Friday, August 5, 2011

Building Bridges Between U.S., France

Friday, August 5, 2011

In honoring her husband's legacy, Dening Wu Lohez is hoping to build cultural understanding between French and American college students.

Ms. Lohez's husband, Jérôme, worked in the North tower of the World Trade Center and died in the September 11 attacks.


Dening Wu Lohez

The couple met while graduate students at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. She is a lifelong Francophile and an immigrant from Shanghai and he was an exchange student from Paris.

"Eventually one day he talked to me and so then that was it," she says. "That's destiny."

After her husband's death, Ms. Lohez sought a meaningful way to carry forward his name. One of the things that most struck and angered her after the attacks was the rift between France and the U.S. and the divergent views in foreign policy.

This was around the time in the U.S. when French fries were called "freedom fries," there was a boycott on French wines and when a salesman in France told her that, because of American foreign policy, that the 9/11 attacks were deserved, she recalls. The "misunderstanding between our great democracies," she says, gave the foundation its focus.

So, with the help of then French Consul General François Delattre—who now serves as France's ambassador to the U.S.—Ms. Lohez launched a foundation that seeks to create mutual understanding in politics and culture between the two countries.

"I want people to remember my husband on a grander level," says Ms. Lohez, 41 years old and a lecturer in economics at the City University of New York. "So I hope that by funding an exchange … we can promote a mutual understanding."

Another hope is to foster the value that, "entrepreneurship and religious tolerance are the core of our American culture," she says. "I am an immigrant. Jérôme was an immigrant. We felt that we owe this country a lot."

Since its founding in 2005, the Jérôme Lohez Foundation has awarded $37,500 in scholarships to 17 French and American graduate students.

On Thursday night, the foundation awarded $3,000 scholarships to three students studying law and journalism at Columbia University and another who is a student at Stevens Institute.

Previous winners include engineers, scientists and a U.S. Army captain who will teach at West Point.

The foundation is supported mostly by American donors, but the French consulate has supported the foundation's annual gala.

Write to Melanie Grayce West at

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