Italy trip creates meaningful connections

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Hilton Head Island is known around the world. Every so often there's an opportunity for us to connect with individuals to more intimately share our culture in ways other than through a blitz of advertisements.

Last month, we joined the Italian-American Club of Hilton Head on a flagship trip to Verona, Italy, and had a wonderful exchange of friendship and ideas. I had a chance to meet Verona Mayor Federico Sborarina and, on behalf of our town, signed a Friendship City pact - the first step in the process towards a Sister City pact.

Sister cities, I learned, play a key role in strengthening global relationships and creating an exchange of ideas on arts and culture, business and trade, community development, and youth and education.

Our goal in having these pacts is to encourage international goodwill and use exchanges to better understand the diverse peoples and cultures of the world. The city of Verona wants to do the same.

Fortunately, the Italian-American Club linked us together and is helping us through the process. Already we have identified commonalities such as our reliance on our tourism economies, our interest in growing our arts communities, and being known for our hospitality.

We both strongly believe in investing in and nurturing educational opportunities. With that in mind, we have begun talks with the University of South Carolina Beaufort to establish a student exchange program between learners at the Hilton Head Island campus and students from Verona.

To share some of our culture with our Verona counterparts, we presented them with some gifts representative of the Lowcountry: an oil painting of the Harbour Town Lighthouse, which has become a symbol nationally and internationally affiliated with Hilton Hilton Island; a South Carolina state flag, a town flag, and an RBC Heritage golf tournament flag signed by Satoshi Kodaira, the 2018 tournament winner.

We also presented a crystal Harbour Town Lighthouse from the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and a specially designed wood etching of Hilton Head Island and Verona, donated by Fire and Pine, a Lowcountry artisan business that makes one-of-a-kind burnt wooden maps.

As we continue with the process to become formal sister cities, we ultimately hope to expand our relationship and build more meaningful ties to one another.

John McCann is the mayor of Hilton Head Island. JohnM@hiltonheadislandsc.gov

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