VALPARAISO | Now that they've gotten to know each other better, Valparaiso and the Nanhu District of Jiaxing City could become sisters in the coming year.
That is one of the results of Mayor Jon Costas's trip to China earlier this month. The trip was primarily a business trip as part of the cultural outreach program for Lumenus USA Institute for Global Citizenship at Valparaiso University. Costas was accompanied by former Councilman Chuck Williams and Lumenus CEO Eric Froelich.
Lumenus, founded by Costas and Williams, provides transitional training for Chinese high school graduates interested in studying in the U.S., giving them a year of intensive immersion in American culture and language to improve their chances of succeeding in an American university setting, such as VU.
"The people were very kind and welcoming and relational," Costas said. "If you are going to do business with them, you have to take the time to build relationships. That is the Chinese culture, and it's a very pleasant way of doing business.
"China is growing so fast, and there is so much economic growth and development it is mind boggling. I was there five years ago, and I can see the change since then. The growth is hitting the middle class, and they are the largest buyer of luxury goods in the world. The number of people pulled out of poverty is staggering."
Costas said the trio visited Beijing and Shanghai in addition to Jiaxing, and they toured Fudan University and the Beijing Cultural and Linguistic University as part of the effort to build relationships and explore opportunities.
"In many ways we were exploring things for Valparaiso University. They have contacts with many of these people, and we were trying to promote the university itself because it is not as well known. We also wanted to explore the opportunities for the university to collaborate whether it would be to send students there of have them come here."
It wasn't all work and no play. The three toured the Great Wall and visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Costas met with the mayor of the Nanhu District and the two agreed it was time to proceed to a sister city arrangement.
"These things are long term," Costas said. "We were really able to tour their city and understand the culture, and it felt good for the city to go to the next step. The sister city is a more formal agreement, and, in the next year, we will make a little more of a commitment.
"It's hard to say if a value will come to the city," he said. "There's value in understanding other cultures, especially one that is at the forefront of where the world is going. There are cultural advantages, and there could be some business relationships. A lot can come through building relationships with the universities.
"The nice thing is the trip was primarily for the business of Lumenus, but, when we were over there, it was nice to be able to accomplish a number of things, including enhance the reputation of the university and build the sister city relationship.
"If this is a sustainable model, it will give us reason to return and continue to do the other things we do, like enhancing the reputation of the city."