Though it’s grown by leaps and bounds since its 2016 formation, the La Cañada Flintridge Sister Cities Assn. doesn’t have much time these days to dwell on progress made, as members find themselves enjoying a dizzying summer.
What began three years ago with two exchange students from La Cañada and two from Spanish city Villañueva de la Cañada enjoying a budding international friendship has blossomed into a full suite of programs and visits, with parents, teachers and dignitaries from both nations joining in on the fun.
A record 18 students are participating in various exchange programs this summer. Three local students and a 2019 LCHS graduate have been hosting four visiting Spanish students since July 1. Those four are scheduled to head home to Spain next Thursday. Then, on July 16, the La Cañada students will board a plane and stay with their host families for two weeks.
Local teens who participated in the after-school JPL Space Academy program last year traveled to Villañueva de la Cañada in June to meet Spanish students they partnered with remotely during the 10-week class and to tour the town’s European Space Agency.
Recently returned, they’re repaying the favor as their Spanish counterparts visit La Cañada with two teachers in tow for a visit and tour of JPL. That small delegation arrived Tuesday.
Another four local students will travel to Houston in mid-July to attend Sister Cities International’s 2019 Youth Leadership Summit, where this year’s theme is “Resilience: Using Your Passion to Build a Better World.”
“I think the ties are just growing stronger and stronger, to be honest,” said Vicki Schwartz, president and founder of the local Sister Cities Assn. “We’ve had four [entire] families who’ve gone to Spain and stayed with host families, and we’ve hosted two families here.”
On Tuesday, Schwartz brought participants from both continents to a La Cañada Flintridge City Council meeting, where they presented council members with a display of photos providing a glimpse of their travels and the relationships forged along the way.
LCHS rising senior Marcus Chmielewski, whose father Art heads the JPL Space Academy, shared the impact his travels had on him as he studied the language and got to know the Spanish students and those he’d traveled with.
“I made some amazing memories and certainly had some experiences that I won’t forget,” the teen said. “I also made some really good friends — I learned what friendship really is, and I’m really grateful to Sister Cities for that.”
In return, City Council members handed out certificates of recognition during Tuesday’s meeting, joining up with the organization later at a reception held at a private residence. There, adults mingled as the teens huddled in a large group and visited together, playing cards and laughing into the night.