Students from Toledo-area Catholic schools saw the power of international networking on a recent trip to Spain, when friendships between the sister of a St. Francis de Sales High School student and the daughter of a former mayor of Toledo, Spain, opened the doors of the foreign city's council chambers to the students.
Twenty-one students from three area Catholic schools traveled to Spain during their summer vacation. They visited several cities, but got a special reception in Toledo, Spain, including a visit with the mayor in the city council chambers, and the attention of the Spanish news media.
The friendship between family members through several student exchanges that smoothed the way for the special visit highlight a truth that John Henry Fullen, executive director of Toledo Sister Cities International, Inc., wants people to understand: Personal relationships matter. They matter not only for good feeling, but also for other kinds of relationships, economic, political, or cultural. And in an era of increasing globalization, Mr. Fullen said, any city thinking globally should get to know more people.
Staff of Toledo Sister Cities help arrange international visits, and construct sister city relationships. They also planned Toledo's Sister Cities Conference which starts Wednesday at the SeaGate Centre.
For many of the students, from St. Francis, Notre Dame Academy, and St. Ursula Academy, the three schools that joined in the nine-day trip to Spain, the most exciting difference between the two Toledos was the street culture found in Toledo, Spain.
Students came back raving about the mimes, the cafes, and the life on the street at all hours. However, they also marveled at an altar set up in the city council chambers and streets so narrow that students had to duck into a doorway to avoid passing cars.
Christine Holliday, librarian at St. Francis who helped lead the trip this year, said she relished the moments when the young people began to understand that people live well without cars, McDonald's, or even the English language.
Kevin Crotte, 16, whose sister provided the original connection to the former mayor, stayed longer in Spain with the mayor's family. He said he returned home “with a more worldly view,” citing cultural differences such as the attitude toward food.
Eric Sutton, 18, returned with a newfound appreciation for soccer, and deeper understanding of what it means to be a foreigner, speaking a foreign language.
“I won't shun them, because I've been on the other side,” he said.