The welcoming hand of friendship stretches across the globe, a band of local residents learned after enjoying a culturally rich visit to Davis’ sister city in China earlier this month.
Mayor Joe Krovoza led the 11-member delegation of UC Davis faculty, local business leaders and students to Wuxi, a city in the Jiangsu province of China. The trip, which took place Nov. 3-11, was part of a regularly scheduled agenda to strengthen ties between the two cities.
Wuxi (pronounced WOO-shee) is one of Davis’ eight sister cities, all connected based on commonalities. In the case of Davis’ Chinese counterpart, it is the rich agricultural histories, strong educational systems and bike-friendliness that formed the bond in 2003.
“This was maybe the most robust of our trips to Wuxi,” said Sharon Shoemaker, director of the California Institute of Food and Agricultural Research at UC Davis and chairwoman of the Davis Sister City Committee. “Our goals were multifaceted. First and foremost, we aspired to nurture the friendship that we established nearly 10 years ago.
“That friendship has only blossomed, grown and deepened. This has resulted in a very receptive group when anyone from Davis comes to the Wuxi area.”
Metropolitan Wuxi has more than 15 sister-city relationships including with municipalities in Canada, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Turkey and the United States.
All of delegations convened for the sixth Wuxi International Sister Cities Forum on Nov. 6. The local representatives mingled with the other sister city delegations from countries big and small.
“We were surrounded by so many different languages and people in powerful positions,” said Tessa Lewis, a Davis High School senior who joined the delegation. “It was so unlike anything that I’ve ever experienced before.”
Despite there being a diversity in representation, the Davis assembly was one of the few delegations that included young people.
“I’m very pleased that youth were able to join,” Krovoza said. “Having them in our group represents our lifelong beginning exposure to communities around the world.
“I was part of an exchange to Mexico City at a young age. Those impressions last a lifetime. It’s an extremely valuable and enduring experience.”
The seven districts that Wuxi consists of are home to more than 6 million people, a staggering number compared to Davis’ 2011 census count of 66,016. Davis is linked specifically with the Huishan District, which has a population of 411,700.
Although founded around 11th century B.C., Wuxi is filled with modern high-rise buildings. Exploring the downtown portion of an urban area in Wuxi was a memorable experience for delegate Kalia Mitchell-Silbaugh, a student at Holmes Junior High who thus far has been exposed only to life in Davis.
“Suddenly, I’m in the middle of downtown Wuxi, seeing for myself how different things can be,” Mitchell-Silbaugh said. “It was a huge cultural awareness moment for me.”
Being the youngest member of a delegation that already stood out for its youthfulness was not a concern for Mitchell-Silbaugh. She believes it provided her more opportunity to carefully observe Chinese governance, religion and behavior.
“I feel like if I had been surrounded by my peers, I would have learned less,” Mitchell-Silbaugh said. “Taking a step out of my comfort zone made me a little more aware of my surroundings.”
While the delegation was never without guidance on their trip, the locals were more than willing to venture into cultural unknowns. Evidence of that was the youth forming an unlikely connection with the delegation from Kenya, Africa.
“It was amazing,” Lewis said. “The two cultures seem like polar opposites, and I never would’ve thought we had anything in common — and yet, here we were, singing songs together and making inside jokes with one another by day two.”
The young citizens who joined the local group’s trip to Wuxi expressed a thankfulness that they were invited along.
And the program’s purpose — making the world a smaller place — certainly was not lost on the delegates.
“When you get to know these people, there really isn’t all that much separating us,” Lewis said. “I mean, it is a completely different way of life in a place like Wuxi, but we talked to them and realized the people there aren’t actually all that different (from us).”
— Reach Brett Johnson at email@example.com or 530-747-8052.