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ATISSA DORROH-MANSHOURI

Graduating Class: 1985
Current Position: Development at the California Film Institute/Mill Valley Film Festival
Current Location: Mill Valley, California
Education / School 1: Georgetown University
People say that the sure sign of being fluent in a foreign language is to dream in that language. I remember the first time I had a dream in French; it must have been second or third grade, when visions of Petit Nicolas were still dancing in my head. What a strange but thrilling experience —in my dream, everyone was speaking French, including me. There was no other language, there were no translations, just French, and it was all
perfectly natural.

Twenty years later, and the thought of dreaming in French has taken on a very different meaning. When a child learns another language and another culture at a young age, there is an imperceptible opening of the mind that only really begins to take shape as that young person becomes an adult. My memories of EB begin with my friendships, my wonderful teachers, the sometimes unorthodox classroom activities, and a growing love of language. I couldn’t really pinpoint the moment in which I learned that there was a huge world out there, and it was all mine to explore. But looking back now, I can definitely trace that feeling back to Ecole Bilingue.

Wanderlust isn’t generally incorporated into standard American
school curricula. But ask any student who’s graduated from EB where they’ve traveled, and the answers will astonish—France, of course, but also the rest of Europe, the Middle East, South America, China, Japan, all over Africa, and the list goes on and on. After three years at FAIS in San Francisco—where my linguistic wanderlust prompted me to start Chinese as a third language—I spent four years at Phillips Academy in Andover, where I continued to study French and Chinese. When I was sixteen years old (an age when most kids are obsessing about their first car), I spent the summer in China, and had my first dream in Chinese.

It seemed somewhat inevitable that I would wind up a Language major at Georgetown University. Italian joined the roster with Chinese and French, and a few months spent in beautiful Florence sealed the relationship—in no time I was dreaming in Italian. I discovered a new interest in art and the history of art—and conveniently, a new reason to spend time in France and Italy. Graduate school found me in London, studying for an MA in Art History—French art from the 1960s to be specific. For my thesis, I seized the opportunity to spend time in Paris and focused on three somewhat forgotten French painters of the late 1960s. Before my final exams, I may have even had my first nightmare in
French.

My language skills were put to practical use on a fairly regular basis as I started my first job with a London contemporary art gallery. In my efforts to communicate with artists, I learned how lucky I was to speak other languages and to understand
different ways of being and thinking. More than just being able to speak another language, my education at EB had opened me to the possibility of thinking differently.

Now I am back in the Bay Area, happily married and working for the California Film Institute/Mill Valley Film Festival in a development role. Needless to say, I am thrilled that part
of our mission is to bring filmmakers from around the world to the Bay Area to present their work. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, that huge world out there will come to us. But more often, we must go out and explore it ourselves. I still have dreams in French, still look for any conceivable excuse to jump on the next plane to Europe, still hope that there will be other languages for me to dream in and other parts of the world to discover. And I often remember that first time that I dreamed in French, and think with gratitude about all the other dreams that came afterwards.
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