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Sister Cities connects the world

Published 10:00pm Monday, July 15, 2013

Of all the things I cover on a fairly regular basis, one of the coolest and little-known-about programs in Suffolk is Sister Cities.

Without getting to know something about the program, it’s easy to misconceive of what the group actually does. It’s not just an official declaration that Suffolk is a “sister” to some other city. It’s not just formalities and displays in city halls and maybe emails back and forth between the governing bodies every once in a while.

There are exciting exchange programs available for both adults and teens to be able to travel and visit in our sister cities: Oderzo, Italy, and Suffolk County, England.

There are opportunities to meet exchange groups from Italy and England that are coming here.

Best of all is the general opportunity to learn about cultures and ways of life aside from our own.

One reason I think Suffolk’s Sister Cities program is superior to others is because it actually has real-world connections with its sister cities.

The connection to Suffolk County, England, should be rather obvious: It’s the “Old World” locale after which our city here in the “New World” is named.

But the connection to Oderzo, Italy, isn’t readily apparent. Oderzo is the city where Planters Peanuts founder Amedeo Obici was born before coming to America, and later moving from Pennsylvania to Suffolk to be closer to the peanut producers that helped him build his business.

Obici would later have a hospital built in his wife’s honor, and his legacy continues today in the city through the Obici Healthcare Foundation.

I had the chance last week to interview a handful of teens who were either visiting Suffolk from Italy or had recently returned to Suffolk from visiting Italy.

The teens all had keen observations about the new culture they had experienced during their two-week trips. And it wasn’t just the kids who traveled who got a new experience — three host families in Suffolk benefited from hosting the visitors from Italy.

Maryanne Persons of Sister Cities says the group is trying to get the word out about the many opportunities available through participation in the organization.

For more information on the adult or youth Sister Cities programs, call Persons at 539-7188.

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