Some crusade for new 'sister'

A French teacher offered her students extra credit if they would write a letter to the city explaining why they like the idea of

A French teacher offered her students extra credit if they would write a letter to the city explaining why they like the idea of

April 29, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

Some students taking French classes at Saint Maria Goretti High School, their teacher and others say they hope the City of Hagerstown accepts an offer by the French city of Saumur to become sister cities.

Most local residents who have spoken publicly on the issue have opposed the proposal, citing French President Jacques Chirac's criticism of the war in Iraq as the reason for their opposition and saying the timing is inappropriate.

Kathryn Sindell, a Hagerstown native who moved to Saumur in late 2002, approached the city as the representative of a Saumur association before the war began.


She didn't send the official proposal until after the war had started.

Lisa A. Younkins, who teaches French at Goretti, said Monday that letters and comments criticizing the proposal and the French have irked her.

In a letter to Mayor William M. Breichner, Younkins wrote that there could be a pen pal program between students in the two cities, including her classes, through which "students can discover cultural and ideological similarities and differences in a candid setting."

She said that if Hagerstown approves the sister-city relationship, she would plan a student exchange program and trips to Saumur for students and community members.

"The long-term advantages of this program far outweigh the short-term narrow-mindedness of a petty mini-cultural war where 'we' dump French wine on the streets ... In fact this current mindset further proves that we need to embrace these chances to expand our knowledge of the French people and culture," Younkins wrote.

Younkins offered her students extra credit if they would write a letter to the city explaining why they like the idea. About 15 students took her up on the offer.

"It needs to be understood that countries around the world will always see things through a perspective unlike those around them," one student wrote. "Instead of changing the world we should learn to appreciate what we cannot understand."

Hagerstown can learn from Saumur as it has from its other sister city, Wesel, Germany, the student wrote.

Another student wrote that by gaining a sister city, Hagerstown would be taking a small step toward ensuring the advancement of world peace.

Cynthia Garland, who lives and works in Hagerstown, said she is not a fan of Chirac and agrees the timing of the proposal was bad, but said she does not think those problems justify rejecting an offer of friendship from another nation.

"The best way to avoid misunderstandings is to have dialogue and talk to others," said Garland, who has been friends with Sindell for about 15 years.

Jeanne Gayrard Jacobs, who grew up in France and has taught French in local schools for years, said she supports the idea.

"If we can welcome Japanese and Germans by the planeload, when their countries caused many casualties among our servicemen, certainly friendship with a French city that welcomed our GIs can only benefit Hagerstown and open a dialogue that is much needed. Let's not be petty," she wrote in a recent letter.

On Friday she said that many people in Hagerstown seem unaware of French history and are too focused on the current disagreement.

The relationship with Wesel initially faced criticism from some residents angry about Germany's conduct in World War II, but citizens of one nation should not judge all citizens of another nation based on actions of their government, Breichner said.

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