about their experiences and how the people they met viewed America and Americans. The panel discussion, “A Step Off the Tour Bus,” held earlier this month was sponsored by the URI Honors Program and the Office of International Education.

Frank Justice, a political science major from Lancaster, Pa. who spent six months in Brazil said that many Brazilians see the U.S. as arrogant and egotistical. “I was often asked if I liked President Bush. I felt as though my friendship with people depended on my response.”

Brazil is leading a United Nations peacekeeping force in Haiti and values working multilaterally. It doesn’t approve of U.S. foreign policy, particularly the war in Iraq. Justice held up one of the country’s major magazines. On the cover was a picture of the Statue of Liberty with a black eye.

Yet American influence is everywhere. American clothing is extremely popular, more than 50 percent of the radio stations are in English, and more than half of the movies shown in Brazil are American, spoken in English, with Portuguese subtitles.

Courtney McKenna, a Scituate native wanted to study at the Sorbonne in Paris at a time when American and French relations had reached a low point regarding the war in Iraq. Some American restaurants were serving “freedom fries” instead of French fries and pouring French wines in the streets in many U.S. cities.

The communication studies and French double major was advised not to bring up politics. Nervous about her reception in France, McKenna forged ahead. She needn’t have worried. She found the French friendly and helpful. McKenna concluded that the U.S. media has a big influence on the way Americans think about things and has gone on to study the subject through her senior honors project.

Susan Papino of Cranston, a double major in history and Italian, studied in Florence, Italy. The Italians she met weren’t interested in discussing politics, but they did want to know all about Brittany Spears.

Papino felt a culture shock upon her return. Life, she said, is much faster here. Used to walking everywhere when she was in Italy, she tried to continue the practice here. She did for a while and then stopped. Friends and acquaintances would stop their cars and ask her what was wrong? Did something happen? Why are you walking?

The people that Lisa Lahr of Middletown encountered during three visits to the Republic of Georgia want Americans to know that they are not Russians. They have their own culture dating back to the 5th Century.

Lahr also found that chivalry is not dead in the former Soviet Republic. Used to being independent, the URI returning student found that she should not pick up her suitcase. A man had to do that. After landing in New York, Lahr hailed a cab. “Aren’t you going to pick them up?” the cabbie asked looking at Lahr’s luggage on the sidewalk. “We don’t have all night, ya know.”

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URI students (seated l-r) Susan Papino of Cranston, Frank Justice of Lancaster, Pa., and Courtney McKenna of Scituate and (standing l-r) Lisa Lahr of Middletown and Sean McIntyre of South Kingstown either worked, lived, or studied in other countries. URI News Bureau photo by Michael Salerno photography.