Sister Cities of Duluth, Minnesota, Home of NSR — The North Star Reports – by Marin Ekstrom. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

Sister Cities of Duluth, Minnesota, Home of NSR — The North Star Reports – by Marin Ekstrom. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal


[Photo 1: Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge, by author]

Everyone has a connection to a certain city or community. Whether people have strong hometown roots or live a bit more nomadically, they often find some way to develop a sense of home and/or strong familiarity based on place. Furthermore, some people may feel deeply associated with a city or town that they do not reside in due to family and friend connections, vacations, media, etc. —even if they have not even visited it before! This sense of both individual identity and sense of community based on location fuels the mission of sister cities across the world. Sister cities strive to make global connections while cultivating their own sense of uniqueness, which fosters warmer international relations on a grassroots level while making the home community a more vibrant place that is more attractive to both locals and visitors.


[Photo 2: Signs, by author]

First and foremost: what exactly is a sister city? According to the official website of Sister Cities International, it is defined as “a broad-based, long-term partnership between two communities in two countries.” Although the concept has centuries’ worth of precedents, the modern-day version (at least in terms of creating the official Sister Cities International organization) was officially established in 1956 by then-U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He believed in the power of citizen diplomacy, a concept that advocates for everyday people to forge bonds with other communities throughout the world. By forming these relations, Eisenhower “ reasoned that people of different cultures could celebrate and appreciate their differences and build partnerships that would lessen the chance of new conflicts”, as quoted from the “Mission and History” section of Sister Cities International’s website. This mentality had particularly poignant relevance given its historical context, as the prejudice and devastation of World War II was still fresh on people’s mind. The earliest sister city relationships particularly focused on Germany/ Western Europe and Japan, as they offered a means to establish human connections with the so-called (former) “enemy.” In turn, developing these friendships would work to heal the scars and take preventative measures from falling into such atrocious wars and human catastrophes again. Throughout the years, Sister Cities International has continued to evolve into a vibrant, groundbreaking organization that promotes the establishment of international ties based on student exchanges, professorial interactions, economic development, humanitarian interests, etc.— the sky is truly the limit.

Rania Children

[Photo 3: Rania children, from DSCI]

Japanese Temple

[Photo 4: Japanese temple, from DSCI]

Our hometown community of Duluth, Minnesota, USA has the wonderful fortune of having a truly outstanding and internationally respected sister cities organization. Duluth Sister Cities International (DSCI) has been officially operating since 1986 (though it established its first sister relationship in 1980) and today has five sister cities consisting of Thunder Bay, Canada; Petrozavodsk, Russia; Växjö, Sweden; Ohara-Isumi City, Japan; and Rania, Iraqi Kurdistan. Each sister city relationship is characterized by their intriguing historical back-stories and wide array of projects and exchanges that they pursue. For example, there have been legal and human rights committees associated with Thunder Bay, social work and public health delegations with Petrozavodsk, choir concerts with Växjö, a middle school student exchange with Ohara-Isumi City, and planting a tulip garden in honor of Rania. DSCI also engages in annual concerts, dinners, holiday tree displays, and other festivities to perpetually draw attention to the organization’s work. DSCI has allowed our city to make deep bonds of friendship with Canadian, Russian, Swedish, Japanese, and Kurdish compatriots and in turn has enriched our own home community in the process. Perhaps DSCI says it best with the following quote on its website:

“Once you understand how we’re different, you see how we’re the same. True understanding between people and nations begins with individual involvement…

We [Duluth and the world] have greater opportunities than ever for global understanding, because Duluth Sister Cities International helps bridge the oceans by bringing many of the world’s traditions, cultures and languages right to us, and by taking us to their countries.”

Sister Cities International has paved the way for championing ground level “citizen diplomacy,” with Duluth being an exceptionally successful offshoot of this organization. Both Duluthians and our counterparts abroad have grown and bettered from the wonderful work of DSCI, making it a truly marvelous asset to our community and beyond.

ThunderBay Canoes

[Photo 5: Thunderbay, from DSCI]

If you are interested in learning more about Duluth Sister International and would like to get more involved, please visit the website at, and/or “Like” their Facebook page “Duluth Sister Cities International!”

Petro Cannons

[Photo 6: Petro Cannons, from DSCI]

Marin Ekstrom currently teaches in southern China, and serves as an assistant editor for The North Star Reports. Sincere thanks to DSCI for permission to adapt this piece and the photos for publication.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at)

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal’s online learning community and outreach program with undergraduate and K-12 classes around the world. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, Colombia, Norway, northeastern China, Nicaragua, Micronesia, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, El Salvador, England, Finland, Russia, Cyprus, and Haiti. We also publish student reviews of books, documentaries, and films, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers. We thank The Department of History and Politics and the School of Arts and Letters of The College of St. Scholastica for their generous financial support for The North Star Reports and The Middle Ground Journal.

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.

Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at)


Filed under Marin Ekstrom, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

23 responses to “Sister Cities of Duluth, Minnesota, Home of NSR — The North Star Reports – by Marin Ekstrom. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

  1. Jenna Algoo

    I hope your travels and teachings are going well! I adore this article. I recently (within the past two years) heard about the Sister City program and even the whole idea of it. What a neat idea! The quote they post as you mentioned, “Once you understand how we’re different, you see how we’re the same. True understanding between people and nations begins with individual involvement…” truly brings a whole new idea to the table especially in light of everything happening around the world. Does this have adverse side effects that you have seen personally or heard of?

  2. Matt Breeze

    Thank you for this article! Not only is the information and writing wonderful, but it is also useful for a research project I am doing on the Kurds! The ideas of sister cities and “citizen diplomacy” are truly remarkable and reflect our interconnected world. Peace from people to people interactions instead of nation to nation interactions seems more promising. Mothers love their children everywhere, and the sister cities program is a great way to express that universal idea as people become aquatinted with others from across the globe.

  3. Delaney Babich

    I have loved the idea of sister cities ever since I was little, because the town of Lindstrom where I grew up has a strong tie to it’s sister city, Tingsryd, Sweden. This tie has brought a lot of cultural influence and created the nickname of “Little Sweden” for Lindstrom. Celebrating a different culture but then also making it our own creates that bond which is very important to strengthening the global community.

  4. Carley Nadeau

    I never knew that a city could have more than one sister city. I also find it interesting that there is so much diversity geographically between among Duluth’s sisters, but we are one in the bond we have is so similar. The quote you added I felt supplemented the article really well: “Once you understand how we’re different, you see how we’re the same. True understanding between people and nations begins with individual involvement….” It really helps explain the relationship all these cities have to each other. Nice job!

  5. Roman Schnobrich

    Woah, good research! I do have to wonder, how do sister cities find each other, and realize they would be perfect sister cities in the first place? With all the acts of terrorism and lack of global peace in today’s world, it’s nice to reminded that many countries still get along so well, even if on a simplistic level. If every city could have sisters across the globe, that would be a step towards world peace. I also wonder what Eisenhower’s real intentions were in the beginning, as it seems there are always hidden motives.

  6. James Fuerniss

    It’s so cool how the world can be intertwined like this. It’s interesting that we can have multiple sister cities. Also, it’s cool to look at the different locations, and how they are near and far.

  7. I find it amazing that Duluth has 5 sister cities! What an amazing variety of cultures and languages. I would like to visit our sister cities some day. The idea of citizens being involved in creating international communities is such and important use of civic duty. I appreciate the historical background provided. Thank you for writing such an interesting piece!

  8. Lindsey Bushnell

    I found it very fascinating to learn that Duluth had five sister cities. I participated in my hometown’s sister city program through the public library when I was younger, and you brought that back into my mind when I read your quote, “Once you understand how we’re different, you see how we’re the same.” Through the program, my fellow classmates and I were able to connect with another classroom in Sweden and learned a lot about what types of food, music, and movies they liked. It was a great way to learn about another one’s culture and it spoke to us that they were kids just like us. Keep up the great work, and I hope you have safe travels.

  9. Connor

    This was the first I had heard of Rania being a sister-city to Duluth. It appears that Rania isn’t included on the signs picture you included in the article. Do you know why? I think it’s awesome that Duluth takes our sister-cities program seriously, and I can’t wait to visit Petrozavodsk next summer.

  10. What a wonderful way to promote understanding and peace world-wide. It is great to hear that Duluth has 5 sister cities! I wonder how cities form their “sister” bonds though? Or, I suppose I should say I wonder how they find and connect with one another?

  11. Emily Hanson

    Being a Duluth native, I loved reading this article! I’ve been in this city my entire life and I never once knew we had five sister cities! To be completely honest, I didn’t really have much of an understand of what a “sister city” meant either. I always assumed it was just a city who had similar features of aspects. It’s interesting to learn that it has a historical aspect as well! This has definitely sparked an interest for me that I’ll have to look into further!

  12. Thomas Landgren

    I have grown up in Duluth all of my life and I never knew we had more then one sister city. In school I remembered that some soccer players did an exchange with Vaxjo for the summer (switching off between Duluth and Sweden each summer) and that was the only time I ever heard of Duluth having a sister city. All of the background information was very helpful and with it came questions. How do cities decide who is their sister city? How are cities allowed to have more then one sister city? Great Article!

  13. Meghan Lozinski

    I have had classes with a professor who works with the sister city program and he has spoken to us about it multiple times. I agree with the quote you posted that says once you understand the differences you can being to see the similarities. Looking at what is happening around the world I think what the sister cities program is doing is so necessary as people being to fear what they don’t know and what they see as different. By understanding the differences and similarities between cultures, countries, and people we could prevent a massive amount of ignorance and violence.

  14. Deng Dimayuga

    Thank you very much for writing this article! I never fully understood the concept of sister cities, but I feel as if I may have a better view of the concept now. It’s interesting that Duluth has five sister cities. This fact inspired me to look up how many sister cities my previous areas of residence have. One that peaked my interest was San Diego, which has 15 sister cities. I wonder just how many sister cities one place can have.

  15. Rebecca Smith

    I knew about the Japanese sister cities before, as my mom used to work at a college in Duluth that would host students from the city, but I had always wondered about the origins of it! At first, I assumed that Duluth had always just been connected to the Japanese city, since they have been for my entire life, which made me wonder about how the relations would have been in WWII. I have never heard of Duluth having multiple sister cities – I wonder why the Japanese city is the one that is most promoted! This was a very insightful and interesting read. I’m sure citizens around Duluth would be interested to know about this as well.

  16. Tabetha Filzen

    I have heard of sister cities before, but not exactly like how you described it. In my hometown of Montevideo, we have a sister city in Uruguay. That is mostly because we share the same city name. Learning about what it truly means to have sister city sounds amazing. To be so connected, we were lucky to even learn about our sister city, let alone have any contact with it.

  17. Cassidy Jayne

    Thanks for another great reflection. My hometown has a sister city, too- but I’ve never realized a city could have more than one. And why not! Provides a great opportunity for all of us to (like you mentioned) share both our differences and similarities. Do you think all cities should have a global counterpart to provide a reference for its citizens?

  18. Jimmy Lovrien

    Very cool, Marin! I’ve only understood sister cities at the most basic level, so this was an excellent chance to get caught up — thanks! I watched a few local news segments about the recent Skype ceremony between Duluth and Rania, Iraq and was wondering how two cities might find each other and decide to become sister cities. Also, when is a sister city relationship “successful” and what happens when it is placed on the back burner for years? And maybe the latter doesn’t happen all to often.

    Safe travels,

  19. Michel Doege

    I have heard the term sister city before, but never truly understood what it meant. I had thought it was similar to St. Paul and Minneapolis where they were just grouped together, It is great to learn what makes a sister city and the things they share. It is crazy to think that there are five sister cities for Duluth, thank you for sharing this.

  20. Bella Williams

    I really appreciated this article because until now I actually had no understanding of a sister city. When I was younger, I was under the impression that it was simply a city across the world that looked similar to our own. Obviously that is not correct 🙂 This partnership we are able to create is beautiful and really does connect us to different parts of the world in a positive way.

  21. This article was a very handy read, I am sure others were wondering what a sister city as well. This post helped me understand what it is. The creation of sister cities, made a huge impact on building relationships with people around the world and to learn about other cultures. This post was very informative and helped me understand the history of Sister Cities.

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