Did you know that the city you live in has a sister somewhere in the world? Maybe it even has two or three sisters. The town I live in, Bellingham, Washington, has six of them. What am I talking about? Let me explain.
In 1953, former President, Dwight D. Eisenhower created a program encouraging U.S. cities to develop relationships with foreign cities all around the world to promote what he called “people to people diplomacy.” You see, after World War II ended, the international image of the United States needed a little help, and Eisenhower rightly believed that the best people to repair this image were the citizens themselves, rather than the politicians.
Well, here we are in 2010. The world is a very different place than it was in Eisenhower’s day. We’re a global community largely because of the internet, but I would argue that the best way to really continue the progress we’re making in global business and policy is still at the person to person level. We have to get out into the world and build relationships!
This is one reason I got involved with the Bellingham Sister Cities Association, so that when I traveled internationally, I could start with a relationship that already existed between my town and a town far away. In the last few years, I’ve visited three of my city’s sisters: Punta Arenas, Chile (the “gateway” to Antarctica), Tateyama, Japan, and Port Stephens, Australia (where I watched whales in the South Pacific Ocean).
Here are the travel benefits to becoming involved in YOUR city’s sister cities organization:
1. Ready-made friends. If you choose to travel internationally you will already know individuals who can guide you when you land. In each of the sister cities I’ve visited, I made contacts with people who had visited Bellingham in the past, received hospitality from us and were eager to return the favor.
2. Locals know their town better than any travel guide you can buy. You can have on-site experts available to you with just a little bit of email communication before you leave home. You’ll know the best restaurants, places to stay, ballet performance venues – whatever you’re into – with very little research on your part. All you need to do is be willing to build relationships.
3. A chance to make a difference. Most sister city programs have sports or educational exchanges, humanitarian projects or business partnerships they maintain. If you like to travel to make a difference, you can tap into projects already in motion.
4. Travel without leaving home. If you want yourself or your children to experience other cultures, but you can’t afford to travel, you can offer to be a host to those coming from your sister cities. Just this year, my town has had more than a dozen visitors whom I’ve gotten to hang out with without buying a plane ticket.
Think about it. Check out Sister Cities International for more information.