In a world of clashing cultures and politics, people to people connections are the foundation to a better understanding of our differences and similarities. So says Mayor Chris Koos of Normal about the half century of the sister cities relationship between Bloomington-Normal and Asahikawa, Japan. 39 residents of Asahikawa are in Bloomington Normal this week honoring fifty years of friendship. Sister Cities Committee Chair Rich Strle says exchange participants come to a new city frequently not having very good language skills.
"And by the time their time is up here they don't want to go home. They are integrated into the community. They're having a great time. They're really enjoying themselves."
Strle says his own two daughters went on exchange visits and says that helped their comfort with travel and their intellectual development.
"Once you meet people from another culture and you live and you understand a little bit that we're all the same. And I think once you understand that, it's a little easier to get along in the world."
Bloomington Mayor Steve Stockton says having the wider world view an experience with a foreign culture offers benefits a person in their own community as well.
"Many people that travel abroad on the exchange programs realize that there is more than one way to do things. They see different cultures and say you know that's not a bad idea. That opens their minds and even when they come back they start to look for other ways of doing things even within our own society."
The program is mainly a student and cultural exchange, though some business opportunities have also arisen over the decades. Mayor Stockton says he believes the Mitsubishi plant would not be in Normal without the sister city program. A 39 member delegation from Japan is in town to dedicate a Tea House garden on the constitution trail and do other activities this week. The Mayor of Asahikawa presented Strle with a medal making him an honorary citizen of the northern Japanese city of some 352,000 people. The Mayors of Bloomington and Normal are also hailing the relationship saying they look forward to extending and deepening the cultural connections.
Support Your Public Radio Station