The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Ireland, once again brought a delegation to San Jose last week, enabling politicians from both sides of the Atlantic to reconnect and discuss shared values, including academic exchange programs.
San Jose and Dublin have been sister cities for almost 40 years, ever since Tom McEnery and then Dublin mayor Bertie Ahern had a pint in 1986. Sister Cities International includes 500 communities around the world, with over 2,000 partnerships in more than 140 countries, all to encourage “citizen diplomacy,” a way of creating bonds and lifelong friendships between people of different countries. President Eisenhower started the initiative in the ’50s.
Beginning with a welcome party for the Dublin delegation at O’Flaherty’s Pub and concluding with the Shamrock Run, many activities unfolded over the course of last week. San Jose City Hall raised the Dublin flag and the Irish flag just for the occasion. There was also an informal country barbecue for a few dozen people in a barn, on a ranch, in San Martin. This particular event rammed home the idea that if enough individuals from different countries simply shared a meal together, it just might provide a shorter path to world peace. Anthony Bourdain was right all along.
The events allowed Dublin politicians and their San Jose counterparts to brainstorm solutions to problems in their own cities, tell stories about previous visits and share their own foreign exchange backgrounds. They even let me sit there and eavesdrop on everything. Well, almost everything.
After years of infiltrating these events, I can testify that the San Jose-Dublin relationship has always felt unique. For a few years, it was the only Sister City partnership to feature a graduate-level scholarship exchange between two cities, which still continues at the undergraduate level. Just last year, a grant program was created to help five Irish students attend San Jose State University. Other students will also eventually travel the other direction, all with the San Jose-Dublin program’s help. The Shamrock Run, which took place last Saturday, was created to raise money for academic and cultural exchanges. In my view, this is where the San Jose-Dublin program still has the most potential. Throughout all the events last week, I wouldn’t shut up about it.
For me, the topic is personal. During my own aimless decade at SJSU, travel and study-abroad programs are partly what turned me into the person I am today. Soon after I graduated, I went to Europe for a month—right when I was supposed to be holding down a job back home in San Jose—and the trip opened up my eyes unlike anything else. I made acquaintances that I’ve kept ever since. I found my callings in life: worldly curiosity, research and taking notes. The following year, I spent five weeks studying abroad in Tuscany, which likewise changed everything. Even today, whenever I’m asked to speak for college classes, I emphasize studying abroad—for a semester, a month, or any amount of time, anywhere. In fact, if I were on the CSU Board of Trustees, I would demand every college student in California include time for studying overseas. The world would be a better place as a result.
Similarly, if I were married and had a kid, I would send the kid to Europe for a year as soon as he or she graduated high school. I would pay for it. After which I’d allow the kid to move back home and then decide what he or she wants to do in life. If I had a kid.
So when I watched the San Jose-Dublin Program orchestrate a Shamrock Run to raise money for international exchanges and academic scholarships, I came away inspired. Uplifted. Enriched. I saw the future.
The lessons here are not complicated. Travel, foreign exchange programs and citizen diplomatic endeavors as envisioned by Sister Cities International open the mind, increase curiosity and foster cultural literacy, all of which chip away at xenophobia, racism, conspiracy theories and a variety of other ills. Being a “citizen of the world” doesn’t imply you’re a citizen of nowhere. It means you care about your own country as well as the rest of the world. We are all connected.