Muriel Farley Dominguez: VIVE LA FRANCE! ASCA’S RELATIONSHIP WITH REIMS

WHEN: 20 December 2013

WHERE: McLean, Virginia

INTERVIEWER: Sandra MacDonald Davis

SD: This is Sandy Davis and it is Friday, December 20, 2013.  I am sitting with Muriel Dominguez in my home ready to talk about her engagement with the Arlington Sister City Association over a decade.  So, Muriel, thank you so much for taking time to be interviewed for the Arlington Sister City Association Oral History project.  Let’s start with where you born and grew up – a little bit of your personal background and how your interest in international engagement started.

MD: Well, I was born and raised in New York City.  I was fortunate in that I attended an elementary school where I was required to study a foreign language at a young age.   In fact, I started my study of French when I was only in the third grade.  I mention this because several members of ASCA Board know that I am interested in the city-committee school exchanges which are sponsored by our association.  Speaking from my own personal experience, I  believe that the study of a foreign language and school exchanges between Arlington and our sister cities abroad have a positive influence on young people of all ages – be it at the elementary, secondary school, or university level.  The Arlington Sister City Association has been very forthcoming about promoting these exchanges and, for this, I am grateful. ASCA, under the leadership of John McCracken, Sandy MacDonald, Karl Van Newkirk, and now Malcolm Phillips, has always been very supportive.  That said, in the future I would like to see the ASCA-sponsored school exchange programs continue.  We do have some bumps in the road right now, but I think that the Reims academic and cultural exchanges have been fruitful experiences for many students here in Arlington County.  Clearly, when young people study a foreign language and travel to another country, they also learn about the culture of that country.  Even when you are very young, you can realize that things are done differently in different countries and maybe not the same way we do them here.  This is very healthy for fostering an understanding of other cultures and citizen diplomacy.

SD: Yes, and in generating interest in learning more about them.

MD: Yes, absolutely!  Of course, all this definitely hit home when I went on to college and later to graduate school.  Since I enjoyed the study French and French culture at Wells College, I decided to spend my junior year in Paris.  My French professor recommended the Sweet Briar Junior Year Abroad Program.  It was very highly regarded and still is.

SD: Is that the Sweet Briar College in Virginia?

MD: It is, but it’s a college which recruits students from all over the country – from large state and private universities as well as smaller colleges, and that’s one of the things that made my junior year in France such an interesting experience – because of the diversity of the group.   I found that the same thing was true when I pursued a Masters in French Studies with the Middlebury Graduate Program in Paris.

Getting back to school exchanges, when I came on board as president of the Reims Committee, I invited Alicia Kenworthy, a young woman working at the time for a French company, to speak about her past experience as a student on the Lycée Chagall exchange.  ASCA had been invited to participate in the Annual Convention of Sister Cities International held in March 2011 at the Marriott Gateway Hotel in Arlington.   On March 4, ASCA gave a reception at the Marriott for the event, and each committee was asked to set up an information table and organize some kind of activity related to the respective sister city.   Alicia Kenworthy, a graduate of Washington and Lee High School, accepted my invitation and we put together a Power Point about the Reims Committee activities since August 2004 – a slide show which was projected on a large screen at the SCI Convention.  After presenting an overview of the City of Reims, highlights of significant events related to the Arlington/Reims sister city relationship, and slides of the Sister City signing ceremony and committee activities, Alicia gave an interesting account of her participation in the Lycée Chagall exchange.  Many folks commented about how convincing Alicia’s presentation was regarding the importance of her academic and cultural experience in Reims, France.

In fact, I would like to digress a bit here because Elizabeth (Libby) Schollaert, our current committee president, deserves a lot of credit for getting the ball rolling with regard to the exchange between the Lycée Chagall and the Arlington Public High Schools.   Libby has been actively involved in the organization of this exchange from 2001 to the present.   Marguerita Cruz, Vice Principal at W & L, also has done a lot to help make the Chagall exchange happen.  Obviously, I am most informed about exchanges promoted by the Reims committee.  However, I realize that much credit should also be given to members of other ASCA committees for organizing educational and cultural exchange programs .

At present, the Reims Committee also promotes a middle school exchange organized by committee member, Melissa Cabocel,  and a private school exchange between  Bishop O’Connell HS and the Lycée Jean XXIII in Reims.  As I was actively involved in the establishment of the O’Connell exchange, I can give you some background.

In 2006, Roger Vache, who was then Deputy Mayor of Reims, asked Harry Amos, our first committee president, to find out if an exchange between a private high school in Reims and a private high school in Arlington was possible and feasible.  I think that you met M. Vache and would remember how enthusiastic he was about the sister city relationship between Arlington and Reims.  Of course, he had the positive ok from the former Mayor of Reims, M. Jean-Louis Schneiter , who was always so hospitable and generous to our delegations.  At Harry’s request, I did some “groundwork” and learned that the Vice President for Academic Affairs at Bishop O’Connell High School had been a French teacher and had accompanied students abroad.  So, I thought that we would have a good chance of convincing her to agree to the O’Connell- Jean XXIII exchange despite clear liability concerns.  Arnauld Desplanques, my counterpart in Reims and loyal friend to our committee, was very helpful in this regard.  When Arnauld came to Arlington with a delegation from Reims, I made an appointment to see the VP of Academic Affairs .    Fortunately, the O’Connell administration did approve the private high school exchange with Reims, which has been on-going now for eight years.   Clearly, such an exchange can only be successful with the committed planning of the teachers and their counterparts in Reims.   Our committee was fortunate to have on board Joan McCarty, retired French teacher at O’Connell, and to profit from the stellar organizational skills of her counterpart in Reims, Christine Berthou.   Joan has been succeeded by French teachers, Sebastian Hobson and Whitney Webb, both of whom are committed to the O’Connell exchange.  I don’t want to belabor the point, but it is evident that promoting school exchanges is an important part of what ASCA does.

Now we’ll move on to other things.  I thought I might mention a few events which highlight some of the most interesting things our committee did during the period of time that you asked me to cover for this interview.

First, in April of 2011, I organized a fundraiser/wine tasting reception with the help of NOVA Chapter President of the American Association of Teachers of French, Margaret Ann Kassen, who offered her lovely home as our venue.  Some members of our committee and of the AATF agreed that we should try to help students who are unable to pay the entire fee required to go abroad as participants in Reims exchanges.  Consequently, we had a wine-tasting reception and modest fundraiser in order to contribute to the ASCA scholarship fund.   Furthermore, the committee wanted to give a warm welcome to the middle school teachers from the Collège Schumann in Reims who had just arrived in Arlington.  The reception was a perfect way to do so.  Finally, the Reims Committee had something important to celebrate.  The state of Virginia had recently signed an MOU (Memo of Understanding) with the Académie de Reims whose mission is to foster, encourage, and nurture cultural and educational exchanges throughout the state of Virginia.  The Reims Academy covers more than just the city of Reims.  It covers the entire Champagne- Ardenne region.

The MOU was a wonderful idea, conceived by the former French Education Attachée.  County Board members, Walter Tejada and Christopher  Zimmerman, attended the reception and a representative from the French Embassy also joined us.  We all raised our glasses to friendship and projects between Reims and the state of Virginia – it was a wine tasting after all!  Brinton Rowdybush, a member of the Reims committee and former American Consul to the city of Bordeaux, gave an excellent presentation on the wines of the Bordeaux region of France.   In fact, the representative from the French Education Attaché’s Office remarked: “I think Brinton knows more about the wines from France than I do!”  In short, it was an enjoyable evening, and we raised enough funds to help two students pay for their airfare to Reims.  As president I felt even more motivated to take new initiatives now that the French government was recognizing the importance of school and cultural exchanges in this region.  It was very encouraging.

SD:  That’s quite an achievement to get that kind of attention.

MD: Actually, it was not a big event – about 30 folks in attendance.  However, I think this activity gave the Reims Committee and ASCA more visibility.  The French Education Attaché contacted me after the event, eager to learn more about ASCA and our student exchanges.  The President of the Comité de Tricolore , an organization of French nationals living in the Washington area, also contacted me requesting written information about ASCA.  Subsequently, I sent both the Embassy and Tricolore a brief report about Arlington-Reims Committee activities and the ASCA mission statement written by our former ASCA Chair, Karl VanNewkirk.  Later, Karl gave an oral presentation about our association at the DC meeting of the Tricolore.  Un grand merci to Karl.  I think that most ASCA committee presidents realize that, without the help of their fellow board members, committee members, and predecessors, we wouldn’t be in the position to accomplish what we have done during our tenures.  I mean, we are a team.   I certainly recognize this.

Two other events which I would like to highlight took place in May and June of 2011.  In May, a representative of the County Board, at the invitation of the Mayor of Reims, Mme Adeline Hazan, attended the ceremonies surrounding the 800th anniversary of the Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Reims.  A month later, I led a delegation of four to Reims where we participated in the annual Fêtes Johanniques – the annual Joan of Arc Festival.   As always, the hospitality we were shown was outstanding – truly memorable.

The final event I would like to highlight was not organized by our committee, but we welcomed and organized the stay of a significant delegation from Reims including a representative from the Mayor Hazan’s Office.  The event was the inauguration of the Artisphere, Arlington County’s new Cultural Center.   The year was 2010.  In fact, the event was referred to as:  10-10-10 –  for Oct 10, 2010.  I came on board as committee president at that time.  Harry Amos and I worked together to plan the program for the Reims Delegation and Harry gave a reception in honor of the delegation at which time he welcomed me on board  – presenting  the Reims flag  to me as a symbol of our sister city relationship with the city of Reims.   I did the same for Elizabeth Schollaert when she came on board as president.   Furthermore, “ 10-10-10” was also an opportunity for the Reims Delegation to meet all five members of the County Board.   In October, Mary Hynes, CB member, organized a reception at her home in honor of all city delegations.  Jay Fisette welcomed all present as did current Virginia Senator, Barbara Favola.  County Board members, Christopher Zimmerman and Walter Tejada, also extended a warm greeting to the delegation representatives.   The County Board has been very supportive of ASCA programs.  On behalf of the Reims Committee, I like to thank them for their support.  The Delegation from Reims has included excellent photos of the 10-10-10 activities on the Reims Committee Website.

Speaking of cultural events, Arlington’s Office of Cultural Affairs has been very helpful to the Arlington-Reims Internship Committee.   Deputy Director of Economic Development, Cynthia  Richmond and her colleague, Joan Lynch from Cultural Affairs , have welcomed and provided 6 internships for students from Reims since 2011. Three of the interns study at the Institute of Political Science in Reims, which also has a unique program for North American students.  One of these interns is now studying at Georgetown University and interning for a US Senator.  When an internship is part of a university curriculum, the interns know that they have a task to complete which will be evaluated- even if the task is clerical work.  That is why, as president of our committee and former internship coordinator, I have favored welcoming interns who are affiliated with an institution of higher learning.  Of course, the interns spend much of their time with host families, and the Reims Committee has recruited marvelous families to host our interns over the years.   I want to thank Ann McCracken, who is the daughter of former ASCA Chair, John McCracken, and her husband, John Zipperien, who have been such generous hosts to our interns.   Sonya and Brodwick Bailey, Diane and Steve Stockwell , and Carol Roller and her husband have also been great host families during my watch.   This past summer, (2013) Virginie and Peter Vaselopolus generously hosted an intern from Reims for eight weeks.  I also benefited tremendously from the help of an active and supportive internship committee.

At the request of Reims Sister City Committee President, Arnauld Desplanques, I was able to meet the Directrice  of L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques, and our committee has begun a conversation with  Sciences Po.  Indeed, Arnauld Desplanques has already organized two important conférences at Sciences Po.  One lecture was on the US Presidential elections and the other was a lecture given by former US Ambassador, Allan Lukens (December, 2011) about his experience in France and as young soldier in Germany during WWII.  Ambassador Lukens even made the local papers in Reims.  In the future, I hope that the Arlington-Reims Committee will have more activities with institutions of higher education in Reims.

Before concluding, I will backtrack a bit.  You asked how I became interested in ASCA and in international engagements.   I first heard about the Reims committee from Elizabeth Schollaert.   Libby and I had both served as chapter presidents of the American Association of Teachers of French.  When I came on board as AATF president, I organized a Francophone music concert at Marymount University, where I was teaching French at the time.  Libby invited retired Colonel Harry Amos to attend the concert and, after we chatted for a while, Harry invited me to join the Reims Committee.  The invitation to join the Reims Committee gave me another chance to nurture my interest in France and French Culture and in international affairs.  I have taught French for more than 30 years: first at the high school level, then as a Teaching Fellow at Harvard and, when I moved to Arlington, at Georgetown and Marymount Universities.  During my appointment as Visiting Scholar at Johns Hopkins SAIS, I did some research on Francophone Studies and international programs – an interest I developed further as a term consultant at the World Bank Institute.  One other event I coordinated as President of the Reims Committee was a briefing and information session at the World Bank and IMF for the Reims and Chalons Delegation members who came to Arlington in October 2012.  The Delegations were invited by Harry Amos to the Chalons ’90 ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery and at the Officers Club. The World Bank and IMF visits took place shortly thereafter.  The delegations reported that they understood more clearly the role of the World Bank after their visit and were pleased to have a private interview and Q & A session at the IMF with M. Ambroise Fayolle, Administrateur pour la France at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.  As I see it, serving on the Board of Directors of ASCA is one more way of pursuing my interest in international engagements.  I am grateful to the late John Melnick, who invited me to attend my first board meeting and to Sandy MacDonald who helped to nominate me to the Board of Directors.

In August of 2004, I was a member of the Arlington Delegation that attended the signing of the Sister City Agreement between Arlington and Reims at l’Hôtel de Ville.   At that time, I had the pleasure of meeting the Mayor of Reims, Jean-Louis Schneiter, who has always given a warm welcome to Arlington Delegations.  The delegation also had the opportunity to meet the Mayor of Aachen, Jürgen Linden, who gave a moving talk at the signing ceremonies.   It is my understanding that Mayor Linden was helpful in bringing about the sister city relationship between Reims and Arlington with some behind-the-scenes diplomacy.  More recently, I have had the honor of meeting Mme Adeline Hazan, current Mayor of Reims.  The Arlington-Reims Committee is grateful to Mme Hazan for her gracious hospitality.   Un grand merci as well to Stéphane Damien, Reims Committee member, and to his colleagues at l’Hôtel de Ville, who have helped our Arlington delegations to Reims in so many ways.  The Arlington-Reims Committee also recognizes the important role of the City of Reims and of Arnauld Desplanques in bringing to fruition two publications about our longtime relationship with Reims:  Reims et les Américains, and about Arlington-Reims ties through photography: Regards Croisés/Crossing Glances, both published when my predecessor Charles Daris was president of the Arlington-Reims Committee.

I have enjoyed serving in the capacity of Reims Committee President and as ASCA Board Member.   For the last seven years, I’ve seen some interesting professionals at work and believe that we learn from one another.

SD:  I agree – I loved my years on the board. They were a highlight of my life.

MD: Well, you were a wonderful chair – very active.  Chapeau as we say in French!

To conclude, I would like to say that it is a pleasure and a privilege to be a member of the Arlington Sister City Association, of the Reims Committee, and to serve as a member of the ASCA Board of Directors.  Indeed, it has been a learning experience as well as an enriching one.  Un grand merci to Carl Lankowski, Sandra MacDonald Davis, and Chrystia Sonevytsky for inviting me to share my experience with ASCA.

SD: Muriel thank you so much for long and productive work with the Reims committee and to the Arlington Sister City Association board and Reims committee and for taking time to share your thoughts with me today. You’ve given a lot of your time, your thought, and your energy to the organization, which has greatly benefitted from your support.