The Sister Cities Student Exchange Programme is a cross-community programme that has been running since 2000. It aims to provide Antrim and Newtownabbey’s young adults with an opportunity to travel to Gilbert, Arizona to develop an understanding of a different country, its culture and people through a family living experience.
Making the world a better place by bringing people together one friendship at a time was the dream of President Dwight D. Eisenhower when he introduced the Sister Cities concept. The program coordinates cultural, trade, educational, and sports programs that promote international and intercultural knowledge and understanding. The Newtownabbey link with Gilbert was established on November 17, 1998 and was a first for both areas.
Gilbert is a young, affluent community in central Arizona. Incorporated on July 6, 1920, it is a relatively new community that has seen tremendous growth during the past three decades. Gilbert has experienced a rapid transition from a historically agriculture-based community to an urban centre and suburb in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. In the last three decades, Gilbert has grown at a pace unparalleled by most communities in the United States, increasing in population from 5,717 in 1980 to over 273,136 in 2021.
Four students will be selected to participate in the programme, two from Antrim and Newtownabbey and two from Gilbert. Antrim and Newtownabbey students will be matched with a student partner in the USA and will spend the duration of the programme with that student. The programme lasts approximately six weeks with half the time spent in Gilbert and half in Antrim and Newtownabbey.
The first part of the programme involves the two selected students from Antrim and Newtownabbey travelling to the USA to spend three weeks being home hosted by their matched student. They will be given a wonderful opportunity to learn about their hosts’ local cultures and customs in ways not available to a casual visitor.
At the end of the three weeks, the Gilbert students will return with the Antrim and Newtownabbey students to be home hosted in Antrim and Newtownabbey. During their stay, they will have a chance to closely experience a new culture and make lifelong friends by living with the family of their exchange student.
During the Exchange, Antrim and Newtownabbey students will be asked to send a blog/vlog to Council, highlighting their experience during the programme.
As part of the Student Exchange, the successful Antrim and Newtownabbey applicants are required to take part in a social benefit project, details of which will be discussed during the interview process.