Reid Goldstein: INTRODUCING YOUNG PEOPLE TO A DIFFERENT CULTURE
WHEN: 22 July 2013
WHERE: The home of Reid Goldstein
INTERVIEWER: Carl Lankowski
HOW: transcribed from recorder
TRANSCRIBER: Carl Lankowski
Q: Let’s start with you. How old are you and where did you grow up?
RG: I am 60 years old and come from Rochester, New York. I am married with two grown girls, now 23 and 19 years old.
Q: How did the family get to Rochester?
RG: We have a photo of my grandfather as a two year-old with his extended family surrounding him. I think they were all in the garment business—seamstresses, etc working in some kind of shirt factory, because that is what he did for 49 years. He worked at Fashion Park, a big producer of men’s suits. He would cut the cloth from a pattern. I don’t know how they got there, but I am pretty sure my grandfather’s parents were immigrants.
Q: Do you know where they came from?
RG: We think it is somewhere in White Russia or the Baltic states, maybe Lithuania.
Q: They could have been Litvaks.
RG: Something like that. And we think that my grandmother’s family, his wife’s family, was from there, too. We think my grandmother was born on the boat, on the voyage from a Baltic port and stopped in Liverpool.
Q: Do you know what year that was?
RG: 1893. I know that my grandmother’s mother never did learn English. So said my father, who grew up in the extended family that included her. My grandmother was first generation American.
Q: Where they Russian speakers?
RG: My father doesn’t know. You’ve got to imagine that they were.
Q: Maybe Russian and something else. Is the family Jewish?
RG: Oh yes. So maybe they spoke Yiddish. So that’s my father’s family. My mother got to Rochester when she married my father—she had been from Boston originally. Her father immigrated to Boston in the early part of the first decade of the 20th century. My mother’s father came from Poland, the eldest of seven boys. He came over with his father, worked, then brought the rest of the family over.
Q: From the Russian part of Poland?
RG: From Kielce. My mother isn’t sure but thinks Garfinkle (her maiden name) may have been his real surname, which doesn’t sound so much like a Russian or Polish name. There were parts of Prussia or Russia that required Jews to maintain Jewish names to distinguish them from the non-Jewish population.
Q: It sounds like your grandfather was doing pretty well in Rochester.
RG: Yes. He had a job all through the Great Depression and all through World War Two—both world wars, in fact. He graduated from high school in 1904. When he presented himself for a job interview, the employer said something about schooling and he replied that he was a high school graduate. “Write your name,” he said. So he did that and was hired—49 years later he retired.
Q: So the second generation continued living in Rochester?
RG: That’s right.
Q: Tell us about your father.
RG: He was born in 1924 and grew up as a Depression era kid. WWII started when he was 17. He wanted to join the army. His father persuaded him to wait until he was 18. So he joined up at the end of 1942 and was deployed to the China-Burma-India theater as a medic in a portable surgical hospital (PSH). Just behind the front line, this unit stabilized patients before moving them to MASH units further back. He was in for three years, discharged in January 1946. Then he took advantage of the GI Bill and went to college.
Q: Where did he go?
RG: Syracuse University. He got out with a Master’s degree in Education and was hired by the Rochester City School District teaching math. He taught high school math for 31 years.
Q: So he retired around 1980.
Q: Do you have siblings?
RG: Yes. I have two younger sisters. We were brought up in a suburb of Rochester. Rochester was heavily defined by Eastman Kodak, whose corporate headquarters was there. Tons and tons of people worked for Kodak when I was in school. It seemed like all my friends’ parents were working for Kodak. It had been the big employer in the region for 50 years at that point. George Eastman developed the process and by the early part of the 20th Century was America’s first billionaire.
Q: What was your mom doing?
RG: Her father emigrated from Poland and set up a lithography business in Boston. His sign-printing business was quite successful—what today we would call upper middle class. She was the youngest of four and attended Syracuse University also, where she met my father. Right after college they were married. They moved to Rochester and that was it!
Q: Let’s talk about the strands in your development that connected you ultimately to ASCA.
RG: OK, though the early links are tenuous. I was a very unmotivated, immature, unsuccessful high school student. After high school I worked for six years. I didn’t have the interest in, insight for, or drive to go to college.
Q: What did you do?
RG: I worked in the restaurant business, mostly fast food. After six years I was ready for something different. “I don’t know whether I can do this school thing,” because I had never done it successfully, “but, what the hell, I’ll give it a try,” I thought.
Q: You were 25 when you started?
RG: Twenty-four, almost 25. And things were working out swimmingly. I can remember saying to myself after taking the first course: “This is too easy.” I started in the summer, taking two courses, easing back into it. I got an A in the first course. I took the second course and got an A in that one, too. And I was doing really well in the first full semester in the fall. I remember thinking to myself: “Wait, all I have to do is follow this syllabus thing, listen to the professor, hand in the work, and that’s all I have to doto get a good grade? Why couldn’t I have figured that out in high school?”
Q: What year was that?
RG: I started school at the State University of New York at Brockport in the summer of 1976. I graduated high school in 1970. I had been living there in Brockport, working in the restaurant business and then just crossed the line between townie and student. In the six years between these two events I slowly developed interests in history, psychology, and political science. So, I started taking courses in these subjects and around the third semester I took a course in world politics. The professor was electric, just phenomenal. He had an energy about him in the classroom, went a mile a minute, and was very charismatic. I took another course from him and then another still. By that time he was my de facto advisor.
Q: Do you remember his name?
RG: Of course—Ray Duncan. He was a Distinguished Teaching Professor at Brockport. He later did a stint as the scholar-in-residence at the CIA. One day he asked me what I was planning to do after graduation. I said “Oh I dunno, maybe take the grand tour…” “No!” he said: “Go now, while you’re in school! Go to the international office and see about an overseas semester.” So, with his encouragement I did a year in Heidelberg. Organizing an overseas academic year was difficult at the time, as the entire State University of New York system had a single international office. It was run out of another campus, so I had to be kind of a faux transfer student to that campus so I could go on their program. I already had German language in high school and in college.
Q: What made you take German?
RG: That’s a good question. The offerings were French, Latin, Spanish or German. None of the others appealed to me. They got us started in French in sixth grade. I just had no interest in it. Nor did Spanish interest me. So I took German. Then I went back to it in college, perhaps in anticipation of my year abroad. I also had it in Heidelberg and continued when I returned to Brockport.
Q: What year was that?
RG: I was in Heidelberg during the 1979-1980 school year. I loved it. What’s not to like? Visually it’s fabulous. They sustained almost no damage during the war. Everything is from the 12th century. The beer is fantastic. We lived in the Altstadt (old town), a tiny enclave; the school was also there.
Q: Did you meet a lot of Germans there?
RG: Yeah. We attended Schiller College. Their courses are accredited by US accrediting institutions. You can come from your home school and take courses without worrying about whether they will transfer back. In the other direction, Schiller functioned as a stepping stone for international students who wanted to attend American universities and graduate programs. Schiller’s enrollment was about 125, half of which were American and the rest international, mostly European, but some Asian and South Asian—Indonesians, Malaysians, Indians, and Turkish students. Then there were a lot of German and French, and some Italians. That and the fact that the University of Heidelberg is also in the Altstadt, we met many Germans.
Q: Did you experience anything unsettling in your year there? What rocked your boat?
RG: We travelled a lot on the weekends. The school did not schedule classes on Fridays to facilitate travel. Schiller also arranged excursions for us, including a week in still-divided Berlin and a week in Prague. There were always pictures of the wartime destruction they had suffered at the sites we visited in Germany. Restoring the site, from the rubble in the photos to the magnificent structure of the current day was astonishing to me.
As a political science student, I had encountered the history and concepts of, for instance, Communism. But seeing the Wall up close with its sheer physicality—its dimensions, the barbed wired, the no-man’s land, the anti-tank emplacements, the armed guards…this wasn’t just a word from a book … W A L L. Coming face to face with the subject matter from the text book probably made the biggest impression on me. I was amazed and impressed at how the Germans, and Europeans in general, had a grasp of American current events and American politics, much more so than people I knew at home did. Another observation I arrived at during this exchange year was the belief that Europe shipped all their Puritans over to America 400 years ago. America’s got all the uptight people. Europe is a lot more easy-going and laissez faire, in both personal beliefs and day to day life.
Q: You were there several years after the main Baader Meinhof terrorists had been rounded up. The Greens formed after that. Did you see any evidence of them?
RG: There were posters, as you would expect in a university town. And you would see the symbols of the peace movement. But not spray-painted. There were poster kiosks everywhere with all sorts of announcements for rallies, concerts, meetings and the like.
Q: Did you attend rallies?
RG: Not that I recall. I travelled a lot, especially on weekends.
Q: Where did you go?
RG: To all the countries surrounding Germany except on the east, as this was during the Cold War, except when Schiller arranged a group trip. So, we were able in that way to visit Czechoslovakia and East Germany.
Q: How about within West Germany?
RG: To Munich for Oktoberfest. Stuttgart was not far. Nor was the Schwarzwald. To Trier, where Marx was born. I actually went through Aachen at one point on the way to Amsterdam. Another time I went to Nürnberg and Rotenburg, Ulm, Baden, mostly southern Germany. Just beyond the border I visited Salzburg in Austria and Strasbourg in France.
Q: You have a Jewish heritage. Did that affect the way you saw anything in Europe at that time?
RG: I don’t think so. Not beyond what any foreign visitor would think. Everyone knows about the horrors of the Holocaust. But I didn’t have any special deep emotional reaction.
Q: Are your parents religious?
RG: No, practicing but reform.. And nobody from the family died in the Holocaust. My mother’s family had been completely out of Poland for over 30 years. So we had no family connection there. But I saw plenty of concentration camps in my travels.
Q: Can you remember any?
RG: We visited Dachau and Theresienstadt. There were a couple of others whose names aren’t as prominent as that. There were hundreds of little camps throughout Germany that were labor camps or way-stations.
Q: What issues did you see play out?
RG: Immigration was a hot issue when I was there. You could sense the tension related to the Turkish Gastarbeiter (“guest workers”). You could tell just being on the street that the Germans and the Turks didn’t mingle. They walked past each other without looking, without talking. I didn’t encounter overt hostility, no rock throwing or anything like that. But people used words that indicated that they did not view each other warmly. I believe that that has changed quite a bit, not unlike the evolution of attitudes in the United States. There is a generation there now that grew up having to face the realities of immigration.
Q: Currently, there is a court case running against a neo-Nazi charged with murdering nearly a dozen Turks in Germany over a five or six year period.
RG: I didn’t hear about neo-Nazis until long after I left Germany. I did hear that there was a bar in Heidelberg that celebrated Hitler’s birthday. I don’t know if that was urban legend or not. I never went in there; never saw them flying the flag. Germany has had a strong economy with low rates of unemployment, so it wasn’t like Turkish guest workers were taking jobs away from Germans. When I worked in a McDonald’s during high school, today my kids wouldn’t dream of doing something like that. And so it is in Germany.
Q: So, you were there for a year and came back to the States. Then what happened?
RG: I originally signed up for one semester in Heidelberg. Around Thanksgiving one of the other guys on the same program said “Yeah—we’ve only got a month left and then we’re out of here…” I said “What! No, I can’t leave, I am not ready to leave.” So I wrote to the school asking to extend for another semester. “No problem!” There was practically no one wanting to get into their programs. By contrast, the plethora of international programs available to students is astounding. Anyway, I ended up staying for an entire school year.
Q: You returned to the US in 1980?
RG: That’s right. I spent five years as an undergraduate, largely because of this travel. Back at Brockport my faculty advisor told me to start applying to graduate schools.
Q: What advice did he give?
RG: Well, I had been flirting with the idea of going to law school, because that’s what many political science majors did. My international relations professor wasn’t too hot on the law school idea, but rather the international track. He suggested I apply to Georgetown—and I applied to the joint law/MSFS program. I did the same thing at Denver and I applied to the international relations programs at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), where I went, Yale, and Columbia. I got on the waiting list at Georgetown and was accepted at Denver, and was accepted at Yale, but my professor/mentor didn’t like it because it had a degree in political science with a concentration in international, but did not have an international relations program. Interestingly, he did not tell me to apply to Tufts (Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy) where he graduated from. In short, he counseled me to go to SAIS if I got in. I did get in and that’s where I went.
Q: So you missed being with Obama at Columbia…
RG: That’s right!
Q: So you came to Washington in 1981?
RG: Well, no. SAIS is a two-year program and you can do two years in Washington, or a year in Bologna, Italy and the second one in Washington. So, I spent the first year of the program at the SAIS Bologna Center. I was advised that this was going to be mostly for people interested in being European studies majors—“OK”, I said. “I can always change my mind later,” and I did. In fact, it took me more than two years; it was more like two and a half years.
Q: What was it like in Bologna?
RG: It was wonderful, once you got over the fact that it wasn’t Germany–pristine, and everything working perfectly. Bologna has a whole different flavor—la dolce vita—I just loved it. You didn’t get to travel as much, because you were in graduate school. Made a lot of close friends. Ate fantastic food—I became an Italian food connoisseur…
Q: Ah ha! So, that’s why you are so keen to go on this year’s SisterBike through the Po Valley.
RG: Well, although I loved that year in Germany, I have been back to Italy six or eight times since graduate school, while the first time I returned to Germany was three years ago, 30 years after I left. There is something especially attractive about Italy. My Italian is no better than my German—I can get around, order food, get a hotel room.
Q: Did you have training in Italian?
RG: SAIS offered an intensive course for five weeks when we first arrived. Not having had a romance language background, it was a struggle for me. I continued taking courses in the language both in Bologna and when I returned to Washington.
Q: Were the Italians forgiving of beginner’s Italian?
RG: Very much so. Also, up there in the north, they speak something close to textbook Italian.
Q: Were there any outstanding professors in Bologna?
RG: Not like my undergraduate experience. We did have a visiting professor from Poland, but in December of 1981 when the Jaruzelski government launched its counter-revolution against Solidarnosc, he returned to his homeland. The Polish situation and the professor’s decision generated a lot of discussion amongst the students. The professors were adequate, but not exciting.
Q: Living there and being a little older than the norm must have provided you with opportunities to move around.
RG: I tried to travel as much as I could, mostly within Italy. I did go east: on a long weekend we visited Dubrovnik in Croatian Yugoslavia. At Christmastime I hitch-hiked to Istanbul. It was a combination of trains and hitch-hiking, through Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and across the border into Turkey.
Q: Was it easy to hitch-hike through Communist Yugoslavia?
RG: It was not a problem for us. Bulgaria was more of a problem. We spent New Year’s Eve in Belgrade, where we were drinking vodka with some Polish army guys who were ordered back to Poland. They were looking at that as the end of their lives. And so, with massive hangovers on New Year’s Day, we got picked up by some truck drivers. We were with them for a day or so and found ourselves next at some highway rest area. My companion struck up a conversation with some guys running a tour bus that had only a few passengers. In fact, what we think they were doing is smuggling cigarettes into Turkey. I’m not sure why—don’t they have Turkish tobacco? They gave us a ride to the Bulgarian border. What happened next looked like a scene from a Holocaust movie. We are at a huge concrete platform. It is cold, driving rain. It had the look of a deportation center. Huge klieg lights bathed the area in an unholy luminescence. A Russian soldier, automatic weapon slung over his shoulder, gets on the bus. We had already given up our passports. He shouts out “Frenchski, Britski, Italianski…” going through the passports and different nationalities—“OUT!.” So the other twelve passengers climb out into the rain. My companion and I looked at each other: “did you hear him say AMERIKANSKI?” “No, he didn’t say that.” So we stayed in the bus. The rest were out in the rain. It was miserable for them. I was waiting for them to open up with the automatic weapons. We’re in the bus, nice and warm, protected. They were out there between half an hour and 45 minutes. Finally, they are let back on the bus—it’s just bureaucracy. Nothing happened. The passports are returned and we are on our way.
Q: You have also travelled to other parts of the world in the meantime, right?
RG: Yes, I definitely have the travel bug. My wife never did any international travel before we met and I’ve given the bug to her, now.
Q: So then you had to return to Washington.
RG: Right. the second year of the program was in Washington and at the end I was close to finishing up at SAIS. The year after that I was going half-time. I needed to complete an outstanding paper assignment. It took me a few years to do that, but I finally handed it in and collected my degree.
Q: What year was that?
RG: It was 1990.
Q: How did you meet your wife, Carol?
RG: After I left SAIS I was in contact with a classmate from Bologna working at a defense contractor. They had just won a contract and needed people. I applied and was hired. Carol was working at that firm in a different division doing energy policy work.
Q: What kind of work were you doing there?
RG: In their defense division, they had gotten a contract for a study for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a production base analysis for the set of ten missiles that the combatant commanders deemed to be critical for success when the shooting war starts. The study focused on how quickly will our inventory be depleted and how quickly can the production base ramp up and resupply missiles in the quantities that we need (or, reading between the lines, on what day do we have to win the war before our materiel is exhausted and we have to start negotiating? So we created these bathtub graphs showing when the inventory drops off, and then it takes so many months for the industrial base to bring the inventory back up by building new factories or going to a second or third shift…
Q: So, you got into industrial economics.
RG: Yes, things like prioritizing wartime materiel, cutting corners and the like. For example, when the shooting war starts, the military reclaims reservists, but some of these reservists are captains of industry. You don’t want those guys at a desk in the Pentagon. You want them in a factory where they have the expertise to supply goods. Well, you need all kinds of congressional waivers and so forth, to make that happen. That is what the planning exercise was about. We also looked at materials that flowed into the production process that could keep the pipeline filled at peacetime demand levels, but couldn’t keep up with accelerated demand in a wartime surge or outright mobilization. The fear was that everyone was buying nuts and bolts from Joe’s Nuts and Bolts Shop around the corner, but what if Joe is located in Taiwan? This was a problem for certain materials. That was the long pole in the tent: how is this factory going to cope, because we really need this more than anything else. How are we going to overcome the geography problem? It was getting really interesting work, but then the contract ran out of money and the Joint Chiefs did not want to renew the contract.
Q: In the meantime, Carol was there and you met her.
RG: We started dating; we moved in together; got married; bought a house.
Q: When were you married?
RG: In September 1987. We were supposed to combine celebrations for our 25th wedding anniversary and my 60th birthday last year, but we had a full-year exchange student living with us and we couldn’t leave for extended travel because she was in school here.
Q: Where was she from? What exchange program supported her? How did it work out?
RG: Our student was from France – Corsica to be more specific. Her mother Linda and I were old friends from high school. We became reacquainted at a recent reunion and both of us were looking for overseas experiences for our daughters. My daughter Lillian was taking a gap year between high school and college. Lillian had lined up an internship in New Zealand for the fall semester but needed something to do in the Spring. Linda’s daughter Theia was in high school in Corsica and needed a change of scenery. So we swapped. Lillian went to Corsica for a few months and Theia came to the US and lived with us for a school year. Officially, she came to us through the AFS exchange program. It was more challenging than I thought it would be. Having recently lived through the teenage years twice with my own daughters, I thought I would be much more proficient at handling it. Not so; I underestimated the uniqueness of teenage experiences.
Q: Summarize the path between 1987 and your affiliation with ASCA. You got kids in the meantime.
RG: My two girls were born in the 1990s. They inherited Wanderlust from me. In 2001, Carol had a conference in Rome and we had accumulated enough frequent flyer miles to take the girls. At the time, Olivia was 10 and Lillian was 7. I think this was their first excursion outside the United States. However, there was a problem. Both my parents were teachers and I was used to the idea that taking a child out of school was taboo. My parents NEVER took us out of school to get a one day jump on a vacation or because it made schedules more convenient. I grew up with that ethic. But, Carol’s conference was in May and the girls were taking exams at the time. I approached the principal very apologetically with the plea that this was too good an opportunity to pass up. “Absolutely!” she said: “These kids are going to learn more in a week in Rome than they are sitting in class here.” Art, architecture, language, religion, culture history—you name it.
Q: Where were they in school?
RG: In Arlington’s Long Branch Elementary School. Olivia was a fifth grader and Lillian was a second grader. So we took them to Rome for 10 days. We stayed in Carol’s hotel room. She attended the conference during the day at the hotel- the Cavalieri Hilton – a fabulous five-star hotel, up on a hill overlooking the city, a short walk to the Vatican. Meanwhile, the girls and I would go out and explore and go sightseeing all day. At day’s end, Carol would say “I’m exhausted. What did you guys do all day?” “Oh, we went to the Coliseum, we went to the Vatican, we went here, we went there, we had gelato.” Carol: “I hate you.”
For me the most memorable experience was on day five when we ran out of clean laundry. We knew that the hotel would charge us five bucks to wash a sock. So instead we gathered up all the dirty laundry in a sack and went out to find a Laundromat. We hailed a cab and told him to take us to one. After a few stops at establishments offering multi-day laundry services, we finally found a Laundromat in the shadow of the Vatican. So we spent the afternoon feeding coins into the machines and hanging out, getting gelato…
Q: That was when you still had to use the Italian currency, the lire?
RG: Right. It was before the euro was introduced. After Carol’s conference ended, we went south to Sorrento for a few days, and using that as a base we visited Pompei and Vesuvius. Walking up the old lava flow to Vesuvius, wepractically had to drag Lillian; she was convinced that the volcano was going to blow. After all, it is still an active volcano, just dormant.
Fast forward a few years. Now Olivia is a Freshman in high school. She somehow got connected with the People-to-People exchange program that President Eisenhower started. You sign up with them and then they meet every month; there is a lot of detailed planning to prepare you for the experience. And it is quite expensive. We established terms with her; we told Olivia if you are going to do this, she would have to pay for some of it througha bake sale, babysitting, whatever. But she wasn’t entrepreneurial enough. After a few months she wasn’t accumulating her designated share. And then somehow information about the Arlington Sister City opportunity landed in my inbox. It was the same amount of time, three weeks back then, the same duration that People-to-People scheduled. Olivia had signed up for Switzerland-Austria-Italy, but they would stay in hotels – no home-stays- and in constant motion from one destination to the next. ASCA was a third of the price, precisely because of the home-stays, which I felt was a more desirable feature. We asked her if she wanted to try this, to go to Aachen and live with a family, and she said Yes. So I called up Bernie [Chapnick] or whoever was in charge at the time and signed up.
Q: What year was that?
RG: Olivia went in the summer following her Freshman year, in 2005. She was in Aachen for her 15th birthday. Back then, the inbound program was at Easter break, so we hosted a girl from Aachen who came over that Spring with the group.. She stayed with us for three weeks. And when Olivia went with the Arlington ASCA group to Aachen that summer, she stayed with that same girl’s family and loved it. We enjoyed having the Aachen student and the girls really liked it. And so a pattern began: we hosted Aachen students for years and years thereafter, and our girls would go to Aachen in the summer. Olivia went to Aachen three times; Lillian went twice. And every year we would host another kid.
I wasn’t involved much with ASCA aside from showing up at family orientation meetings prior to the exchange and doing what they told me to do.
Q: Were you a host family every year from 2005?
RG: Yes. This past autumn was the first time since 2005 that we didn’t host.
Q: That was quite a run.
RG: We hosted eight kids in seven years. We doubled up one year. And we hosted even when the girls weren’t going to Aachen anymore, just because we understand that the hardest part of making the program work is lining up home-stays and host families. I, myself was an exchange student of sorts, though I didn’t live with a family during my years in Germany and Italy, but I deeply believe in the whole concept of the exchange—giving the kids opportunities to see what’s up in different countries. It’s enlightening. It’s eye-opening. It’s transforming, at least for most people. So, my ASCA connection was my small way of being a part of it.
Q: How were and are the German participants selected?
RG: My understanding is that our Sister City counterparts on the Aachen side put out the call for interested applicants to Aachen’s 20 or so high schools in the Spring. They always get more applicants than the number of open slots – I’ve heard 30-40 applicants for 18-24 slots, depending on the year. The list is then narrowed through various selection criteria: teacher recommendations, English language proficiency, interest in the cross-cultural opportunity, ability to be away from home for 2+ weeks, etc.. The families of the students applying must commit to hosting an Arlington student when our people travel to Aachen in the Summer, so that narrows the list of applicants because of summer vacation schedules, some families don’t have the extra space for a guest… In the past, high school students of all ages were eligible to participate and we would get kids from 15-19 years of age on the Inbound program. In the last couple of years, the Aachen side has changed the eligibility so that only 11th graders are going on the program, partly because their upcoming curriculum in school in that grade includes “The American Dream”.
Q: You came to ASCA almost accidentally while considering how to arrange an overseas experience for your children. Once your connection to ASCA began, how did the program appear to you? What was the balance of trials and tribulations versus satisfactions?
RG: There weren’t many trials and tribulations. The only trials and tribulations were the structural ones—you had to get them to the Metro by 8:00 in the morning and the like. But when you have kids that don’t yet drive, you’re doing that anyway. It wasn’t onerous by any means. And then it was great listening to their impressions of what they did during the day, how they perceived America as opposed to what they had thought before as a result of watching TV or hearing about it.
Back then, in 2005, as opposed to today in 2013, the program included kids of all ages, from 15 to 19 years old, though very few 19 year olds, reflecting the 13th year of school that had been the norm until very recently in Germany. So, the older students had already taken the comparative governments class at their gymnasiums. They knew quite a bit about German and U.S. politics and issues, including the institutions of government here. They could talk quite intelligently about these things. By contrast, these days, the groups are limited to their high school juniors and they haven’t taken those government classes yet. So if you were to refer to a major political figure even in Germany, like Angela Merkel, they might say “who?” The older, more schooled kids had interesting views and observations. Early on, my girls were fascinated with the reality that someone pretty much their age, maybe a year or two older, could just go to a bar and have a beer with their friends in their spare time. That was just jaw-dropping to them.
For the three weeks the kids were all well-mannered. No trials and tribulations. We really liked it. We enjoyed taking them places and having them see the sights. We took our first exchange student to Williamsburg for a weekend. I guess that visit reflected my interests more than hers, because you could tell that she wasn’t all that thrilled about American colonial history. But over time you learn to meet their needs and interests better.
We still stay in touch with a few of the kids that we have hosted here. Some have fallen off the edge of the earth and others are more interested in staying in touch.
Q: It sounds like you have developed a whole extended family through the program.
RG: That’s right, and a couple of them have been back. One came back and worked for CPRO—the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization—as an intern for the summer. Another was working at a Canadian summer camp and when she was done joined us here for a week or two. Olivia has seen a few of the students we have hosted here in Germany. A year ago Christmas she was in Germany and stayed with two of our former home-stays.
Q: Did your girls follow your pattern when they were in college and go off for longer periods to live overseas?
RG: Olivia spent a semester in Spain. She had Spanish in high school, but thought none of it had stuck. I said “You’ve got to get yourself into a Spanish-speaking environment and you’ll see how much you really know.” I begged her to go for a year, but because of the classes she needed to take, she ended up going from a semester. She really enjoyed it. So did Carol and I, since it provided a pretext for visiting her there.
Q: Where was Olivia’s program?
RG: It was in Malaga. On the Costa del Sol.
Q: And Lillian?
RG: Lillian has finished her Freshman year at Virginia Commonwealth University and has already declared two majors – Psychology and Sociology – and for that reason doesn’t think she has time to do an overseas semester or year, because she won’t be able to get the classes she needs. I am trying to change her mind, because VCU has either a school or a program in Doha – take that! Go to someplace non-western. Talk about eye-opening! We’ll see—it’s a work in progress.
Q: I had the same experience with my kids. Despite heavy encouragement from Pam and me, only one of the three did a semester program—it was in Siena, Italy.
RG: I am trying to convince Lillian. They must deal with the reality of globalization. It will imprint itself on her generation more than any other. She and I went to China when she was 11. Really turned on by the experience, upon her return to the States she started taking Chinese. She took two years of it. I am now encouraging her to reengage with that language. After all, we think we know what the future looks like with the U.S. and China. So far, the language classes are not happening. In retrospect, neither of my parents had been international relations-oriented. I just developed the interest, probably sparked by that mentor/professor.
Q: You were elected to the board of the Arlington Sister City Association in 2008, if I have the date right. What made you accept the nomination?
RG: I had been hosting Aachen students for some years by then. ASCA board chair Sandy MacDonald approached me with the idea. A short time before that I had been a candidate in the primary for the Arlington County school board. Sandy sought me out presumably on the basis of these two engagements in particular. “Sure!” I responded. I am infected with the volunteerism bug and so wasn’t at all resistant to her overture.
Q: You then took responsibility for the Aachen-Arlington high school exchange program.
RG: My memory about how precisely that happened is hazy. Part of a new Aachen committee team, Jennifer Wright had handled the entire high school exchange program one year, but it was too much for one person and she was more interested in the outbound group from Arlington. I think it might have been you who asked me to assume that responsibility.
Q: Indeed, it was. A magnificent decision on my part!
RG: It made sense: I had already had four or five years of experience under my belt. I looked at it as just another logistics challenge, which I am reasonably good at. You make a big list of things to do and then start making phone calls.
Q: Why would you willingly take on such a large responsibility with all that extra work?
RG: Well, this goes back to my volunteerism gene. I have been engaged in a lot of volunteer civic activity—neighborhood associations, their relationship to the county, trying to get services, trying to resolve problems. I was a PTA president for three years. I have this problem saying NO, particularly when I know that my involvement can do something, solve a problem, resolve an issue, or get a positive result. I don’t believe in “oh, let somebody else do it.” I think every one has a responsibility to step up a little bit. I am reasonably good at logistics; I am fairly detail-oriented; I make lists like nobody’s business—and that’s what it took. I got an orientation from Jennifer Wright—“you’ve got to call the hotel, you’ve got to do this and that…” So I just starting rolling with it, making adjustments along the way where I thought improvements were warranted and where it would work better for me, where I could manage it better.
Q: Describe the program as you received it and tell us how it evolved under your stewardship as director of inbound high school exchanges.
RG: The program was not in bad shape at all—I didn’t have to revamp it, only tweaked things here and there. The students arrived during Easter break. They were here for just shy of three weeks. The group travelled to New York City for a long weekend in the middle of the program. They flew in and out of Washington. Group activities were pretty much the same today as they were when I assumed responsibility: visits to Mount Vernon and the Mall, a day in Arlington public schools, a shopping trip to Potomac Mills.
A short time after I took over, the program was cut back to two weeks. I am not sure why that decision was made. I had heard that the Germans did not want to be out of school that long—they had a two week break, not three weeks. The three week program forced them to miss a week of school and that raised problems of homework, permissions from principals and all that. When I mentioned my understanding to one of the Aachen chaperones, the response was “No—we thought it was because YOU didn’t want to do three weeks on the American side.” I still don’t have a clear understanding of who initated the change or why.
During the whole period I was hosting students, the program elements were the same. One of them was a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. When I took over as the inbound coordinator and held meetings with the host families, there was controversy about going to the Holocaust Museum. They were pretty much evenly split: “you shouldn’t make the German kids do that. They already do Holocaust education; they visit real camps in Germany” versus “No, they need to see and hear the story here and the American narrative about the Holocaust.” Back and forth it went. Of course, I could argue this both ways, but I thought “it’s their trip—let me ask them what they want to do.” I asked the chaperone at the time and he said “Yeah, let’s move it to the back burner.” So we took it off the itinerary.
There were other things, too. They had been doing activities that they didn’t want to do anymore—they used to do some ropes course as a team-building exercise, quite expensive at $40 per kid, and we were trying to hold the costs down. Therefore, I started talking to our Aachen counterparts ahead of time, instead of just planning the itinerary: “What do you want to do? How about this, or this, or this?…Here are the costs. Do you want one day in school or two?” Out of this, a rapport developed between the chaperones and me. In the meantime, I know that our counterparts are having these sorts of pre-trip conversations with the Aachen students. They were thus able to plan better.
Q: You introduced a new evaluative instrument to the program.
RG: I created an exit interview questionnaire. It had two parts, the first of which elicited insights from the participants in short responses to equally short questions: What will I tell my Aachen friends about Arlington? What was the coolest thing I did? Fun questions like that. The other part was a matrix of different activities and a scaled menu of pre-set responses from which they could choose.
Q: You shared the results with me over the years and I sensed that the students engaged in the survey with great enthusiasm.
RG: The German kids were always very candid. But when you read through them, one says “I loved this and hated that,” while the next one says just the opposite. The chaperones also get the surveys and can subtly or not so subtly make changes in their planned itinerary and I am happy to accommodate them. In my opinion, there is no one itinerary that best teaches you about America in two weeks. They certainly hear about lots of sites and monuments, especially here in the Washington area, ditto for New York City—e.g., the Statue of Liberty—in that check-the-box dimension of tourism. But shopping. Shopping is the big thing—sightseeing is fine…as long as it doesn’t interfere with the shopping!
Q: Tell us how you lined up the home-stays.
RG: I started from the list that Jennifer Wright had from the previous year. I pinged all of them to see if they would host again. One or two did. And then I started e-mailing to neighborhood list-servs and the like. I would also get the flyer or info into the PTA newsletters. With some persistence, people would start to respond, slowly, and there were hiccups—people I thought were confirmed turned out not to be confirmed, etc. The process caused me quite a bit of heartburn some years as the deadline approached. I began to think: “OK, I can double my girls up in one room, put somebody in this room, someone else in that room, and a third student in another room…” In the end, everything always worked out, but there were weeks of elevated anxiety. I have twisted the arms of some friends and that has worked out very well. They have hosted on several occasions and have enjoyed it.
Q: It is clear that thanks to your work many people in the community have been mobilized to participate in the program. Do you think that Heidi Addison’s Aachen-Arlington exchange program for 5th graders helped the recruitment process?
RG: Yes, but I didn’t see the results of her program affecting ours until just recently, in the last couple of years, getting Arlington host families that had also been 5th grade participants. The dynamic is that 5th grade participants who want to return would agree to host a high school student from Aachen in reciprocity for returning to a home-stay in Arlington. So yes, it has definitely helped. Actually, I had this discussion with Tom Skladony [Reid Goldstein’s successor as in-bound high school coordinator] last night. We need to conduct a survey; we need to collect data to understand why Arlingtonians are not electing to visit Aachen through our program in larger numbers. Why aren’t most of the 5th grade participants participating again during their high school years? Why aren’t Arlington families and kids deciding to do the outbound program? But how do you conduct a survey of people who don’t participate?
Q: This is a good point to inject something about the dimensions of the program. You are managing a program that routinely gets 20-25 participants—because we limit it to that number—right?
RG: Apparently, in a process of nominations and referrals, our Aachen counterparts get around 30-40 applications and then narrow the pool down further. The most I have ever seen has been 25. That was difficult and Aachen understood that, so they have cut the group size back still further to 18. They also admitted that it was difficult for the chaperones to keep track of the larger number. Just as well, the smaller group is easier to house.
Q: Even the smaller number creates an asymmetry with us, since fewer parties can be induced to apply for our Aachen program.
RG: That’s right. I remember that the year we sent the biggest group  was the year we had all that trouble and had to send three kids home in the middle of the program. I don’t know. We were talking about this last night. Over here, kids of that age are being pushed by their parents to get jobs, so they’re not going in the summer. Now they are 16; they can get a part-time job. Then there are the sports programs that start in early August. Some are caught in that transition of last year: I was a camper, this year I am a counselor. Sometimes it is a training summer in anticipation of being paid the next summer. For whatever reason, we are not getting the candidate pool. We need to find out why. I have been encouraging an in-depth investigation into reasons for such a small outbound pool, but I am a lone voice.
One of the other things I do to recruit is attend the February Summer Activities Fair run by the County Parks and Recreation Office in conjunction with the school system. All the program offerors show up: private camps, county camps, tuba camp, computer camp—there must be easily 60-70 representatives in the gym. So Jennifer and I would go and set up a little table and talk about the benefits of the ASCA Aachen program. You can’t do Europe any less expensively. You can’t even go to camp in Pennsylvania for this kind of money.
Q: So what are the costs to the students?
RG: For outbound Arlington high school students to Aachen, I think the cost is $2,300 and that includes air-fare, which has gone up dramatically. Eight years ago, when we first joined the program, the cost was about $1,500. Virtually the entire difference is attributable to air-fare.
Q: That’s about $100 per day per student, beyond air-fare.
RG: That sounds about right.
Q: Did you get a sense of the costs the Aachen students are paying for their excursion to Arlington and New York City?
RG: I don’t know what that number is. For the three years that I have been doing this, our (ASCA-Arlington’s) charges to the Aachen visitors for what we set up here for them is the same figure as was passed to me by Jennifer: $275 per student. I have had to be very creative to contain our charge to that figure. In addition to what I am spending of their money—on tickets to Mount Vernon, bus tickets to New York, tickets to the Statue of Liberty, also a little to support the welcome and farewell parties—they are also spending money. They do things in New York that they are pre-planning themselves. There is always a trip to the Top of the Rock or the top of the Empire State Building. Those sorts of things are undertaken by Aachen; they don’t want me to do that and don’t need me to do that. Last year the Aachen leaders arranged to rent bikes in Central Park. This year they are talking about attending a Broadway show. I can only guess that, overall, it is cheaper for them to come here than for us to visit Aachen because of all the free (Smithsonian) museums. The Arlington kids who visit Aachen pay admission to everything.
Q: Anecdotes about some of the experiences you have had along the way? You started doing this in 2009.
RG: I think 2010 was my first year. Spring of 2010, spring of 2011, and then we shifted. Then I did fall of 2011, because I did it twice in six months, as we persuaded them to shift to the fall because we thought it was going to be easier to get host families. It had been murder to get host families at Easter time, as everybody is out of town: the juniors are visiting colleges, and everyone else is visiting grandma. Then I did the fall of 2012 and now we are coming up on the fall of 2013.
Q: What was your most rewarding or favorite outing with the Aacheners?
RG: Everywhere they go, we send along an Arlington chaperone (in addition to the chaperones from Aachen)—a parent, someone from ASCA—just in case something goes wrong. Similarly in New York, someone always goes along to be with them. Most of the time nothing happens. I don’t attend most of the activities while the group is here, because I am working. I usually accompany the group to New York and take time off from work to do that. So, the only time I am with them as a group is in New York and a little bit during the welcome and farewell parties.
In New York, the Aacheners seem to like walking the streets, more than, say, visiting the Statue of Liberty, which is more of an obligatory tourist moment. Street life is what they like most. We have been lucky. We haven’t had any catastrophes, no snafus. I have heard stories about them. For instance, a kid breaks his leg and is in the hospital for three weeks in the United States and the chaperone has to stay, instead of going back to Germany. The worst problem I have confronted is having to move some kids around between host families because the chemistry wasn’t working out. But I only did that once.
Q: A great record!
RG: My overriding logistical principle is NO SURPRISES!
Q: How about the chemistry with the chaperones that Aachen sends?
RG: I had met several of them already as a host parent. The first one I got to know through the planning process was Michael Propers. We formed a really good, friendly working relationship. Michael is also very detail-oriented. He was working hard, addressing issues, getting information. When we met, we just hit it off. A wonderful partner. And then there was Barbara Schulz-Herbertz, whom I had met several times, because she had come more than once as a chaperone when I was just a host parent. She and I also formed a very good working relationship. Helmut Feuerriegel also served as lead chaperone. He is great. They all came with somebody else who had a supporting role to these three. Barbara came with the Russian girl, Natalya. Michael came with Andrea. Helmut came with Sabine Schierp, who we all remember so fondly. I had known her before I became coordinator—a darling, darling person. Michael is repeating this fall, an unusual sequence, especially in light of the fact that the Aacheners have an excellent rotating line-up.
Q: Through the chaperones did you become acquainted with other Aachen sister city (Partnerschaftskomitee) people?
RG: Yes. A little bit. Traudl Kősters, for example. When she and her husband, Kiko, came over in 2009, we had a reception for them in the back yard here.
Q: I remember it well.
RG: We also met the new mayor, OB Marcel Philipp, when he made a private visit with his family a year ago last April. Carol and I went to Aachen in the summer of 2010 to drop of Lillian and we attended the welcome party and met several Aacheners, including Heidi Addison’s counterpart, Reinhard Germ. Silke Bastian, who I knew from earlier inbound visits, was present, as was Helmut and others.
Q: Now we need to move into the final phase of our discussion in which I would like to focus on ASCA’s significance overall. What do you think the Aachen relationship and indeed ASCA as a whole have been able to achieve?
RG: Starting with the high school exchange, the program has achieved a solid 20-year record of successful exchanges, and in both directions. Volume-wise, more Germans to America than Americans to Germany. In essence, this is what we are in business to do: provide the opportunity and logistics of the exchange and then let the students soak it up. I think they have done that admirably. Winningly.
Q: How do you see that? These things are notoriously difficult to measure. What difference do you think these programs have made?
RG: I know from the kids that we hosted, with whom we are still in touch, they are pursuing things. Are they pursuing them because of the exchange? I don’t really know. There is probably some relationship, mixed with other factors. One of the girls we hosted several years ago just got her Master’s degree in some aspect of international relations from Maastricht University. Another former home-stay is moving on a similar track.
Q: Do the kids keep in contact with each other?
RG: Some undoubtedly do. They form Facebook groups. I know an anecdote from one of the families who I encouraged to host. They hosted two girls, one of which later became involved in a long-distance relationship with their son that prompted him to travel to Germany a few times. That hasn’t evolved to a career in international relations, but that was never the goal. The goal has always been advancing cross-cultural understanding. It’s about breaking through stereotypes. The electronic age is homogenizing us. Last year, one of the visiting German kids said “it’s not so different here—I thought it was going to be different…”
Now, we and Aachen are both affluent first-world communities. In the structure of life and quality of living, they are not in fact so different.
Q: Do you have the sense that the kids are developing an organic point of reference for each other?
RG: Generally no, but there are some exceptions. A lot of these kids “friend” me on Facebook when they first come. So I see posts from them, but these are the more politically active kids. So they are posting articles and opinions and comments about political developments. In terms of affluence, we and they have gotten to the point where we don’t really need to be interested in the other country. You can just afford to do so, so what the hell? Maybe in the past it was prohibitively expensive and only the most driven and interested kid was going to save the money or convince the parents. Although, if I am talking to Bernie [Chapnick], he said that back in the beginning, it was ONLY affluent kids who could engage in these exchanges. That has been replaced. We now have quite a mixture, insofar as I have been able to meet them and make sense of their demographic profiles.
Q: Let’s conclude by talking about ASCA more generally. What do you make of ASCA, beyond the programs you have been personally involved with?
RG: I think ASCA is doing pretty well. This is part of a more general critique of Arlington County government and all bureaucracies. There is a tendency to make the new thing the sexy thing. The new brass ring gets more attention than the program that they’ve got. Maintenance isn’t cool. New acquisition is cool. There are new sister cities in the hopper. To be able to do as well with them as we are doing with Aachen or Reims, we need more dedicated people. We have five sister cities and are doing student exchanges with three of them, a teacher exchange with another, and art exchanges with a fifth city. That’s fine—they don’t all have to be student exchanges, though in my view, the great value of sister cities is introducing young people to a different culture, breaking down stereotypes and better cross-cultural understanding. That understanding also comes from art work.
I think some things that go on in the sister city board is emblematic of the Arlington bureaucratic model as a whole. A lot of people want to sit around and be graybeards and offer opinions and pontificate and do policy work, while not so many want to get their hands dirty with the necessary nuts and bolts of making it happen. I am not pointing fingers at anybody, but when you call people to ask them to join the ASCA board, what it signifies is they want my opinion about something, rather than come and do yeoman’s work to realize the good work of this organization. I don’t know the details of the finances or where the programs are succeeding or stumbling. My impression is more that dedicated people are needed, especially before ASCA branches out to a sixth sister city, unless you are going to take on a sister city that does not require a lot of work.
Chrystia [Sonevytsky] and her group did an outstanding job, starting with understanding our bureaucratic process, and how long and what it would take to have Ivano-Frankivsk blessed as a sister city. In that case, there was a whole cadre of people interested in furthering the committee and its relationship with Arlington.
I found that after serving three years on the ASCA board, my interest was more in making the exchange happen and much less in sitting in a board meeting discussing how the budget might be adjusted. I had been through too much of that with other civic organizations. There was not value-added for me. The value I brought to the organization was doing the coordinator’s job. And I realized I could do that without being on the board. So when my term was over I said adios.
Q: Before finishing, I wanted to provide you with a chance to articulate your view about one of the challenges that have recently presented themselves—legal liability issues for ASCA program leaders.
RG: In general, the problem is associated with the increasingly litigious character of our society. People have come to assume they are entitled to a risk-free world and that they are entitled to some compensatory payment when something happens. Hiccups, let alone catastrophes, tend to bring problems. Lawsuits are possibilities. That has been my worry. As I get closer to retirement, I don’t want to jeopardize my personal financial position. There are risks in undertaking this form of civic activism. There is a lot riding on choosing the right host families, for example. We have been lucky. But as we saw last year, there was some kid on some program [not an ASCA program] who wasn’t so lucky.
Q: What is the solution?
RG: I don’t know. There may not be a solution. In large organizations the solution is Director’s and Operator’s insurance. ASCA may not be big enough to afford that type of insurance. Or ASCA may not view such insurance as a necessary expenditure. My sister is a lawyer and I talked to her about it. She was sure that a set of industry standards exists for this kind of work, including steps that should be taken when interviewing candidates for host families and the like. Getting that structure more institutionalized would probably be a good step in the right direction. I once asked the ASCA chair what happens if something happens? Would ASCA provide legal services? The answer was basically no.
I would not, however, like to end our conversation with the idea I am moving on because of the liability issue, as real as it is. A fundamental factor is that my effectiveness is waning because I no longer have kids in the Arlington school system. I am no longer in touch with those groups of parents with kids of a similar age that I can work my magic with by twisting their arms and calling on my own personal credibility based on experience with the program. I know fewer and fewer people in the critical cohort, the pool of potential host families. You might be able to hold on to people for this position for four or five years or if their kids are spaced right even for eight to ten years, but eventually, they will lose their effectiveness.
Q: This is certainly an important piece of the puzzle. There is no one who has done this job with greater élan and success than you have, Reid. So, on the record, I want to thank you for your inspired, stellar service to the communities of Arlington and Aachen.
RG: There have been others, Bernie Chapnick for example, who did not have kids, but still managed the program well.
Q: That is true, but Bernie’s example points to yet another factor: success demands time to devote to the task.
RG: That’s right. You’ve got to have time. I have been lucky in that I sit at a desk in front of a phone and a computer all day, so I can do some of those things from work.
Q: But you do have a 9-to-5 job and there are limits to what you can do at work. Bernie, God bless him, is in the enviable position of having been in early retirement and so for the past ten years, ASCA has benefitted greatly from his willingness to donate his time to ASCA. But not everyone has that time.
RG: Agreed. And we are still benefitting from his interest as he serves as ASCA-Aachen’s banker and continues the SisterBike.
Q: In my experience, it takes special talents and an ineffable chemistry to achieve success.
RG: It requires what Arlington, as an affluent community, has: people with time, people with interest in what is happening beyond the horizon and willing to engage with communities from afar, and of course the personal resources to take advantage of the opportunities presented by our globalized world.
Q: Are you looking forward to the SisterBike in Italy?
RG: Yes, but I wish I was being more disciplined in my preparation. Bernie has a great program set up.
Q: Thank you for this interview, Reid.