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Sister cities celebrate 28 years of friendship


The Gresham Sister City Association hosts students, delegates from Sokcho, South Korea

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Christy Weaver, a Gresham History Museum clerk, tours  Jae-sek Hahm, deputy mayor of Sokcho, and other South Korean delegates, through exhibits Wednesday, July 24.

Instead of saying “cheese” for a photo op in front of Gresham City Hall, the group called out a traditional Korean side dish.

“Kimchi!” said Jae-sek Hahm, deputy mayor of Sokcho City, along with other South Korean dignitaries and Gresham ambassadors.

In its 28th year of partnership with Sokcho, South Korea, the Gresham Sister City Association is hosting eight 14- and 15-year old students and eight adults from Sokcho.

The student are staying two weeks with Gresham host families, while the adults will depart Friday, July 26.

“There’s a tremendous amount of growth that happens when our young people and adults are exposed to these pieces of culture — it’s powerful,” said Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis, who toured both students and adult delegates through city offices and hosted an exchange dinner.

“This is an opportunity to open the minds and hearts of kids to be part of the exchange or maybe even have their families host part of the exchange,” he added.

During their stay, student participants are placed with East County homestay families, where they experience everyday life in Gresham, perfect their English and visit destinations throughout Oregon.

“Through the homestay program, they’re able to build more intimate relationships,” said Seoung He Kang, the students’ chaperone and an interpreter for the adults. “They can really build friendships and brotherly affection.

“They (students) become really open-minded and have the motivation to develop a more peaceful world.”

And many families chose to both participate in the Sokcho exchange and host South Korean students.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Shi-A Chang of Sokcho, left, is staying with Ngoc-Minh  Le, an incoming Gresham High sophomore for two weeks through the Gresham Sister City Association exchange.

After visiting Sokcho last year at the suggestion of her counselor, Ngoc-Minh Le, an incoming Gresham High sophomore, is hosting the younger sibling, Shi-A Chang, of her host sister.

“It’s been less than a week and it feels like I have another sibling to depend on and look after,” Le said. “It’s like getting another family member.”

Le was so influenced by her experiences in Sokcho last summer that she is teaching herself Korean. She aspires to attend a South Korean university and eventually pursue a career there.

Kim Ell, a retired Gresham Police officer and president of the Sister City Association, has chaperoned a student trip to Sokcho and hosted several Korean students with his wife Carol and five sons.

Two of his sons traveled to Sokcho as student ambassadors, helping inspire his 22-year-old son to major in Spanish and study abroad in Spain.

Similarly, Gresham mother and daughter Lori and Kate Graham have hosted and participated in the exchange.

“It’s an incredible opportunity and experience to learn about another culture in a very short, limited time,” Lori Graham said. “It allows students to be better citizens and helps them make better decisions for our small planet.”

One of Le’s most touching moments in 2012 was visiting a Sokcho city park in which the Sister City Association has planted Yew Trees in honor of its Gresham guests since the 1990s.

Beside each tree is a plaque listing the Gresham exchange participants.

“I walked all the way up to the tree we were planting that day,” Le said. “The older trees are really tall, sturdy and strong. It feels like our bond is getting stronger each time we do an exchange.”