By Jane Neuheisel
The summer heat doesn’t seem to stop Tempe Sister Cities volunteers. The organization has been bringing the world to Tempe for more than four decades with no end in sight.
As of now there are 74 teens in Tempe, representing 12 countries, participating in the annual student exchange.
Tempe Sister Cities was recognized last month by Sister Cities International as having the best overall Sister City program in the country for cities of 100,000 to 300,000 population.
It is the eighth time Tempe has won the award.
Tempe students participate in a competition to become exchange students, with winners selected in March.
The organization pays for the plane tickets to take students to the various destination cities, and then later host their new “brothers and sisters” for five-week homestays in Arizona.
During the time they spend in Arizona, the students camp at the Grand Canyon, attend a Tempe City Council meeting, travel by double-decker bus to California for a day at Disneyland and another day at the beach, tour Arizona State University, attend a Diamondbacks baseball game, visit Kartchner Caverns and more.
Parents of the students host a welcome-home dinner, a farewell dinner featuring a typical American Thanksgiving menu, and plan various trips around Arizona.
Ask any student who participates: the experience is life-changing.
One of Tempe’s sister cities is Timbuktu, Mali, which authorities say is not a safe place to visit right now. However, the local Sister Cities group invited two students from Timbuktu to experience the exchange and purchased their plane tickets, with local families stepping up to host. In addition, this is the first year Tempe is participating in a student exchange with its newest sister city, Agra City, India, home to the Taj Majal.
Almost 2,000 students have participated in the exchange since it began in 1972. That year, four students were selected to go to Skopje, Yugoslavia, now Macedonia.
Marshal Tito was still in power and the cold war was raging. The creation of this student exchange got national headlines and is ongoing.
Today Tempe has eleven sister cities: Skopje; Regensburg, Germany; Lower Hutt, New Zealand; Zhenjiang, China; Timbuktu; Beaulieu sur Mer, France; Carlow, Ireland; Cuenca, Ecuador; Cusco, Peru; Trollhattan, Sweden; and Agra City.