BANGOR, Maine — The city of Harbin, China, is a lot like Greater Bangor. It sits in the northeasternmost tip of its country, it’s the primary trade and shopping center of its region, and its residents often endure long, cold winters.
On those merits, the two cities make perfect partners.
The city of Bangor on Wednesday announced the creation of a cultural, educational and trade exchange with Harbin, a relationship City Councilor Gerry Palmer called only the beginning.
“They say the longest of journeys begins with the smallest of steps,” he said Wednesday at Bangor City Hall. “This is something that costs the city very little, but the possibilities are endless.”
City officials worked closely with Jing Zhang and others at the Chinese Learning and Culture Center in Bangor to forge the cross-cultural relationship. The two communities will communicate through low-cost technology such as Skype and ITV.
“I’m so glad to have this opportunity to create a sister relationship,” said Zhang, who helped launch the Chinese Learning and Culture Center and the Bangor Chinese School in 2005 and will play a big role in the Bangor-Harbin relationship.
In a related announcement Wednesday, James Kenney — a board member for the Chinese Learning and Cultural Center — announced an award of $186,480 in federal grants to fund summer Chinese language programs for teachers and students. The funds comes from STARTALK, which is part of the U.S. National Security Language Initiative.
Kenney said the three-week, intensive program, which began last year, is unrivaled in Maine.
“It’s a great way for teachers and students to take what they learn back to the schools,” he said.
Zhang said the teacher-based program started this week and will run through July 7. The students’ course runs from June 28 through July 17.
“With a growing interest in Chinese language studies, the summer programs will offer two important initiatives to increase the linguistic abilities of Maine teachers and introduce Maine students to a language that is spoken by one-fourth of the world’s population,” Zhang said.
Palmer said Bangor is blessed to have Zhang and the Chinese Learning and Cultural Center, and he predicted that the newly created sister city relationship with Harbin could bear fruit down the road.
“As a Bangor native, I’m proud that we can reach across the globe to find new friends,” he said.