New Brunswick Middle Schoolers Ready to Travel to Hungary Through Sister Cities Program

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New Brunswick Middle Schoolers Ready to Travel to Hungary Through Sister Cities Program

Students from Woodrow Wilson, Blanquita B. Valenti School Get Travel Tips from Mayor Cahill

Try the pecsenye pork, visit the small art museum and, maybe most importantly, make new friends.

Those were a few pieces of advice Mayor Jim Cahill gave on Wednesday to nine middle school students who will be leaving their New Brunswick homes to spend 10 days in Debrecen, Hungary.

The students will leave April 3 for their 4,500-mile trek through the city’s Sister Cities Program under director Michael Tublin.

It will be the first trip to one of the program’s four sister cities – Debrecen, Limmerick in Ireland, and Tsuruoka and Fukui in Japan – since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

The nine students and five chaperones, as well as Superintendent of Schools Dr. Aubrey Johnson, sat on the benches of Council Chambers in City Hall and asked Cahill questions about what sites to see and food to eat while staying in the homes of Hungarian families.

Cahill is the perfect person to ask since he’s been to Debrecen three times, and was even asked to drop the ceremonial first puck at a local hockey game during one of his visits.

“So of course we want you to represent us well, and we know that you will, but you have to enjoy yourself,” Cahill said to the students. “Think of it as an opportunity that most people don't ever have; you're going to learn to experience different people, different things, to broaden your horizons, to understand that there's a big world out there, but that the world is not so big that we can always try to make it a little bit smaller.

“And then, just see what it is that you like. Is this going to inspire you some day to go into an occupation that you might like to travel? Is there something there that catches you, that they do things differently than we do, and maybe we should do it that way?”

Broadening the horizons of young minds is the essence of the Sister Cities Program. Originally spearheaded by Tublin’s mother, Jane, it has allowed generations of city children to glimpse the cultures and customs in places halfway around the world.

Those school children’s lives have been shaped in myriad ways by their experiences abroad, Michael Tublin said, pointing specifically to Jill Ford (NBHS ’93).

Ford, who spent three weeks in Japan through the program in 1991, was inspired to write about the experience on her entrance essay to Harvard.

She has gone on to travel the world over, and most recently relocated to California in 2017 after being hired to lead Toyota AI Ventures and to help manage a $100 million fund that invests in companies that specialize in autonomous mobility, robotics, data and other cutting-edge technology.

“The idea behind the Sister Cities Program is to open the students’ eyes to the possibilities and let them see their potential,” Tublin said.

The students from Woodrow Wilson and the Blanquita B. Valenti Community School, whose trip was made possible thanks to donations from the Rotary Club, New Brunswick Tomorrow and other organizations, aren’t feeling inspired, yet. Seventh grader Jamilette Rodriguez and eighth graders Vanessa Urvina and Betsy Martinez said Wednesday they are nervous about the trip.

“Personally, I wanted to go because my family came from a country (Mexico), and they said this was an opportunity that I may never get to experience again,” said Martinez.

Story & Photo By: Chuck O'Donnell