A bit more neighborly

Published 7:03 pm Saturday, July 13, 2013

For the teens who traded countries as part of the annual Sister Cities cultural exchange this month, their strongest initial memories are likely to be the great differences between Italy and the United States.

For two teens from Suffolk and three from Oderzo, Italy, the past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of sightseeing, trying new foods and enjoying fresh experiences with host families who probably learned as much about their visitors’ cultures as the visitors they were hosting learned about the culture of foreign lands.

While the two Suffolk teens participating in the program were in Italy, they learned all about pasta, wondered at the medieval architecture of Verona, experienced the magic of Venice and saw the colorful homes of Burano. For their part, the three visitors from Italy got to enjoy the architectural and historical sights of Washington, D.C., and experience the crowds and culture of New York City, not to mention the charm of Suffolk, Va.


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The annual youth cultural exchange is a vital part of the Sister Cities program. Suffolk and Oderzo are joined in the program because of a shared interest in Amedeo Obici, who was born in the Italian town before immigrating to America as a boy and then coming to Suffolk and building a Planters Peanuts factory as a young man.

Obici’s history in the two places hints at something even more important than the differences the young visitors noticed between life in Italy and life in the United States. What they are likely to find most interesting when they cast their memories back on their respective visits are the many similarities among the people they met and those they left at home during their two-week vacations.

That’s one thing that makes such cultural exchanges important. When folks from different parts of the world learn how similar they really are, despite the great differences that appear on the surface, bridges are built between disparate places and people, and the world gets a little bit smaller. And when the world gets smaller, people in far-flung places can begin to think of themselves as neighbors.

The world could use a bit more neighborliness.