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Friday, March 21

Start of war leaves American students abroad anxious, not afraid

By Mike Madden | GNS

SEVILLE, Spain - Protests against the U.S.-led war in Iraq pop up on random street corners throughout the day, spray-painted slogans denouncing President Bush dot the city and the television stations cut into coverage of a soccer match to show live footage of bombs falling in Baghdad.

But American college students spending a semester or year abroad have found a ready haven here among the winding cobblestone streets, the orange trees in full bloom and the cafes and bars that never seem to close.

"It?s really easy to kind of slip away from it here," said Anne Collins, 20, a junior at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., whose family arrived from Los Angeles on Friday for a visit, despite the war.

Thousands of students from all over the United States are here in this southeastern Spanish city, but the start of a war that many people here loudly oppose has lent a nerve-racking undertone to the carefree life of a college kid studying abroad, many students said. University programs warned Americans not to talk politics in public, not to speak English loudly and to stay away from bars that cater to expatriate crowds.

Yet students said they did not fear for their safety and were not going out of their way to follow the latest developments out of the Middle East.

"Watching the news in Spanish is not the easiest thing to do," said Jessica Clark, 20, a junior at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania from Newtown, Conn., who said she tried to catch headlines on American news Web sites when she could.

With hundreds of thousands of anti-war protesters taking to the streets recently, avoiding demonstrations has been all but impossible, despite warnings from U.S. officials that Americans should stay away from such crowds. Most of the signs and slogans have been aimed at the Spanish government, which is supporting the U.S. and British war effort even though many people here oppose it. But students said the few banners attacking Bush and the U.S. government stood out.

A massive march in Madrid last month was "really scary," said Courtney Parkinson, 21, a Bucknell junior from Basking Ridge, N.J. At the same time, though, few Spaniards seem to be blaming Americans in general for the war, focusing their anger at policy-makers instead. Despite Parkinson's unease, she said she never felt any hostility directed her way, and most of her compatriots agreed.

"The only thing that would really be upsetting is if they send us home," said Bucknell junior Meena Pathare, 21, from Westport, Conn.