WorldChicago is in the business of connecting people. Through introducing international visitors to our Chicago-area citizen diplomats, WorldChicago has enabled industry expansion, strategic partnership creation, and—of course—the forging of new friendships.
David Reithoffer, a Chicago resident with a background in French language and literature, finds ways to integrate his global outlook into both his professional and personal lives. Professionally, he serves as The Bank of America Chicago Marathon’s official representative to France, as well as the President of Reithoffer Realty, Inc., a firm that assists French clients looking to buy real estate in Chicago. On a personal level, he has delighted in hosting international visitors from various countries in his home for over 30 years, including 20 WorldChicago program participants from Ukraine, Moldova, Iraq, Cambodia, Chad, Belarus, and more. David enjoys sharing his life with his guests—whether that involves volunteering at a community event or hosting a picnic in Millennium Park—as well as learning about them and their lives. The exchange doesn’t stop when his guests depart for their home countries, either: he frequently keeps in touch with them through email, and even occasionally through travel.
During the summer of 2016, David hosted Pavel Nishchanka from Belarus, a participant in the Community Connections Program: an exchange facilitated by WorldChicago in partnership with World Learning and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Pavel is an urban planner by trade, and his program focused on the role of civic engagement in urban development. Passionate about all things related to urban planning, Pavel was thrilled to have the chance to explore Chicago, as well as other U.S. cities mentioned in what he calls the ‘Bible’ of urban planning: The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. He remarked that staying with David was one of the highlights of his experience, referencing the way that David illuminated the city for him. “Connecting with people – that’s David’s calling,” Pavel added.
Pavel planned a second trip to the United States in January 2020. He reached out to David, intending to visit him in Chicago, but David had already scheduled a road trip to Florida for the same dates. As it turned out, a road trip across the U.S. was Pavel’s dream, and he wasted no time in boldly offering David his companionship. David’s reaction to the idea? “Of course!”
The pair’s three week-long odyssey included such stops as Cleveland, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Savannah, St. Petersburg, and Miami. Pavel again loved the chance to visit novel American cities, comparing each to “a new chapter in a book.” He was also struck by the dramatic change in temperature over the course of the three weeks, remarking, “That was a totally unique experience—within the borders of one country, you can go from snow-covered Cleveland to tropical Miami.” Before the trip, Pavel read a travel memoir written in the 1930s by two Soviet newspaper correspondents who spent three and a half months living in the U.S. Pavel couldn’t believe that, as the book describes, bedside tables in American hotel rooms actually have Bibles inside. During one stop along their route, he checked—and there it was, over 80 years later!
For David, a funny moment occurred when the two visited St. Petersburg, Florida. They had joked that Americans must not know the “real” city behind the name St. Petersburg, where Pavel had traveled several times. However, together, they found out that the Florida city was named in tribute to its Russian counterpart. Why? One of its two founders beat the other in a coin toss, and he felt a special affinity for the city, having spent the first half of his life there.
In both David’s and Pavel’s views, interacting with friends and strangers alike served as the highlights of the road trip. Pavel appreciated everyone’s interest in where he came from, commenting, “their eyes lit up like they were 15 years old.” David was pleased with how well Pavel mixed with his friends along the way, calling the situation a “win win.”
The two road trip veterans look forward to keeping in touch, and hopefully to more visits, in either the U.S. or Europe. In Pavel’s words: “After this trip, I’m convinced we have become lifetime friends.”