Teens in Southlake have many opportunities to broaden their horizons, including to the Far East. Thanks to Southlake Sister Cities (SSC), which has official agreements with Suzhou Wuzhong, China, and Tome, Japan, teens can travel to these countries to further the non-profit organization’s mission of fostering global understanding, friendship and communication through education and exchanges. SSC coordinates adult and youth ambassador exchange trips between the two countries.
As part of its friendship city agreement with Wuzhong, the first-ever Southlake youth ambassador exchange trip took place March 8-15, during Carroll ISD’s Spring Break. Accompanied by Jeff Wang, president of SSC and city councilman, and his wife, five students were paired with host families in Wuzhong during their stay to experience first-hand the Chinese culture. In addition, a well-planned itinerary included a visit to Jiangsu Foreign Language School, exploring historical sites, and a two-day tour of Shanghai.
Plans for the youth ambassador trip have been in the works for awhile. An adult delegation, including Wang, Southlake Mayor John Terrell and CISD Assistant Superintendent Derek Citty, visited Wuzhong in 2010 to speak with local government and school officials about youth delegations visiting both countries. The goal is to make this an annual trip and applications are already being accepted for the next trip during CISD’s 2014 Spring Break.
According to Wang, the student trip exceeded everyone’s expectations.
“On a scale of one to ten, I rate it as a 10.5. It truly is an experience of a lifetime,” says Wang, noting one student has already asked to return. “This first trip was very important in setting the course for the future.”
The feelings must be mutual as a youth delegation from Wuzhong will visit Southlake this fall during CISD’s homecoming. The Carroll Dragons were introduced in Wuzhong as part of a presentation to officials that included a Dragons football helmet.
Wang adds that he is working to setup an exhibit at CISD and city facilities to display photographs taken during the trip to increase student interest in the program.
This June, a youth ambassador group will travel to Tome, Japan, which Southlake has had a Sister City agreement since 1991 and sends a youth delegation each summer. After arriving in Tokyo and then a bullet train ride to Tome, students and chaperone(s) are paired with host families for their week-long stay. In addition to experiencing Japanese culture, customs and cuisine, the host families escort the youth ambassadors to many places in Tome, known for its samurai history, as well as scenic Matsushima.
Accompanying the nine students to Tome is Brett Wilson, who has worked for Southlake Department of Public Safety for 12 years and is currently a school resource officer (SRO) at CISD’s two middle schools.
Officer Wilson believes she will be an asset to the teens going on the trip, but that she can also use the experience to help raise awareness about Sister Cities.
“My calling is youth and to help them make good decisions — wherever they are. It is important to be in a safe travel environment by using common sense and being aware of your surroundings,” she states. “I’m in the schools every day and I’ve never heard of this program. There are many kids who would love the opportunity to visit outside Southlake.”
The City of Southlake sends an application to city staff each year to apply to be the youth delegation chaperon to Tome. A panel consisting of Southlake Sister Cities board members and Candice Edmondson, deputy director of community services and staff liaison to SSC, reviews the applications and interviews the candidates.
To qualify as a youth ambassador, students must be a resident of Southlake or current member of Southlake Sister Cities; and between 15-18 years of age (at the time trip begins). To qualify, students must submit a recommendation from a teacher or counselor and attend mandatory orientation(s) prior to the trip.
Membership in Southlake Sister Cities is open to individuals, youth, families, non-profit/civic organizations, for profit businesses, and patrons. For more information, go to www.southlakesistercities.org.