Jumping across the ocean and cultural barriers
In late August, Wilsonville will celebrate its long-lasting relationship with a city on the other side of the world — Kitakata, Japan.
To honor the 30-year anniversary of the formation of the sister city relationship between the two cities, delegates such as the mayor of Kitikata and other prominent dignitaries will travel to Wilsonville, explore the community, meet with local officials and celebrate the anniversary as well as the 50-year anniversary of Wilsonville's founding.
Sister City International was formed at the 1956 People-to-People Conference — where former President Dwight D. Eisenhower brought in citizens from a variety of backgrounds to Washington D.C. to discuss diplomacy. The SSI was created "as a network of citizen diplomats that would champion peace by fostering bonds between different communities around the world," according to the Sister City International website.
The sister city relationship between Wilsonville and Kitakata was formed in 1988 with the mission to to "deepen the understanding and friendship between the two cities through programs in such fields as education, culture and economy," according to the founding document. Wilsonville's Sister City Association, which organizes trips and exchanges between the two cities, is run based on volunteers, membership dues and donations.
Since the first delegation embarked from Kitakata to Wilsonville in 1989, hundreds of students from Kitakata and Wilsonville High School have traveled to their sister city and Wilsonville mayors and local officials make the trip to Kitakata every few years.
"The huge value of a sister city program is that it really shows us how we are more similar than different. Even with the differences in culture, language and customs, the bottom line is that people are more alike than different," Wilsonville Sister City Association President Bev Schalk said. "Over the years there's been a lot of really strong friendships formed between students and business leaders between the two countries."
Kitakata is located about 4.5 hours from Tokyo in the Fukushima prefecture, has a population of about 52,000, has a varied climate including snow in the winter and hot summer days and is mostly an agricultural community. Schalk has visited Kitakata three times and said the city is similar to how she imagines Wilson-
ville looked a few decades
"Kitakata doesn't have huge buildings or a big town center. It's more of a suburb feeling surrounded by farmland," Shalk said.
When she last visited Kitakata three years ago, Schalk noticed that the city deals with similar problems as Wilsonville such as business and economic development. But Kitakata has the misfortune of being located in the same prefecture, Fukushima, as the site of the the 2011 nuclear disaster in which radioactive material discharged from a nuclear plant after a major earthquake.
"People were worried about purchasing food items from Kitakata. That was something they were struggling with. The tourism stopped," Schalk said.
Every even year 10-15 Wilsonville students travel to Kitakata. And every odd year Kitakata sends between 10 and 20 students to Wilsonville.
"I think it's really valuable for students to learn when they're fairly young that different is really interesting," Schalk said. "Just because something is different doesn't mean it's weird or wrong. I think it broadens our mind and our thinking."
On Aug. 20, an adult delegation from Kitakata will arrive in Wilsonville for the first time since 2008. During the trip, the delegation will visit Multnomah Falls, the Rose Quarter, wineries near Wilsonville, attend a Wilsonville City Council meeting and the Wilsonville Community Block Party in Town Center Park that will celebrate the city's 50-year anniversary.
"I think it does deepen our understanding and friendships," Schalk said of the sister city relationship. "It opens our minds and our hearts to people from another part of the world."