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Volunteer Vacations Abroad

Sister City Groups Abound

A Flexible Alternative to the Peace Corps

“Oh, you must be with the Peace Corps!” That’s the usual reaction when I tell people in Palo, Leyte, that I am living in the Philippines for two years. I work at the Palo Children’s Library and board with a local family, but my sponsors are actually a sister city group, Neighbors Abroad of Palo Alto.

According to Sister Cities International, 1,200 U.S. cities, counties, and states have 2,100 partners in 125 countries. Many local sister city programs run programs focused on art, education, cultural exchange, youth leadership, health, technology, and other areas. With a little investigation, you should be able to locate a sister city with a project to match your interests.

Travel Advantages

Traveling abroad through a local sister city group offers flexibility not found with other organizations. I chose to commit for two years, but another librarian received a grant to work in Palo for just five weeks. You may also be able to negotiate your own financial and living arrangements. Whether you pay your own way or receive a stipend, stay with a family, or rent an apartment is up to you and your sponsors.

Make sure you understand your duties. Before I left for the Philippines I sat down with committee members to draw up a list of goals and expectations.

Not for Everyone

If you crave structure and don’t want to make your own arrangements, traveling through a sister city group may not be for you. I didn’t know where I would live until an about an hour after I arrived in Palo.

Finances can also prove difficult. Sister city groups are usually funded through grants, donations, and fundraising events. I am staying in Palo on a shoestring—Neighbors Abroad pays my room and board, but my stipend covers only basic expenses. Recreational travel is my own responsibility.

Finding a Program

On the Sisters Cities International (SCI) website you can search by U.S. city or region of the world. The directory also provides links to local sister city groups with websites of their own.

SCI offers two publications, Sister City News and Inside SCI, as well as region-specific newsletters. They also have three electronic listservs for members. An annual conference meets in a different city each year.

Contact: Sister Cities International, Suite 250, 1300 Pennyslvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20004; 202-312-1200, fax 202-312-1201;

You may also want to contact your mayor’s office or the Chamber of Commerce.

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