Cities where past University students and Lawrence residents once lost their lives in war have since become family — all thanks to a plan started by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and continued through a city organization.
The Lawrence Sister Cities Advisory Board has served the city by maintaining relationships with three sister cities; Eutin, Germany; Hiratsuka, Japan; Iniades, Greece. The board receives support and backing from the city, but all board members are volunteers.
The city’s oldest relationships are with Eutin and Hiratsuka, cities in two countries that are former adversaries of the United States.
“It has a great deal of value in a world where all you hear about are the wars” said Bill Keel, a member of Friends of Eutin. “Some of the people who started the program lived through the second world war on both sides and know what a difference a friendship and understanding can make in those kinds of relationships.”
Each sister city relationship formed initially through study abroad relationships with the University, and each program grew out of long-standing study abroad programs in smaller cities around the world.
What started as study abroad programs then branched into high school exchange programs as well as cultural exchange programs between the countries.
The program with Eutin started 27 years ago when the city decided to pursue a sister city relationship. The KU Germanic Languages program had developed a study abroad program in Eutin, making it a natural choice for the first sister city.
Carol Shenkel, a Lawrence resident who at the time traveled to Japan often for work, reached out to Hiratsuka because of the relationship already existent between Kanagawa University, in the area, and the University.
Just seven years ago, Iniades, Greece reached out to Lawrence because the University's theatre department hosts a study abroad program in the area every couple summers.
Since becoming sister cities, both Eutin and Hiratsuka have developed high school exchange programs with the city. Roughly 12 students from Lawrence go to Hiratsuka and roughly 12 go to Eutin. Students from those countries then come to Kansas. All students stay with host families and are shown around the cities and surrounding areas during the time they are here.
Keel said those exchange programs are incredibly impactful for students.
“Once you live in a foreign country, you’re changed forever,” he said.
Shenkel was heavily involved in the creation of the relationship between Lawrence and Hiratsuka. She said that the exchange program with Hiratsuka has helped students to appreciate other cultures for both their similarities and differences.
“Kids get to understand how a different culture works and that it’s okay to be different,” Shenkel said.
Bob Schumm, chair of the board, said that their goal is to provide connections between citizens of Lawrence and the sister cities. They do this through the exchange programs as well as by helping Lawrence citizens contact individuals in sister cities who hold similar interests and helpig individuals from the sister cities come to Lawrence for internships and professional experiences
“We can open the doors for you to find your counterpart [in another country] and exchange your interests,” Schumm said.
Those connections, Schumm said, have grown into friendships and bonds that have lasted years. Lawrence has been visited by firefighters, health workers and government officials from the sister cities. There have even been four weddings between Lawrence and sister-city residents.
Through these relationships, the Sister Cities Advisory board is still chasing Eisenhower’s original dream of promoting peace in the world through individual relationships.
“As you get to know people in another culture in another country," Keel said. "It’s unlikely that you’re going to support violence against that country or those individuals."
- Edited by Danya Issawi