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Cincinnati's sister city ties build more than economic, cultural bridges

Our 9 pairings create 'citizen diplomacy network'
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Posted at 6:01 AM, Aug 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-13 06:01:18-04

CINCINNATI – Amy Murray understands the value of a global worldview.

Though she’s served as Cincinnati City Council’s liaison to the Cincinnati USA Sister City Association for just a few years, she knew the value of sister city partnerships long before she considered running for office. In her youth, Murray spent a year studying in Kyoto, Japan.

“I know how living abroad and having an experience with another country when you’re young can impact your entire life,” Murray said.

Cincinnati’s partnerships with cities around the world offer educational opportunities for local high school students, as well as cultural, economic and technological benefits for the cities as a whole. Ratee Apana, president of the association, calls the partnerships “a citizen diplomacy network.”

“Today it’s much more than a cultural exchange and learning about people from other cities,” said Apana, an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business.

The centerpiece of the Cincinnati USA Sister City Association is its youth ambassador program, which annually organizes visits to foreign cities for between 60 and 80 students. “Each city has a unique program for them,” Apana said. “They learn a lot about history, about art, about culture, about industry, and they come back quite changed.”

In addition to student exchange programs, the association organizes exchanges of political leaders, businesspeople, teachers, firefighters and even chefs. Sometimes business opportunities arise from the partnerships, though that’s not their purpose, Murray said.

On July 24, a delegation from Gifu, Japan, met with city leaders in Newport for a ceremonial ringing of the World Peace Bell. Murray, former vice chairwoman of the Cincinnati-Gifu Sister City Committee, was there to greet Gifu city officials.

Some of the agreements are decades old, while others are relatively new. The partnerships form because, despite national boundaries, the cities can find common ground, Murray said, such as population, industry or geographical features.

The sister city association is an all-volunteer organization, and it is funded almost entirely by private donations. Despite that, the organization has been able to send about 15 economically disadvantaged Cincinnati Public Schools students abroad in each of the last four years, and Apana is determined to make the youth ambassador program accessible to even more children whose families couldn’t otherwise afford to participate.

Apana is working on finding ways for local high schools and universities to partner with the association and broaden its reach. She’s working to increase the organization’s membership and sponsors, too.

“There’s a lot more we can do,” she said.

The sister city programs have touched the lives and broadened the worldview of thousands, said Murray, who called the association her passion.

“If we can get more students to have the opportunity meet people from other countries, to share in friendship and fellowship, I think it makes it a safer world,” she said.

Cincinnati’s siblings

Cincinnati has sister city agreements with nine cities in Europe, Asia and Africa. Learn more about them through the Cincinnati USA Sister City Association’s website.

City

Country

Paired

Liuzhou

China

1988

Kharkiv

Ukraine

1989

Gifu

Japan

1988

Munich

Germany

1989

Nancy

France

1991

Harare

Zimbabwe

1990

New Taipei City

Taiwan

1994

Mysore

India

2012

Amman

Jordan

2015