As the saying goes, friendship knows no distance. This is certainly the case for Southlake and Suzhou Wuzhong District, China. Although thousands of miles and an ocean apart, the two cities signed a Friendship City agreement in November 2010 to develop a reciprocal relationship and promote cultural exchanges. Operating under the same guidelines as the Sister City relationships Southlake has with Tome in Japan and El Fuerte in Mexico, the term Friendship City is used in China.
As part of the Friendship City agreement, the first Southlake youth ambassador exchange trip is planned March 8-15, 2013, during Carroll ISD’s Spring Break. A life changing event, students and chaperones are paired with Wuzhong host families during their stay to experience first-hand the Chinese culture. In addition, a well-planned itinerary combines historical, educational, and cultural activities:
The approximate cost of the trip is $2000 per person (including airfare) and applications, available online, in the Southlake Public Library, or the Community Services Department must be submitted by December 15. To qualify as a youth ambassador, students must be a resident of Southlake or current member of Southlake Sister Cities; between 15-18 years of age (at the time trip begins); submit a recommendation from a teacher or counselor; and attend mandatory orientation(s) prior to the trip.
According to Candice Edmondson, the City’s staff liaison to Southlake Sister Cities, being a youth ambassador means representing Southlake and the United States.
“Being a youth ambassador to another country is a huge honor. We want to instill in the kids that they are representing their school, community and country,” she said.
Plans for the youth ambassador trip have been in the works for awhile. An adult delegation, including Southlake City Council Member Jeff Wang, who is also president of Southlake Sister Cities, visited the Wuzhong District of Suzhou, China in November 2011 to speak with local government and school officials about youth delegations visiting both countries. The hope is to make these trips an annual occurrence.
Suzhou, which has a population of more than six million, is a cultural city with a history spanning 2,500 years. It is located at the entrance of the Yangtze River Delta in China. With a network of rivers and canals as well as fertile land, the city is rich in a variety of agricultural products. Suzhou has been referred to as the “City of Gardens,” “Land of Fish and Rice,” “Silk Capital” and “Paradise on Earth.” Aside from its beauty, Suzhou is also an economic powerhouse— ranked first for contracted foreign capital and fourth in total import/export volume in China. Wuzhong District (pop. 600,000) enjoys a history of well developed culture, picturesque landscape and is the cradle land of ancient Wu Culture.
Southlake Sister Cities is also accepting applications for its annual youth delegation trip to Tome, Japan, which has been a Sister City since 1991. Each summer, a group of Southlake students and chaperone(s) head to the Far East for a once-in-a-lifetime Japanese experience. After arriving in Tokyo and then a bullet train ride to Tome, they are paired with host families for their week-long stay. In addition to experiencing Japanese culture, customs and cuisine first-hand, the host families escort the youth ambassadors to many places in Tome, known for its samurai history, as well as scenic Matsushima.
Tome is located in the northeast part of the Miyagi Prefecture with a population of approximately 91,905 residents. Tome was originally a district that consisted of eight towns, including Southlake’s original Sister City, Toyoma. In April 2005, the towns merged with the town of Tsuyama, formerly of the Motoyoshi District, to form the new city of Tome.
Southlake Sister Cities (SSC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering global understanding, friendship and communication through education and exchanges. Membership is open to individuals, youth, families, non-profit/civic organizations, for profit businesses, and patrons. For more information, go to www.southlakesistercities.org.