There’s nothing more French than the lights of the Eiffel Tower, shopping on the Champs-Élysées and celebrating Thanksgiving at Le Grand Carnot.
“I have a butcher who gets these incredible free-range turkeys from Italy,” says Leslie Nelson Cressy ’82, a 30-year resident of France. “And I buy sweet potatoes and fresh cranberries at the local French market.”
Cressy is president of the USC Alumni Club of Paris. Her annual Thanksgiving feast, now in its eighth year, is the club’s signature event, ringing in the holidays for scores of Trojans based in the City of Lights and outposts across Europe. (The event may have been especially important this year as Paris recovers from recent tragedy.)
Widely known for its presence in the Pacific Rim, USC also has a significant European alumni base. The Trojan spirit is particularly strong in London, Paris and Munich, where active alumni clubs engage with a few hundred alumni and friends of USC every year.
Walter Ladwig ’98, a lecturer in international relations at King’s College London, leads the USC Alumni Club of London, the largest club in Europe. In Munich, tech entrepreneur John Beckner ’82 oversees the USC Alumni Club of Germany, which also attracts alumni from Austria and Switzerland.
Each club has its own vibe. The Paris club, for example, specializes in cultural events—such as private tours of the Monet exhibit at the Grand Palais or the Louis Vuitton Foundation museum (designed by Frank Gehry ’54).
The London Club concentrates on meet-ups with USC headliners visiting the metropolis. Its Twitter tagline: “Keep Calm and Fight On!” The club had a banner year in 2012, when the London Olympics and the USC Global Conversation brought waves of world-class Trojan athletes, trustees, star faculty and the Trojan Marching Band to town.
Members of the USC Alumni Club of Germany are based in 30 cities across Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Beckner says, giving the group a decentralized feel. The club’s signature event, Oktoberfest, draws Trojans from far and near. Lately the Munich-based businessman has taken his club on the road. In June, he organized a cocktail and dinner party with 20 alumni in Warsaw, Poland. Next up: Vienna, Zurich and Berlin.
European alumni clubs typically host an event each month—say, a traditional Bavarian wine tasting, Christmas market, or picnic in Hyde Park on the BBC Proms “Last Night,” the closing event of summer season concerts. There are yearly events, such as summer SCend Offs for incoming freshmen from Europe, community projects on the Alumni Day of SCervice and college fairs. “We were located near Harvard and Stanford,” says Cressy, of her club’s table in a Paris hotel last September. “We were proud to be amongst the busiest. It was wonderful.”
Of course, the clubs host events around Trojan football, though logistics can be tricky when games kick off at 2 a.m. local time. “This season, most of our screenings are tape-delayed for Sunday morning brunch viewings,” Ladwig says. “Fortunately, we have a good relationship with a sports bar in Marylebone that hosts us.”
All three clubs make a point of embracing the hundreds of USC undergraduates who study in Europe each year. “We open our arms to them,” says Cressy, who along with her husband, Gérard, has hosted five exchange students so far in their Neuilly-sur-Seine flat.
Not a week goes by that these busy club presidents aren’t fielding requests from Europe-bound Trojans seeking an introduction, travel tips or a lead on finding a place to live or work.
It seems the farther Trojans live from USC, the more they yearn for a connection to the Trojan Family. “I always feel a kinship when we meet other alumni from around the world,” says Jen Ladwig ’99, past president of the London club and a senior consultant with Q5. “We’re like magnets drawn to each other.” (She’s married to current club president Walter Ladwig—they met as college tour guides at USC.)
Living in France for the past 30 years has only strengthened Cressy’s Trojan pride. “Those four years at ’SC were some of the best years of my life,” says the former two-time national champion volleyball player who now runs her own entertainment business. “You want to stay connected to people who can make the same claim.”
The European club presidents have infused their Trojan passion in their bicultural offspring. Beckner’s two children, Alysa and Connor, are both at USC now. Cressy’s oldest son, Jonathan Cressy ’11, MS ’12, graduated from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering with a minor from the USC Marshall School of Business. And the Ladwigs’ 3-year-old son, Walter IV, frequently romps around London in his USC “Class of 2034” shirt.
Jen Ladwig, who served on the USCAA Board of Governors from 2013-2014, sums up the expats’ feelings this way: “I think it’s because the university isn’t at our back door that we don’t take it for granted.”