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Fayetteville’s sister city awaits a local high school student studying French


Parlez-vous français?

Are you a Cumberland County high school student learning the language and about the French culture? If you are, the Fayetteville-Saint-Avold Friendship Alliance is offering you quite the scholarship opportunity to further your studies.

This has been a goal of mine since the inception of the FSAFA,” says Kris Johnson, the alliance president. “To renew the exchange experiences of our youth.”

When it comes to building the relationship between Fayetteville and our sister city from France, you’ll find no one more passionate than Johnson, who is following in the footsteps of the late Martha Duell, our native French lady who brought the sister city program to life. She died at age 90 on July 24, 2015.

Duell would be cheering on this opportunity for every high school student, who shares a love for France and its way of life.

“We are offering a cultural experience scholarship for a deserving high school level student who is studying French to go to Saint-Avold, France, for a week from the end of May to the first week of June,” Johnson says. “Oh, and it is all expenses paid. We will pay for the airfare for a selected student who resides in Fayetteville, and a parent or guardian, to Europe and participate in Saint-Avold's ‘American Week’ from May 24 to June 1.”

A picturesque place

Those who have been to Saint-Avold will tell you the countryside is beautiful, the city proper is quaint, inviting and a place of historic attractions to include old churches and cathedrals and the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial, with more than 10,000 World War II American soldiers buried there. Twenty-two of those U.S. soldiers, according to Johnson, are from North Carolina, including Pvt. William Shaw, whose father was the Fayetteville postmaster.

“I have not been provided the itinerary yet, but I do know that the group from Fayetteville will go to the Memorial Day ceremony at the Lorraine American Cemetery,” Johnson says. “They will have the opportunity to pay respects at Pvt. William Shaw’s grave as well.”

Johnson has visited Saint-Avold twice.

“The first time as a ‘private citizen,’” she says. “My dad, who was a former Marine, my sister and her husband, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, joined me in October 2019. A highlight was a visit to the Lorraine American Cemetery, where I paid respects to our son of Fayetteville, Pvt. William Shaw, who is buried there. And my dad and brother-in-law were given the honor of folding the American flags at retreat at the end of the day.”

Johnson returned in May 2022 representing the alliance.

“I was able to meet with Mayor Rene Steiner to discuss our goals and visions for the Sister City relationship,” she says. “I met with teachers to discuss student exchanges, and I went to the Memorial Day ceremony at the cemetery. For a city of 20,000, they sure know how to treat their guests.”

Hospitable people

Saint-Avold residents, Johnson says, are welcoming and hospitable people.

“Saint-Avold is a working-class city of 20,000 people,” she says. “It is so close to the Germany border that you do see that influence in the area” of names, architecture and cuisine. “They have not forgotten and still honor the Americans who fought for their freedom from Nazi occupation. The older generation still remembers the Americans who rolled into the city and drove out the Germans.” 

There’s just something, Johnson says, unique about Saint-Avold.

“It has the beauty of a European city,” she says. “Even their lamp posts are beautiful. And, of course, the food is amazing. The hotel in the center of town, Hotel du Paris, has a pastry shop on the first floor. A daily breakfast of fresh baked croissants and superb coffee — une cafe avec du lait — were enjoyed thoroughly. The people walk as from point A to point B as much as they can. They would never consider jumping into cars to go three blocks over.” 

And, Johnson says, Saint-Avold embraces its sister city bond with Fayetteville.

“Saint-Avold takes their relationship with Fayetteville seriously,” she says. “In 1994, they named a street Avenue de Fayetteville, which Madame Martha Duell helped to unveil. They are proud of their connection with us, and for being the city that the largest American WWII cemetery in Europe rests.” 

Johnson certainly is right about Saint-Avold’s people. Those of us who met Mayor René Steiner, Deputy Mayor Ramonde Schweitzer and Saint-Avold historian Pascal Flaus when they were here in September for the 30th anniversary celebration of the Sister City relationship with Fayetteville can attest to their personable ways.

“Once the student and parent or guardian arrive in Frankfurt, Germany, the closest airport to Saint-Avold, they will be guests of the city of Saint-Avold,” Johnson says. “Lodging and meals will be provided by Saint-Avold, and the FSAFA will pay for the airfare.”

The scholarship, you’ll have to agree, is quite an opportunity for a Cumberland County high school student in his or her studies of the French language and its culture.

Karen Canady, herself a French teacher in the Cumberland County Schools System, is sending applications to French teachers in the county, according to Johnson, including private schools and home-school students. Canady is head of the alliance educational committee. Deadline to apply is April 17. Students also may apply by email to  FayNC_SaintAvold@yahoo.com


Kris Johnson knows how educational this visit can be.

“As a high school student many years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to France during spring break on a school sponsored trip,” she says of “a long, long time ago” as a student at Monroe-Woodbury High School in Central Valley, N.Y. “I learned more French that week than I had in the year I had been studying. Visiting another country and having an opportunity to experience a different culture is an enriching experience. Using a second language where that is the native tongue is educational and enhances the French studies for the student.”

She gives thought the cultural experience awaiting a high school student studying France in our local schools.

“I adore Saint-Avold,” Kris Johnson says. “It is not Paris. It is so, so much better.”


Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

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